5Cs Grapple With Recent Spike in Alcohol-Related Transports

Last October, the 5C Student-Deans Committee and Director of Campus Safety Stan Skipworth discussed a recent spike in the number of intoxicated students being transported to nearby hospitals with representatives from the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the Claremont Police Department.

“It’s not like the colleges are a free-for-all: ‘Come drink whatever you want, we don’t care,’ but in some ways I think that when paramedics come, that may be what they see, right?” Pomona College Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said.

Feldblum got the sense that paramedics were frustrated with the fact that “they’re taking care of an intoxicated student on campus ... and then there’s someone having a heart attack and dying elsewhere.”

“There’s no doubt that it can be frustrating for the paramedics and the firefighters who are asked to come help with heavily intoxicated students when there could be other kinds of emergencies in the community,” she said.

Representatives of Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, where the majority of 5C student alcohol-transports are taken, seemed to agree with Feldblum’s assessment.

“Alcohol is a choice,” wrote Angie Besiant, director of the hospital’s emergency department, in an emailed statement to TSL. “The less alcohol-related incidents we receive in our Emergency Department, the more resources we have available to dedicate to our critical medical emergencies, where time is of the essence.”

Firefighters at all three LA County Fire Department stations in Claremont declined to comment.

Last semester, a total of 13 Pomona students (11 under the legal drinking age) were transported to local hospitals and medical centers for alcohol and substance intoxication, according to a Health and Wellness Update released by the Pomona College Deans of Students on Dec. 8.

Feldblum said Pomona is looking into possible causes and explanations for the recent uptick in alcohol-related transports--only eight students were transported the last two fall semesters--but highlighted the existing programs aimed at combating dangerous drinking behaviors.

Pomona requires all first-year and transfer students to participate in an alcohol and substance education program that includes Teaching Alcohol Abuse Prevention, an alcohol education/bystander intervention training session, and AlcoholEdu, an online program designed to encourage safe drinking habits.

Additionally, “there are two things that have positive impact[s] on reducing high-risk drinking,” Feldblum said. “One is reducing availability and the second is greater policy enforcement.”

Feldblum pointed to restricting weeknight events with alcohol and implementing a "points system" method of punishment as steps Pomona has taken to address the problem, although she said that the college is “still struggling with the substance culture.”

Pitzer College Dean of Students Moya Carter said that conversations about alcohol consumption held during Pitzer’s new student orientation have been particularly well-received; the college had only one transport last semester, compared to five in the 2015-16 academic year and eight the year before.

Carter believes that the combination of AlcoholEdu, Orange After Dark--a series of substance-free nighttime events--and prohibiting student activities fees from being used to purchase alcohol for events “has contributed to the reduction in overconsumption transports.”

“Pitzer students have always been very community-based and certainly look out for each other,” Carter wrote in an email to TSL, “and I expect some peer-to-peer convos happen that may lead a student to make a different decision regarding their personal alcohol usage.”

Claremont McKenna College Dean of Students Sharon Basso also weighed in; her college saw 11 transports throughout last September and October, but hasn’t recorded any since.

Basso said the main cause of these transports is “pre-partying behavior” before 5C events.

“We have taken targeted steps to work with students on effective prevention,” Basso wrote in an emailed statement to TSL. “Administrators and students are working together to consider new strategies to promote personal and student responsibility.”

Associated Students of Pomona College President Christina Tong PO ’17 credits the “Good Samaritan/Medical Amnesty” policy, in use at Pomona, Claremont McKenna, and Scripps College, for enhancing safety.

Under the rules of the policy, students are responsible for the “safety and welfare of their fellow students,” and failing to uphold this responsibility would result in various sanctions, Tong said.

Additionally, “in medical emergencies ... sanctions are not imposed on students who seek or need medical attention,” according to the Pomona College student handbook.

Tong thinks the policy has a “positive effect on students seeking help during substance consumption," while Feldblum and Basso believe the rule could be one of the reasons for the high number of transports from their colleges.

“Transports save lives and we want to encourage everyone to call for help,” Basso wrote.

Feldblum said, “I think the question is: What kind of metric is alcohol transports? It could be that more reporting sometimes is better--people are actually calling.”

Similarly, Carter acknowledged that Pitzer’s solo transport does not necessarily mean all is well.

“Our low numbers could also mean that students are not requesting medical assistance when one of their peers may need it, choosing to 'take care of them,' which if true speaks to a different challenge,” she said.

According to Scripps Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson, Scripps had nine student alcohol-transports last semester. In the 2015-16 academic year, the college had 12 transports, and five the year before.

Harvey Mudd College had one transport last semester, and three the semester before that, according to Dean of Students Jon Jacobsen.