University approach to drinking praised

Robert Saltz.
Robert Saltz.
A United States researcher who studies drinking culture at universities says the University of Otago is on the right track when it comes to tackling problem drinking among its students.

Dr Robert Saltz, a senior researcher at the Prevention Research Centre in Berkeley, California, is a member of Otago University's alcohol implementation group, which is tackling problem drinking and has been in Dunedin over the past two weeks.

Dr Saltz said the university had taken positive steps when it came to targeting initiation rites and hazing behaviours, which had been singled out in a pamphlet given to students explaining the code of conduct.

''The students are now especially made aware of that type of coercive behaviour and the dangers associated with it,'' Dr Saltz, who has been studying alcohol-related harm at universities since the 1980s, said.

The important thing now was to make sure students heeded this advice.

''The question now is whether the students see this as a policy that exists in written form only, or will there be cases which make students convinced this is a major concern for the university,'' he said.

This would require giving punishments to those involved in the worst cases and making sure students found out about those cases.

He was also impressed with the way the Hyde St keg party was handled and the overall path the university was taking on drinking.

''It seems to me that they are finding that right middle tone, between not wanting to appear to be the police for all the students, but to be genuinely concerned for their safety,'' he said.

Parliament's recent decision not to raise the drinking age did make life tougher for the university, as it was unable to use methods to control drinking which had proved successful in the United States, where the drinking age was set at 21. That gave colleges in America more opportunities to break up parties.

Despite the difference in drinking age, many of the same problems found in New Zealand universities could be found in the United States, particularly in sororities.

Other ways Otago University could try to get the message across to students included getting landlords and the hospitality industry on board with the code of conduct.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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