University of Florida officials say they’re continuing efforts created in recent years — as well as launching a new one — to work toward preventing alcohol-related student deaths like the one that happened last week at Florida State University.
On Friday morning, FSU student Andrew Coffey, 20, was found unresponsive after a party he attended the night before. Coffey was a pledge of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, and his death led to the university’s president, John Thrasher, suspending all Greek activities on campus.
Alcohol-related deaths have in the past been a problem for UF, too, and the university has been working for several years to prevent them, said Bernie Machen, who served as UF’s president from 2004 to 2014.
“When I came in 2004, within the period of one year, we had over six alcohol-related deaths of students,” Machen said.
But even with the one at FSU being linked to a fraternity, alcohol problems aren’t tied just to Greek organizations, he said.
“They are not nested just in the Greek community,” Machen said. “This is a campus-wide problem, and we decided that the only way we could deal with it was to deal with it as a community.”
Specifically, during Machen’s 10-year tenure, he said he helped form Later Gator transportation services, which gives students, including intoxicated ones, rides at night; the Community Alcohol Coalition, which brings students, faculty, police and other area public schools together to share ideas, find solutions and prevent further issues; and the Medical Amnesty Policy.
These three initiatives are continuing on campus, and the Community Alcohol Coalition is set to meet again on Nov. 30 from 10 a.m. to noon in Emerson Alumni Hall. The meeting is open to all.
The Medical Amnesty Policy, created in 2011, allows students to help intoxicated friends without the possibility of repercussions, Machen said.
“Students felt that they were in jeopardy of being turned in to student honor code if they brought their classmates to the emergency room,” he said. “So we came up with an amnesty policy [that says] any student helping another student is not going to be put in jeopardy of being in violation of the student [code of] conduct.”
Starting in the coming spring semester, UF’s GatorWell Health Promotion Services will begin using a new program — called Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention in College Students, or BASICS — to also help reduce excessive drinking. Through meeting with students, BASICS promotes healthier choices and teaches coping skills to moderate drinking.
Also starting in the spring, GatorWell will begin managing appointments related to the Medical Amnesty Policy, said Alicia Baker, a GatorWell health promotion specialist. This includes having students involved in drinking- and substance-related incidents meet with on-campus counselors.
But the appointments aren’t meant to be a cure-all, said Alvin Lawrence, associate director for clinical services in UF’s Counseling & Wellness Center.
“These meetings are not intended to be pivotal,” he said. “They’re strictly educational [and] just to help them learn about themselves and how they respond to alcohol.”
The appointments do, though, reduce the chances of alcohol-related incidents from happening in the future, Lawrence said. He said he can’t remember a time when he has seen the same student for the same offense twice, and those who attend appointments usually offer positive responses.
For fraternities and sororities, the amnesty policy allows members to seek help but not bring about consequences to the organization, UF spokesperson Janine Sikes said.
“The whole idea is how can we as a community come together and reduce binge drinking and underage drinking,” she said. “Certainly, alcohol use and abuse has led to so many lives lost in the college community.”
UF has been pleased with how the amnesty policy has worked so far but that the university is continuing to explore new ways to combat excessive drinking, Sikes said.
“We’re not saying that our work is done,” she said. “We get a new set of students every fall, and so we have to continue with our education and our conversations and work really hard together as a community to keep our students safe.”