For new alcohol policy, 'U' to contact parents on 'case-by-case' basis

Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - 7:08pm

Mary Jo Desprez, director of Wolverine Wellness, speaks to Michigan Daily staff about the new university alcohol policy in a meeting on Wednesday.

Mary Jo Desprez, director of Wolverine Wellness, speaks to Michigan Daily staff about the new university alcohol policy in a meeting on Wednesday. Buy this photo
Amanda Allen/Daily

 

A week after unveiling a plan to involve the parents of first-year students following violations of University alcohol policies, administrators say the new protocol will be implemented on a case-by-case basis — not uniformly.

In an exclusive conversation with The Michigan Daily on Wednesday, University higher-ups provided further details, and framed the new directive as a matter of health and wellness.

E. Royster Harper, vice president of student life; Mary Jo Desprez, director of Wolverine Wellness; and Eddie Washington, executive director of the Division of Public Safety and Security, spoke to the reasoning and goals of the initiative.

Desprez noted that the policy is present in some form at a majority of schools in the Big 10 conference. The University’s iteration of the practice will notify parents if a first-year student under the age of 21 “commits a violation accompanied by other serious behavior such as needing medical attention, significant property damage or driving under the influence,” or if one of these students “has a second alcohol or drug infraction.”

Whether or not parents are contacted after the policy’s specified infractions, however, will be evaluated on a case-to-case basis.

“Part of what we have talked about is trying to leave some space,” Harper said. “Should, in the course of having a conversation with a student, there is a sense that actually calling would not be in their best interest, then we won’t.”

Desprez elaborated that dangerous behavior in relation to alcohol and/or drugs can be a result of family issues, dysfunction or even genetic disposition — and the University will try to be sensitive to these issues, among others, in evaluating the need to contact parents.

Harper said the new directive of calling parents is atypical for the University, but Desprez explained that the culture of excess alcohol consumption has necessitated a response.

Four years of data harvested from Alcohol Edu, Desprez said, revealed that 35 percent of first-year students drink in a high-risk way. Subsequently, first-years were determined to be the appropriate target group for the pilot program.

She said the new policy is not a matter of policing and punishing students — but will instead focus on making students recognize and prevent “harmful” behavior. This is where parents come into the picture: in an increasingly digital age, Desprez noted, students text their parents or other family members an average of 13 times each day.

“Part of this also is, students tell us, when we ask them, ‘Who is the biggest influence on your decisions and your values,’ they always say parents or family,” Desprez said. “So part of this is us partnering with the people they have told us are the biggest part of their support network.”

Sentimentality appears to be one of the larger motivating factors behind the decision to contact parents after inherently dangerous or repeat violations of the University’s drug and alcohol policies. The policy, Desprez said, is about “having a conversation” within the framework of “constructive, non-judgmental early intervention.”

This process will also involve informing at-risk students of the University’s resources with regard to future behavior — from methods for safer consumption like Stay in the Blue, to units focusing on addiction recovery.

Ultimately Harper and Desprez acknowledged that there is not hard evidence to support the success of involving parents in the process of monitoring and preventing alcohol-related harm.

“There are a lot of people who would tell you that parent-family communication is a ‘best practice,’ not an ‘evidence base,’ which is why we are piloting the program,” Desprez said. “So when you ask what is our motivation for such a rigorous evaluation, I think we understand that it’s considered to be a best practice across the country, but we also want to see the data.”