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Activities to educate on dangers of alcohol

by Richard Veilleux - October 17, 2005

On the surface, it seems odd that hundreds of American universities would welcome a student organization named BACCHUS and GAMMA. After all, Bacchus is known primarily as the god of wine and revelry.

The members of BACCHUS and GAMMA, however, revel not in partying but in educating students about the dangers of alcohol and the need to make good decisions. They also provide interactive games and events that show students what alcohol can do to a person’s body and mind.

The name BACCHUS was chosen as the first emblem to represent the association as an alcohol awareness organization, not an anti-drinking group. BACCHUS is an acronym for Boosting Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students. GAMMA is an acronym for Greeks Advocating Mature Management of Alcohol.

“We started the group after realizing there were many intervention programs at UConn for people who have serious problems with alcohol, but no organizations that focused on prevention,” says Dan Murphy, president of the year-old chapter. “Our goal is to educate the entire campus community about alcohol and other party drugs. We do not preach abstinence, though we support those who choose not to drink. Instead we try to educate students so they can make good decisions on their own.”

The members of BACCHUS and GAMMA will be out in force Oct. 17-22, during National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week.

“They make prevention fun and entertaining,” says Thomas Szigethy, director of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Education and Services on the Storrs campus. “They do an excellent job of showing other students where the risks lie in drinking, and they do it in a game-show format, or with a raffle. They started the Spring Weekend Safe Pledge last year – a pledge to be responsible – and more than 1,000 students signed on. They’re hoping to get more this year.”

Szigethy, too, is ramping up the University’s efforts to educate the community about the risks of drugs and alcohol and, now in his second year on the job, is organizing the UConn community’s efforts to combat what is a national problem.

“We’re trying to hit the issue from every direction we can,” says Szigethy.

“Last year, we didn’t start meeting until the second semester,” he says. “This year we’re moving more rapidly, hoping to start getting the message out a lot earlier.”

The Spring Weekend Task Force, which by the end of the spring semester regularly drew up to 50 students to its meetings, began meeting this year in September. The Campus/Community Coalition met soon after.

Earlier this month, a group that included Julie Bell-Elkins, associate dean of students, Betsy Paterson, mayor of Mansfield, Sgt. Sean Cox, a resident state trooper, and others, visited residents of Carriage House Apartments – the second year the visits took place.

They discussed expectations and provided the students with tips on avoiding trouble and protecting themselves when the number of visitors, most of them non-UConn students, reaches a critical mass.

“Most of the residents appreciated the heads up,” says Szigethy.

This week, Janice Wilbur, director of HEART House, and members of UConn’s counseling staff will continue visiting First Year Experience classes to discuss personal responsibility and dispense information on alcohol abuse.

And members of BACCHUS and GAMMA will offer several programs, including community-building exercises and activities for residential life staff and residents. During the semester, Wilbur and the counselors will visit more than 60 FYE classes.

Szigethy also organized an alcohol awareness week T-shirt design contest to design a t-shirt that promotes safe behavior and awareness of alcohol poisoning.

The entries will be displayed this week in the Student Union, and students can vote on their choices. The winning shirt will be reproduced and distributed to students next semester, to promote alochol awareness throughout the year.

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