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Brandi Jewett, Forum News Service, Published July 19 2013

Grand Forks, UND form committee to address high-risk alcohol use

GRAND FORKS – Grand Forks and University of North Dakota officials are hoping the creation of a joint committee will help curb high-risk alcohol use and its associated culture in the city.

The entities announced Thursday the formation of the Community and Campus Committee on High-Risk Alcohol Use at a news conference. The committee will work to establish a culture of low-risk drinking in Grand Forks through methods such as creating an awareness campaign and suggesting changes to city liquor laws.

“We know and accept the fact there is a culture of high-risk alcohol use in our region and state,” said Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown. “What we are no longer going to accept is that we can’t change that culture that exists.”

Chairing the committee will be Lori Reesor, UND’s vice president for student affairs, and Ken Vein, City Council member for Ward 7.

The committee is composed of representatives from UND, the city, law enforcement, bars and restaurants, Grand Forks Public Schools, Grand Forks Air Force Base and health agencies.

Its first meeting will be Aug. 14 at 4 p.m. in the Altru Health System Board Room.

Young adults

Much of the committee’s work will be focused on young adults – both under and above the legal drinking age.

Members of the UND community said they hope the committee will be successful in changing the drinking culture among university students.

“The problem of high-risk alcohol use is a critical one in higher education,” Reesor said. “In fact, about 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of drinking including missing class, falling behind in coursework, failing exams and receiving lower grades.”

Part of the problem is the way young people drink. Eve Bostyan, an outpatient counselor with Drake Counseling Services in Grand Forks, said young adults treat drinking more like taking a drug than a social experience.

“They take it in as fast as they can,” she said. Another factor is pre-gaming, the act of drinking before going out to a bar, party or other event.

“We used to ask people ‘Do you drink before you go out?’ because it was usually an indicator of a problem,” Bostyan said. “Now pre-gaming is a natural occurrence.”

Jim Murphy, alcohol and drug coordinator at the UND Counseling Center, said his office is busy, but that means young people are coming in to talk about the drinking they do and the concerns they have about it.

“It’s a good thing,” he said.

Committee roots

The formation of the Community and Campus Committee came at the recommendation of another city committee.

The City Council’s Service and Safety Committee held three special meetings earlier in the year to collect feedback on alcohol laws and culture from residents and business owners.

Topics such as possibly limiting drink specials, capping liquor licenses and increasing liability for alcohol providers were brought forward by people attending those meetings.

Vein said those issues will be tackled by the Community and Campus Committee, which could result in its members proposing new or revising city alcohol laws.

“We do understand that alcohol is a legal product. Our private sector — as well as many of our residents’ livelihoods — is dependent on it,” he said. “We want to be sure all sides of the issue are addressed.”

Terry Bjerke, chairman of the Service and Safety Committee, said Thursday he was happy his committee’s recommendation was followed.

“This is really something we need to look into,” he said. “There are people out there who don’t think being under 21 means no drinking. Well, it does.”