"Anyone sitting there?"
Randy Monchick settled into an open seat next to me during lunch on the second day of the drug court conference. Before long, I found myself absorbed in a discussion of his new initiative: an attempt to import the drug court model to college campuses across the country.
It's a nice example of what I would call "problem-solving entrepreneurialism": taking the principles and practices or problem-solving courts and applying them in new settings.
The scale of the drug and alcohol abuse problem is clear, as Randy as his co-facilitator Lisa Miller of Colorado State University pointed out at a workshop session I attended after lunch. There are 1,700 alcohol-related students deaths on college campuses per year, along with 70,000 documented alcohol and drug related sexual assaults. Researchers have found that about 25 percent of college students are frequent binge drinkers, meaning that they regularly have five or more drinks in a two-hour period.
The issue isn't merely that a certain percentage of young adults are (inevitably)experimenting with drugs and alcohol. The issue is environmental: through a mix of permissiveness, peer pressure and a "wink and nod" attitude towards drug and alcohol abuse, college campuses have become laboratories for destructive behavior. As Lisa Miller pointed out, college students abuse drugs and alcohol about twice as often as similarly aged peers not enrolled in school.
Interestingly enough, students regularly over-state the percentage of their peers they believe are abusing drugs and alcohol. Translation: students believe "everyone is doing it," a clear expression of strongly held beliefs about college culture.
Lisa's "Day IV" program, based at Colorado State University, is the first of its kind in the country. Instead of suspending (or kicking out) students who violate the school's code of conduct, they are given a "deferred dismissal" in exchange for following a strict set of program rules, which includes abstinence (enforced through random drug testing) and regular meetings with a team of social workers and a hearing officer. After a minimum of four months participation, the student can be restored to regular status; if they fail to complete the program, they are formally dismissed.
Randy's goal is to export the Day IV approach to college campuses across the country, with support from the Century Council. Two pilot sites (Texas A & M and the University of Nevada) have already been selected, with more on the way.
I asked Lisa and Randy how much impact programs like Day IV can have on a college culture that often pressures students (particularly freshman) to drink. Over time, according to Lisa, she's learned "which fraternities, which academic departments and which residence halls" are having repeated problems. Some of the best sources of information are program graduates, many of whom continue working on a voluntary basis for Day IV. The university can use this information to address problem locations - for example, by threatening to revoke a fraternity's charter unless they agree to major changes.
In my view, it's this type of problem-solving enforcement that offers the most promising approach to the culture problem. To be successful, Day IV and programs like it will have to go beyond addressing individual behavior to addressing an environment that encourages reckless and dangerous behavior. At Colorado State, Day IV has already gotten the attention of the wider student body: Lisa Miller laughably refers to an "I hate Lisa Miller" club on MySpace (a popular internet bulletin board) created by anonymous students.
It's not much different from what we're tying to accomplish at Bronx Community Solutions: addressing behavior that might otherwise be dismissed or minimized, creating a culture of accountability while offering individuals a helping hand.
A final thought: one of the striking things about Day IV is the attempt to apply problem-solving court techniques in a non-court setting. If problem-solving can go to a college campus, where else can it go?