Near the end of its first academic year in existence, mixed opinions from participants and the Office of the Student Advocate surround the effectiveness of the College Alcohol Skills Education program.
CASE is an eight-session program, run through Student Health for students caught drinking alcohol or using drugs in campus residence halls. Sessions are mandatory for these students, and failure to attend could lead to registration being withheld for subsequent quarters.
Since its inception last fall, 311 students have registered for CASE, and 241 have completed the program, said Heather Philips, administrative assistant for Student Health’s Alcohol and Drug counseling program. Complaints from some of the CASE participants, however, have led OSA to draft a policy position on the program. Completion of the paper is expected by Friday.
Students must pay a $50 registration fee for the educational program, said Jackie Kurta, CASE manager and Student Health Alcohol and Drug specialist. Student Affairs, Housing and Residential Service and Residential Life contribute additional funds to the program.
“The university is in strong support of the program,” Kurta said. “They are looking to enforce the rules and at the same time offer information that can be useful.”
Tricia Backelin, one of five CASE counselors, said the majority of students referred to CASE do not have a drinking or drug problem. However, she said the program is important because students should understand the consequences of their alcohol or drug consumption.
“It’s not an abstinence program,” Backelin said. “The overwhelming results of studies show that college students do not respond well to the message, ‘Stop Drinking.'”
While the program has received several lauds for its educational value, many students who go through CASE are critical, saying it is unnecessary to make first-time offenders or those who do not have problems with alcohol or drugs attend the informational sessions.
Jonathon Ng, a second-year communication major, said he was sent to CASE for playing a Scattergories drinking game in San Nicolas residence hall.
“I never really wanted to go [to CASE] because I would have rather been doing anything else on Earth,” Ng said. “When I was there, though, it wasn’t so bad, and then after I left, I never wanted to go back.”
Chris Karlin, OSA chief of staff, said OSA received complaints from students about the CASE and decided to draft a policy paper on the program.
“We don’t have a position on CASE yet,” Karlin, a third-year political science major, said. “We’re just investigating it, and in the future, we will be coming out with a policy recommendation.”
Echoing the concerns he said he has heard, Karlin said not all who register for the program have issues with alcohol or drugs, and thus should not be required to attend.
“We’re not against CASE,” Karlin said. “It’s a good program for students who need it.”
Regardless of the complaints, Dr. Elizabeth Downing, medical director for Student Health, said most of the feedback for CASE has been favorable. Thus far, no student assigned to CASE this year has been written up for alcohol or drug use more than twice, she said.
“On the whole, I think the majority of the students who have come through have benefited from the experience,” Downing said.
Throughout the CASE sessions, Kurta said students must write five one-page journals, including thoughts about their current issues and situations as well as considerations for their futures. After completing the program, students are also given a T-shirt that says, “Get off my CASE.”
“We acknowledge all alcoholic and drug use has risk,” Kurta said. “Our goal in these groups – they are very discussion-based and interactive – is to give students a chance to [participate in] dialogue about their experience, to learn from each other and to come away with some information they can take with them beyond UCSB.”
Kurta said some students at CASE feel content with their choices in partying. She said those students are the ones who tend to be more responsible and want to make the information they learned at the program available to everyone, such as how to avoid hangovers and blackouts.
“It’s a style of drinking that’s developed,” Kurta said. “One of the skills we try to impart to students is how to drink and have fun, and stay safe.”
In addition, Kurta said CASE is open to Santa Barbara City College students, a number of whom have attended the sessions.
Backelin said CASE helps students with problems other than alcohol and can refer them to off-campus treatment facilities.
“We’re a great referral point,” Backelin said. “We act as a gateway to all kinds of resources that the university has in place.”
Alcohol and Drug Program Director Ian Kaminsky said the idea for CASE originated at the University of Washington, and similar outlets are currently functioning at Sacramento State University and the University of Colorado.
Kaminsky said students attending the program only pay about 10 to 15 percent of its costs, meaning that CASE would not be able to function without additional university support. For the program to become self-sustaining, he said, students would need to be charged much more money – something he does not want.
“We started with a budget in fall to see a bunch of people, but we got more people than we expected, so then what happened was that we had to continue to increase the budget,” Kaminsky said. “We want to be a program that sustains itself, but we don’t have a huge funding source.”
Kaminsky speculated that the program costs more than $100,000 per year, and currently cannot provide salaries for the number of needed workers.
“The university has ponied up tens of thousands of dollars, but we won’t know until the whole program is over,” Kaminsky said. “The program wouldn’t be in existence if we didn’t have the financial support of Student Health.”
As for the potential OSA policy paper, Kaminsky said CASE would listen to suggested changes.
“We certainly want to be advised by [OSA],” he said. “If they have other ideas and concepts, we would certainly be open to hearing that.”