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UTPA students learn about the dangers of drinking

University of Texas-Pan American freshmen Iliana Cantu and Baldomero Perez giggled while taking a survey about alcohol use.

The 18-year-olds said they don’t really drink and prefer to focus on their studies.

“We’re geeks,” Perez joked.

But they said they have friends attending schools beyond the Rio Grande Valley where binge drinking and heavy partying are the norm.

On Tuesday, they and other students at UTPA learned what the consequences could be for students who do engage in such risky behavior.

Representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County, Palmer Drug Abuse Program, Rio Grande Valley Coalition and other organizations were on campus handing out information and talking to students about the dangers of drinking too much, abusing drugs and having unprotected sex.

“It’s all geared toward helping students make decisions,” said Miguel Lopez, a licensed counselor and program coordinator of the UTPA Empowerment Zone. The empowerment zone serves as an umbrella organization for smaller programs, including drug and alcohol counseling.

The university put on the event in conjunction with National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, which runs through Friday. On Thursday, the university’s Bacchus and Gamma club plans to host another event with live music.

UTPA joins about 1,000 other campuses throughout the country in educating students about the risks involved in binge drinking, drug use and unprotected sex, according to The Bacchus Network, a nonprofit network involving universities and community organizations that promotes health and safety programs.

Students who stopped by the tables set up behind the student union filled out surveys about their drinking habits, answered true-or-false questions about sexual activity and received free gifts including ice cream scoops and key chains. Each table was filled with pamphlets, brochures and other informational items.

Overall, students said they were glad the university had people on hand to provide the information.

Seniors Rossy Lima, 22, and Perla Rubi, 20, said most people would take the advice of loved ones about the dangers of drinking and drug use rather than just reading something from a brochure. But they liked that the university and community groups were reaching out to students, especially those who might have a problem with alcohol and other drug abuse.

“They offer (ways) to quit or change,” said Lima.

This year is an especially important one for colleges and universities to get the word out about binge drinking. More than 100 universities, led by Middlebury College in Vermont, have banded together under The Amethyst Initiative to persuade the federal government to reduce the drinking age from 21 to 18.

Student drinking isn’t just a health issue but also a potential liability for colleges and universities. The Associated Press, for example, reported in December about a couple who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Rider University in New Jersey after their 18-year-old son Gary DeVercelly Jr. died after consuming large quantities of alcohol at a fraternity party.

UTPA said it has not been approached by The Amethyst Initiative, but the university issued an official statement earlier this year saying it would study the issue of lowering the drinking age if students asked it to do so.

Abel De Joyos, a 23-year-old sophomore, said people 17 and 18 years old are able to enlist in the military, purchase cigarettes or be charged as adults in certain crimes.

“If you’re considered an adult already, why can’t 18 be the age?” De Joyos said.

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source:  The Monitor

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