On Wednesday night, Santa Barbara City College hosted an underage drinking awareness meeting and panel to address community concerns. Many students and community members attended, and there was a panel made up of drug and alcohol counselors from UCSB and SBCC, law enforcement officers, hospital staff, a property manager, and a UCSB alumnus who is now five years sober.
The focus of the meeting was to discuss how the community as a whole can have a positive effect on the extreme levels of underage drinking that occurs in Santa Barbara, most specifically Isla Vista. After members of the panel introduced themselves, the audience asked questions about law enforcement and the official response to underage drinking, the lack of oversight regarding sexual assault, and the resources that students have to programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Most of the panelists stated that education was the key. The police officers present spoke of the importance of early drug and alcohol education, far before college. They said that because the idea of alcohol is already so present in society, education is the way to curb underage use. A middle school drug and alcohol counselor spoke about the importance of providing open door policies for confidential counseling to younger students so that they have can find healthy ways to cope with issues that often lead to alcohol and drug abuse.
Jackie Kurta, director of the UCSB Alcohol and Drug Program, said the strategy used by the entire community of Santa Barbara is the combination of education, deterrence, and enforcement. Kurta placed a huge emphasis on community effort. She said, “Everybody plays a part in this. It is an environmental issue, education issue, family issue, everything.” Kurta also spoke of bystander intervention as something that individuals can do to make a positive change. “If we see bad things happening and don’t intervene in some way, then we have to take some responsibility for that,” she said.
The topic of sexual assault was also addressed, as well as the collaboration between UCSB and SBCC on assault. Ben Murphy, the Alcohol and Substance Awareness Program coordinator at SBCC, said the campus began a new sexual assault awareness campaign and that SBCC will start to see more on-campus events, posters, and a bigger presence in general. “There’s a lot of sexual assault in Isla Vista that is reported, and there’s even more that is never reported,” he stated.
Murphy runs a peer education program at SBCC in which he trains students to lead substance abuse outreach in classes; UCSB has a similar program. He said SBCC encounters lots of roadblocks because of a lack of funding but that UCSB is very inclusive and “collaborating with them is awesome.” Murphy pointed to the main problem with the culture of Isla Vista — underage binge drinking — but spoke optimistically about students changing their attitude. “Events like this get people thinking. There isn’t one solution, but people really do need to have it on their mind where it isn’t cool to get that drunk. I really hope that some day, the cheering on of such debauchery gets frowned upon.”
Murphy uses his personal story of addiction to try to connect with students and feels strongly that as soon as students start taking the initiative, things will begin to change. He said that he wants students to know that they should be having fun, but he wants them to succeed as well. “We just want to get the tragic things down, the injuries, the dropouts, the DUIs, the deaths.”
For more information on future town hall meetings discussing this topic at SBCC, contact Ben Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.