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UW–Madison recognizes high-risk drinking prevention efforts

April 19, 2010 By John Lucas

Campus and community leaders are honoring the groundbreaking work of UW–Madison’s PACE Project as the group nears the finale of its successful 14-year tenure.

Based in University Health Services (UHS), PACE (Policy, Alternatives, Community, Education) conducted innovative research and advocated for changes in an entrenched campus and city alcohol culture.

The efforts of the group are credited with bringing the campus and community together to discuss and develop policy-oriented solutions to help curb the negative “second-hand effects” of high-risk drinking among students and in the city of Madison. Those effects include serious academic problems, property damage, fights and unwanted sexual contact.

The final meeting of the PACE Community Partnership Council will be held at noon on Tuesday, April 20 at Memorial Union (TITU). The session will include a retrospective of the group’s work and recognition of its partners.

“In the early 1990s, most universities didn’t collaborate with their cities or local stakeholders around alcohol,” says Sarah Van Orman, UHS director. “Today, that’s a standard approach. PACE was absolutely innovative in its pursuit of developing solutions to this difficult problem.”

PACE was initially funded by a grant of the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and assumed into the operations of Prevention Services at UHS when the grant expired in 2006.

“The work of PACE continues with the university’s commitment to creating a campus where high-risk drinking doesn’t impact the health and safety of our community and the academic success of our students,” says Van Orman, who notes that the work of PACE has been incorporated into the larger mission of student life units at UW–Madison.

The group can cite many major accomplishments, says Aaron Brower, professor of social work and vice provost for teaching and learning, who co-directed the project since its inception as its principal investigator.

Despite a steadily growing number of bars and alcohol licenses downtown, UW–Madison has seen positive outcomes in its statistical research, with sustained decreases in the rate of “frequent” binge drinkers, along with promising decreases in the number of students who experience five or more problems related to alcohol.

PACE can also be credited with assisting change on campus and in the city. As a result of the work, UW–Madison has:

  • Standing membership on the city Alcohol License Review Committee;
  • Clarified expectations of student conduct and misconduct around alcohol. In particular, changes to University Housing and during SOAR;
  • Successfully instituted parental involvement in cases of transports to detox facilities;
  • Advocated for increased police outreach to high-density student areas and increased enforcement of alcohol-related crimes downtown;
  • Helped to focus city policies around large-scale events, including the Mifflin St. Block Party and Halloween;
  • Supported restrictions on bar-density and increased downtown safety;
  • Advocated for higher fines for alcohol-related violations, the use of electronic ID scanners, and alcohol-focused data analysis both in MPD and in the city;
  • Conducted yearly survey and reporting of drinking rates;
  • Addressed the dangers of off-campus house parties, and;
  • Created a robust conversation around the role of alcohol prices and drink specials downtown.

“PACE has shown terrific successes, and we thank everyone who has been involved through the life of this project,” says Brower. “We feel very positive that the work that has been pioneered through PACE will continue through the work of the university, ALRC, city, county and MPD.”

“The Dane County community will be well served by the ongoing collaborative relationships that were established through PACE,” adds Susan Crowley, who co-directed the project between 2000 and 2009, before leaving UW–Madison for the state Department of Health Services.

PACE was “A Matter of Degree” grant site, a group of 10 universities funded by the RWJ Foundation and evaluated by Harvard University, to reduce high-risk drinking and its consequences on campuses. The National Program Office for all of the grants was housed at the American Medical Association. The initial grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation came to UW–Madison as the result of a proposal written by Dr. Richard Keeling, former director of UHS.

“While important progress has been made, it is but a beginning,” says Carol Lobes, the first PACE project director who is now working with Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk on alcohol abuse issues. “The major harm and resulting losses continue to need work and attention; the good thing is that we are building on a base of new understanding and momentum that all involved with this work have created.”