Sobriety Society: The truth behind sobriety on SMU’s campus

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Photo credit: Cassandra Mlynarek

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. The bass from the cluster of boulevard tents on the Dallas Hall lawn was so loud the ground was practically shaking. On a Saturday in October, students, faculty and alumni alike packed the boulevard tents to escape the heat and gorge themselves on free food and booze.

“Hey, I’m a freshman,” an SMU student slurred as she walked up to a group of students sporting pink wristbands signifying they had reached the golden age of 21. “Think you could get me a beer?”

It’s no secret that SMU has an elaborate party scene. Even the long-standing tradition of boulevarding before each football game is not complete without a beer–or 12. The student drinking culture however, does not speak for the entire student body. There are many students who choose to be sober but have to deal with the reputation and temptations presented with such an anti-sober culture.

“When I was applying for school and looking at SMU, I was worried about coming here because of the reputation,” said Kaitlyn Birch, a first-year accounting major from Connecticut. She was also visiting the tent.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that college drinking is widespread. Four out of five students drink alcohol while half of college students who do drink, consume alcohol through binge drinking.

According to the NIAAA, binge drinking is defined consuming enough alcohol in two hours to raise blood alcohol concentrations levels. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and after five drinks for men.

For students seeking to lead sober lifestyles while boulevarding they can visit the SMU Sober Tent. The 12 Step Ministry and a company called Caron , which specializes in individual treatment for those struggling with substance abuse, sponsor the sober tent. The tent offers free food, water, soda as well as information about substance abuse for those who ask for it.

“I’m 18 months sober,” said SMU junior and film major Peggy Moore, who was sitting at a red table at the sober tent that day. “I think it’s a lot easier now since I’ve found places I feel comfortable being sober.”

Moore knows all too well what it means to struggle with addiction while living in a college culture of drugs and alcohol. Moore says she started drinking as a senior in high school and after transferring to SMU for her sophomore year, her addiction escalated.

In 2011 she had an incident with the school and had to be hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. In 2013 her parents, who are locals to Dallas, confronted her and Moore decided to check into an in-patient rehabilitation center in Hunt, Texas.

“At SMU there’s a strong culture that excessive drinking is okay,” Moore said glancing at the next tent over where other students raised their red Solo cups to salute the ‘Stangs. “Sometimes I don’t get invited to parties because my friends think I’ll feel uncomfortable.”

While maintaining sobriety may be hard for some, one SMU first-year at the tent says she doesn’t feel pressured at all. Terisha Kolencherry, a public policy, political science and economics major believes SMU has plenty of activities, clubs and opportunities to have fun and stay sober.

“I’ve made friends who are sober and those who aren’t respect my choice to be sober,” said Kolecherry.

According to SMU’s Office of Police and Risk Management Crime and Fire Log, there were 16 cases of consumption of alcohol by a minor before the fall semester even started. There had been a total of 87 incidents by the end of October. There have also been 12 incidents of possession of drug paraphernalia and five incidents that included marijuana possession.

SMU realizes that sobriety can be an issue that students struggle with and offers counseling and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to provide support. The SMU recovery support group meets every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports, which is only open to SMU students.

“We know that many college-age students are experimenting with drugs and alcohol,” said Vice President and Executive Director of Caron Mike Puls who works at the SMU Sober Tent. “We just want to provide a safe place for them where they don’t feel pressured.”

In a study conducted by Dallas Marketing Group in April 2014, more than 500 Texas males ages 18 to 25 were asked about their perception of alcohol and drug use. The study showed that 41 percent admitted to marijuana use and 21 percent admitted to daily marijuana use. Twenty-four percent admit to driving after three drinks and 19 percent engaged in unprotected sex as a result of intoxication.

“I’ve noticed that peer pressure is very high,” said Sylvia Hubbard, a Caron employee who works closely with SMU Student Affairs and the SMU Sober Tent. “Kids will come by and laugh at the tent or tell each other to take a picture in front of the sober tent sign while intoxicated. Those who make fun are uncomfortable but we just want them to know it’s OK to come here.”

The idea that it’s OK to be sober at SMU does appear to be catching on for some. Puls said they had over 150 students at the last tailgate, all looking for some free food and a sober atmosphere.

“I think we’re making a lot of progress,” said Hubbard. “We won’t stop advocating for those who need help.”

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