Party’s over: Most students don’t drink excessively

Wild Homecoming bashes. Keggers. Rowdy drinking games. Many teenagers head off to university thinking these are the rituals of student life. And that participating in them is the way to fit in, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 27. Funny thing is, research shows there’s a big difference between what students think their peers are up to, and what they’re actually doing. And spreading the word about those misperceptions is fast becoming a common strategy on campuses to deter risky behaviour.

BACCHUS Canada, which promotes alcohol awareness on campuses, recently surveyed 14,000 university students at 10 schools across Canada as part of a four-year pilot project on social norms. It found that 63 per cent drink twice a month or less. But 80 per cent believed their peers drank once a week or more and a third believed students commonly drink three times a week. The same survey found that 93 per cent of youth believed students should not drink to an intoxicating level that interferes with academic or other responsibilities.

The survey, by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, also found that the larger the group of students, the higher the average alcohol intake, ranging from 1.8 drinks alone to 6.2 drinks in large groups. So the headline-grabbing drinkfests are still with us. But Frank Cappadocia, director of student community and leadership development at York University, says the general public may get the idea that things are wilder than ever because of how fast news spreads these days, thanks to technology. Party scenes from Queen’s Homecoming or a bash at Florida State University get posted to YouTube within minutes, and the most outrageous stuff is there for all to see. Tales of mayhem spread through Facebook like a virus. But, he says, today’s students have a vastly different experience than a generation ago, when pub crawls and two-hour lineups to get into the campus pub were the norm. "To tell the truth, for us, alcohol consumption is not actually as big a concern as stress," he says.

Cappadocia notes change is happening at different rates. Unlike York and other GTA universities that have large commuter populations, schools like Queen’s, Western and Laurier, where most students live on or very close to campus, have a tougher job changing their cultures. Changing a culture is tough and takes time. But those involved say the key is peer education and modelling through student leaders during Orientation Week, floor dons in residence and those who run activities throughout the university. These role models carry a lot more weight than lectures, says Cappadocia. "’Thou shalt not?’ Big mistake."

In a related story, Cappadocia and others who work with students suggested factors contributing to a trend in Ontario away from excessive drinking and partying:

  • The large number of underage students entering first year since Grade 13 was scrapped in 2003. This has forced schools to reorient their cultures by cracking down on underage drinking in residences and holding alcohol-free events during Orientation Week.
  • High tuition costs. Few can afford to party at the risk of jeopardizing their academics, and students have less disposable income to spend on alcohol.
  • Changed demographics. There are many more students from cultural and religious backgrounds where drinking is not acceptable.
  • Tough competition. Students have to work hard to get into and pass premier undergraduate programs and to earn a spot in graduate school.
  • Health-conscious students. Undergraduates are more informed about healthy lifestyles, eating habits and the risks of destructive behaviour.
  • Hands-on parents. They are quick to intervene with school administration if their kids are overindulging or disrupted by other students.
  • Public education. Groups such as MADD Canada have raised awareness about the hazards of risky drinking and forced student unions and campus heath education units to respond.

Pubbing is not what it used to be, Cappadocia told the Star in a separate story. At York, eight of the nine college councils are out of the bar business. The one left has gone from a profit centre to breaking even.

York alumnus Greg Sorbara steps down as finance minister

A Canadian Press sketch of Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara, who announced Friday he is stepping down from provincial cabinet, was widely picked up by print and broadcast media Oct. 27 across Ontario. Under education, it listed his bachelor of arts from York University’s Glendon College and law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School.

US retailers rev up promotions north of the border

Don’t be surprised if you have a catalogue dropped off at your door, an e-mail in your inbox or a message on the answering machine from a retailer south of the border, reported the Hamilton Spectator Oct. 29. Alan Middleton, marketing professor at Schulich School of Business at York University, said US retailers are only too happy to cater to Canadians browsing their wares online or in their catalogues. "The whole (US) economy is slowing down," he said. "When it comes to a new opportunity, especially for border states, (retailers) will get really aggressive." That’s going to leave some Canadian retailers trying to play catch-up, said Middleton. He suggests they may try to brush up Web sites and/or offer "non-priced items," in other words, freebies. While the strong dollar will help release Canadian pent-up demand for American goodies, it will likely peak in March or April, then subside, said Middleton. "I expect there will be a surge of demand for US products once they start to drop their catalogues. Once people realize ‘Oh dear I have to pay duty on top,’ it will settle back down – at a higher level than it was at the 65-cent dollar, but it will settle." However, all the rush and competition will definitely mean sales here at home, big sales just in time for Christmas, said Middleton. "In the end, the customer will win."

Longer growing season is a sign of climate change, says prof

Environment Canada data shows Ontario’s London area has already experienced one of the longest growing seasons on record and there is no sign of frost until Monday, reported the St. Thomas Times-Journal Oct. 26. Agriculture experts and climatologists warn the longer season without freezing temperatures has the potential for both good and bad. The warming in Southwestern Ontario is consistent with the models for climate change, said Mark Winfield, a professor of environmental studies at York University. "It is not necessarily a good news story. How it will play out is still guesswork." Though the longer season may benefit crops, it means the climate is becoming less stable. There is the possibility of extreme weather events, droughts and ground-level ozone. "It may extend the smog season quite a bit, too," Winfield said.

Variable-rate mortgages are the best strategy

The debate between variable versus fixed-rate mortgages has gone on for a long time, noted an Edmonton Journal columnist Oct. 27. Most recently, Moshe Milevsky, a professor of finance at York’s Schulich School of Business, has updated some research showing that mathematically, the variable rate is the better strategy 88 per cent of the time. In his research paper, Milevsky shows that Canadians could save $22,000 of interest payments for every $100,000 of mortgage debt over a 15-year amortization by going with the variable-rate option. He used interest rate data from 1950 to 2000 to make his point.

On air

  • A police officer was injured after colliding with a civilian vehicle at Finch and Keele while responding to a call at York University, reported Toronto radio and TV news programs Oct. 26.
  • Eighty groups were dancing at York and around the world to Michael Jackson’s Thriller to set a Guinness record, reported CBC, CTV and TV news programs in Barrie and Ottawa Oct. 26 and 27. The event is organized by choreographer and former York dance student Ines Markeljevic and proceeds would go to the Hospital for Sick Children.