A new survey suggests when it comes to drinking, some University of Wisconsin-Madison students, particularly students of color, feel like it’s hurting their college experience.

Students who took the survey said they not only feel pressure to drink to fit in, but out of the 4,500 students who took the survey, more than half said regardless of whether they participate in drinking, the alcohol culture on campus has negatively affected their college experience.
“If you don’t choose to drink, if you don’t go to parties, if you don’t host parties, you’re not truly a Wisconsin student,” student Marlow Reeves said. “It is the center of everything. It’s changed the way I see fun, how I see other people and how I see the relationships that I have with other people.”

According to the survey, “The Color of Drinking,” incidents of racial bias are directly connected to drinking on campus. Forty percent of students said they avoid certain areas of campus to avoid harassment by drunk students. Fifty-three percent said they avoid areas where they know drinking occurs, including State and Langdon streets.

“There have been times where my friends have had things thrown at them from people’s porches, there are times where my friends have been called the ‘n’ word from other people’s porches just from walking down East Washington, and so you have to change how you interact with the environment,” Reeves said.

Acts of racial bias are directly connected to the drinking culture on campus, said Reonda Washington, alcohol and drug prevention coordinator for University Health Services.

“Our alcohol culture also impacts our campus climate and we need to be addressing both, not just one or the other,” Washington said.

Washington started research on the impact of college drinking culture on students of color after realizing that there was no research on the topic available. Research started with focus groups, but later transformed into an anonymous survey in an effort to get a better response.

“Students of color, we found through multiple studies, not just this one, tend to be non-drinkers or low-risk drinkers, so they are doing the good things. But our campus punishes them for doing those good things,” Washington said.

The impact of alcohol on campus shows more needs to be done to address the racial and drinking climate on campus, Reeves said.

“Students, in general, are negatively impacted by the drinking culture here because of the many pressures that are associated with needing to drink to be accepted. But students of color, in particular, are affected because it brings out the characteristics and lowlights of people that folks usually try to hide,” Reeves said.

Washington plans to conduct another survey in the coming months that will include all races on campus to get an overall view of the drinking culture. Recommendations of the 2015 report include responsible-drinking education and encouraging bystanders to intervene when they encounter incidents of bias, drunkenness or sexual assault.