Dialogues Across Difference


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Anthony: Welcome everyone for joining us today. My name is Anthony James. I am the interim Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, and today's session is a new project we are working on "Dialogues Across Difference". And the goal of this series is to have models of dialogue and discussion between people who represent different views in a given area, for example politics. But people can have differences in several areas as we will see today, as well as in the future sessions. And the idea is to show the possibility that we can have a diverse community of people who exist together peacefully and civilly, even with those differences that they may have.

And so what is the diversity? We are taking a wide view of diversity, which means we have diversity or difference, along many realms. So this can be race, religion, ethnicity, politics, gender, disability, or ability, sexuality, and so on. These differences can cause tensions amongst community members to surface if we do not have the mechanisms in place to help us understand the differences and be respectful of them. We are not talking about discriminating or harassing behavior as those are illegal. And we have mechanisms in place to hold people accountable if they were to violate those laws or those rules that we have in place. So today is a first in this series, and we will try to have these along faculty, students, and staff [lines] so that we are providing models across the different elements within our community. And so today's topic is broadly about the extent to which or whether Miami University should be involved in telling students whether to drink. And so we have three individuals today that will be involved in a discussion. And I am actually going to allow them to introduce themselves and so I will pass the virtual mic to Tarah, and again, thanks for joining us. And I will join you at the end. Tarah?

Tarah: Thank you, Anthony. This is Tarah Trueblood and I'm the director of the Center for American World cultures, which is part of Global Initiatives. And I also happen to be a former attorney and United Methodist minister. David?

David: I'm Dave Rosenthal, Professor Emeritus in Marketing here at Miami University where I taught for 35 years. Five years ago I retired. I am a novelist, a gourmet cook, a vegetable gardener, and a fused-glass artist ... the proceeds of which go to supporting Animal Rescue across the nation.

Tarah: And Rosemarie.

Rosemarie: Hi, I'm Rosemarie Ward. I'm the associate dean of the graduate school and am a professor of kinesiology, nutrition, and health specifically in the public health area. My research is on college student alcohol consumption and its consequences.

Tarah: Great, thanks. So just a little bit of background or context for this. So for the last three years, the Center for American World Cultures has spearheaded Miami's intergroup dialogue initiative. There's a lot being said around campus now about intergroup dialogue. Intergroup dialogue is an academic initiative for leveraging diversity as an institutional resource. It's also an evidence-based strategy for moving the campus climate needle. So it's based on a theoretical model which was developed and researched for over 30 years by the University of Michigan and a cohort of peer institutions. So what it does is ... intergroup dialogue brings together participants from different social identity groups in a sustained and facilitated learning environment. Those are important. Through sustained dialogue with diverse peers, content learning and experiential knowledge are integrated. So intergroup dialogue encourages participants to be both intellectually challenged and emotionally engaged. So these facilitated relationships influence the participant's understanding of their own and others' lived experiences and cultivate individual allyship and collective agency to affect social change.

So in preparing for today's conversation, I met with our two conversation partners to talk about the intentionality that is typically required in conversations on hot topics to avoid devolving into debate, which so often really shuts people down. So research demonstrates that learning doesn't really take place when people are shut down and learning does not take place when people are in their comfort zones. So between these two zones is the sweet spot, which is our learning zone and here things can be uncomfortable at times, but that's where we learn.

So we also reviewed the guidelines for dialogue which we use in all of our intergroup dialogue sessions, and these guidelines ask participants to speak from their own experiences using I statements, to step in and to step out so that everyone has the opportunity to be heard, to challenge the idea but not the person, and to accept a lack of closure. So, to get us going today I'm going to ask each of the dialogue participants to answer a two-pronged question:

  1. What went through your mind when you're invited to be part of a recorded conversation on this sensitive topic?
  2. And how are you feeling about it today?

So RoseMarie, would you like to step in first?

Rosemarie: Thank you, Tarah. What first went through my mind when approached about this was,  it's very common for people to have a lot of ideas about alcohol and as a researcher, I was excited about that to enter this dialogue and to kind of explore different perspectives because it helps me learn the topic a little bit more and kind of understand the approaches from that. How am I feeling about it today? Of course, it's a podcast so it's recorded. I'm always nervous about that, but I'm excited to hear what we're going to discuss. Thank you.

David: Well, I have to say, in all honesty, I approach this with a little trepidation certainly at the beginning, my concerns stem from, I guess this is one of those places where they're going to have to edit it, my concerns, my concerns stem from ... fear of, not contradiction, but rather dismissal, I suppose, not of my ideas, or not because of my ideas, but because simply a conflict and in today's environment of people being shut down. That worries me here at Miami.

Tarah: Thank you. So, just to launch us into the dialogue here, How does Miami University currently deal with student consumption of alcoholic beverages?

Rosemarie: So I can unpackage that a little bit first. Miami does it in a multiple-pronged approach, we have policies, and for our underage drinkers if they violate the policies (the 105s) in our student code of conduct, there are then fines that are leveraged, and depending on the severity of the infraction, they might also have some training that they get afterward about responsible drinking. Another way that they deal with this is, on behalf of the president's office every year annually I collect data for the University on the college student alcohol consumption to kind of inform ... "Do we need to have more honest and open conversations about how they're drinking, how they're using alcohol, and what it relates to in terms of mental health and sexual assault?" So we do it based on education, policy, and collecting regular data to kind of inform and know what the trends are.

Tarah: Anything you want to add David? Clarify?

David: No, good by me.

Tarah: All right, I appreciate both of your willingness to step in today and to, you know, step outside your comfort zone and to lean in here, so thank you. So, I guess what we kind of agreed in our planning for today was the real question that comes down to "How do we deal with the problem of high-risk drinking, while still maintaining the best outcomes for everyone?" Either one of you can jump in.

David: First of all, let me say that I grew up in a household that was split. My mother consumed alcohol on a daily basis and my father was an absolute teetotaler. He did not believe in drinking alcohol or modifying his consciousness in any way. My mother, on the other hand, enjoyed drink and as I said, drank probably on a daily basis in the evening. Myself, growing up in that environment, had the opportunity to drink or not drink, as I became of age. Certainly, that began before the age of 21. But as a result, alcohol had not a whole lot of mystery to me, and I knew my limits fairly well, even at that young age. I can think of two or three times in my life where I overdid it, and I mean overdid it considerably. But in each of those instances, spread by many years, the results were such that I resolved "Boy, I sure don't want to do that again." And to say that I learned my lesson ... I think I did fairly well. It was uncomfortable. It was ... I felt awful. And I didn't want to go back to that place. And I think that that's a learning process of personal responsibility that is important to every human being to learn one's limits regardless of whether it's alcohol or food or pick any other item.

Rosemarie: So to kind of unpackage this a little bit more ... and David I appreciate you telling us a little bit about your background and your history. To share as well, I'm one of nine children, and I am the only one in my family that doesn't drink. I grew up with alcohol, all around me in a college town, and it's something I study and quite honestly, I'm always intrigued by. You said it didn't have any mystery for you. There is a lot of mystery for students. Our data shows us that they explore it to see how it impacts them in different ways. And it's really interesting because a study was just released today about any amount of alcohol uses impacting our brain, regardless of what age of development you are. So for me, the idea of how do we deal with this while still maintaining those kind of best outcomes is to have those honest conversations about what alcohol does to your body, what alcohol does to your brain, and what kind of choices people make either using alcohol as an excuse or because of the alcohol. It is interesting to me because if we ... if there were no consequences if nothing ever happened positive or negative, with alcohol, we wouldn't care. It would just be like any other substance that we don't talk about regularly, like, oregano. We don't ever worry about somebody ODing on oregano. But because it has these added personal and interpersonal consequences, drinking is something we talked about at all age ranges and kind of how to work with it so that, we have the best outcomes possible, whether it's academically, professionally, socially, spiritually. We want to make sure that we're making the best choices that we can in that moment.

David: The question then or part of the question then becomes, what is the best outcome? And given what you just said Rosemarie, probably the best outcome for everyone would be that we do away with alcohol consumption entirely because it's doing things that are not positive, to our bodies and our minds, and there are consequences. And those consequences may have some positives in mood, but for the most part, I think you would say, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I think that you would say that most things are regarding alcohol are negative. So if, if we take that as sort of one extreme that we ought to get rid of alcohol entirely, if we want the best outcome. Then we look at the reality of the situation and say that's unlikely to happen. We tried prohibition, as a country, there are places in the US, that still are dry. So it's unlikely that that's going to occur although that could certainly be a policy of Miami University if the university wished to make it so.

Rosemarie: So, I like what you started with David about being the best outcome, what is the best outcome and so if we are narrowing it down to the university. Remember, we have them most commonly for about four years, during a time in which you know half of them are illegal to drink, and the best outcome for us is that they graduate. We worry about our persistence and retention rates and alcohol consumption definitely plays a huge role in our persistence, how long they stay, whether or not they graduate, at Miami. It also impacts and impairs learning. And so if we want the best outcomes for students we definitely review other health behaviors and make sure they have their vaccinations before they start college. Alcohol is just yet another health behavior that the university plays a role in to have them have best outcomes based on the academic environment that they're in. The other comment that I love that you said is like most things with alcohol are negative. I actually don't believe that. I believe there are positive aspects of alcohol. And some people ... you mentioned your mother drinking every day ... I had a grandmother who her form of coping, her celebration, every day was her scotch, and she had a scotch every day. And so I do think when it is ... when there's responsibility and awareness and what the alcohol is doing to your system, you can make good choices about alcohol. I think when we are talking about what's been framed before as high-risk drinking or heavy episodic drinking or binge drinking or drinking that just in kind of increases likelihood of the consequences that you're going to experience both as a positive to a point but negative once it goes beyond that point. That's when we have to worry about things, and that's why we have limits on driving, like if there were no worries about alcohol and everybody was responsible about your choices with it, we wouldn't worry about that .08 driving limit for the blood alcohol level. So I think it's like an ongoing conversation we put policies in place, not to restrict people but it's the same way I view when you maybe you've never thought of it this way but I think about this a lot, a little bit of paint saves our day, saves our life every day, a little bit of paint. You may have never looked at paint that way but paint is a policy. If we were all okay with the way we drive, then we would never put paint on our roads, but we put paint on a road as a guidance is that we were supposed to stay in our lane. And the same thing is why we have policies at the university, not because we're trying to be restrictive but, again, just so we have a little bit of paint, a little bit of policy, so that most people can follow stay within their lane and stay safe.

Tarah: Any response David?

David: I think that that brings us to a question of "Are those policies effective in accomplishing the goal?" It takes us back to the original question which is, "what are the best outcomes?" And I guess I would like to add: We're talking about educational outcomes. But the use of alcohol, as I mentioned in my opening statement is educational, in many ways, itself by learning one's limits, by freeing up one's inhibitions somewhat ... and Rosemarie thank you ... you commented that in some instances, it's good up to a point. And it that at some point it becomes significantly negative. Do Miami's policies which you compare to the use of paint as guidelines ... do those policies actually provide guidelines that students pay attention to, or even potentially are they antagonistic? Do they allow students to make those decisions and to learn? Or do they actually encourage some of the negative behaviors that we see in high-risk drinking? Yeah, so, I think we've agreed that drinking, as a whole, we're not trying to eliminate, but that we are trying to resolve the problem of high-risk drinking.

Rosemarie: Yeah, I would agree, reducing high-risk drinking, and its associated consequences would be definitely a goal. In terms do the policies work or do the policies encourage drinking ( I might get in trouble for this ... you might want to edit this out) but most of our students come to Miami, having never had drank before, and a third of our students actually come to Miami and don't drink the four years that they're here. And so what's fascinating to me is though, we do have a lot of students that come here and within that first three to six weeks of Miami. They have their first drink, they have their first experience. And so, is that our policies, or is that our culture? I've engaged in that conversation many times that Miami has a drinking culture. And I would say yes and some of that we could do some different policies on so I don't know if within your first three weeks of college I don't know what your college experience was for you like did the policies really impact your choice? I don't know whether it's they come here and it's the mix of students we bring to campus, all of those I think plays a part in this. And so, we also know what this is going to be fascinating in the next couple of months it's like our freshman class last year was remote that first five weeks. So, our rising sophomores, will have their first, first year on campus. We will also now have a first-year group as well but their first semester on campus. And so some of your questions like, Is it a policy or not, we're going to see that impact on campus, right away to know, because I'll be honest and the data that we collected this year, when the students for remote for various reasons, I mean most of them were home with their parents. They didn't drink. And so, it could be the culture, it could be more than the policies. But I think that we do have an interesting mix of Miami being an environment that does encourage making very risky choices around alcohol right now.

David: Well it seems that the risky behavior is taking place, quite frequently among the brand new students ... certainly the underage students. And it sort of makes one wonder where does that come from? As a professor, my students more often than not the ones that had a drinking situation, or an occurrence, or ran into difficulties, were often the younger ones rather than the older ones. The older ones have matured and figured it out, and for the most part, left it alone, ignoring, of course, green beer day, which seems to be a curse upon us all. I've often wondered and forgive me for the obvious facetiousness here. But I've often wondered whether we wouldn't do better with first-year students to bring them on campus, to take them to Cook Field the very first week that they're here, provide them with a large amount of alcohol and serve them with alcohol to the point that they are considerably drunk and feed them chili and see what the results are because they're undoubtedly going to be messy. Now I say that facetiously but, in effect, the students are doing this to themselves and I wonder if maybe there isn't a better way for us, not to get in their way, but to do it under controlled conditions, so that they are learning their lesson, without danger.

Rosemarie: David, if I'm there with breathalyzers I think that'd be a really interesting study because I do breathalyze the drunk students, but I'm going to push back just a little bit on the idea that they age out. So national samples definitely indicate that students that are longer and they're in college do tend to age out of some of that high-risk drinking. Miami students are smart. They're very very smart ...they don't age out though. Our drinking levels are just as high in our juniors and seniors, as they are in our freshman and sophomore. What's interesting though is the consequences shift. So you mentioned that they get in trouble. So yes our freshmen and sophomores are more likely to get experienced something like a violation of the Student Conduct. It's also because they're more likely to be in the residence hall because we have that freshman and sophomore year residency requirement. But our juniors and seniors are still having consequences. They're still going to the hospital, they're still getting their stomach pumped, and they're still drinking at incredibly high levels. So I don't know if having them drink a lot and eat chili cook field might be the lesson that changes them because what's also interesting in my research is that they can have a negative experience, and we can see that they don't change over time. For some of them, it is just making that decision or thinking, "oh my goodness like I want to go to medical school I can't get like I can't do that with certain grades." And so it's not necessarily having ... That's why I don't think everything about alcohol is negative, I think it's like they need to have these honest conversations about what it's going on with their bodies and how it's impacting them and how it's impacting their brain. Because sometimes, you don't need to have that like throwing up experience or being rushed to the emergency room to make a decision that this is, this need you need to be able to use it in a different way to still enjoy alcohol but not to experience some of the negative consequences.

David: What proportion of our students participate in high-risk drinking behavior?

Rosemarie: So like I said, a third of our students won't drink at all during their four years of college, but we have 60% of our students that report in the last 30 days that they've had high-risk drinking situation, which is that the national average is about 40%. So we're substantially higher at Miami.

David: And do we have statistics on the frequency of those higher-risk behaviors?

Rosemarie: So on average our students are drinking, about a day or two days per week. And they're drinking again that there are some gender differences here that we could go down as well. And on average they're drinking 4 to 6 standard drinks...on a typical drinking occasion. And then on their high-risk drinking occasions, they're drinking anywhere from 8 to 25 drinks on a drinking occasion. Now there are certain sub-populations at Miami and college students in general that we see, much, much higher risk patterns, among which include our sororities and fraternities, our athletes, and other high-risk groups, so there is ... it's not that everybody is drinking this way, every weekend. It's not that everybody's drinking this way, all the time, either. It's that our students are making those choices and making it more frequently than students at other schools.

David: So, if the behavior is as widespread and as long in duration as your statistics seem to say, and I don't mean to doubt, the statistics at all. That being the case, then it is clear that the policies that we are pursuing are not effective in controlling this type of behavior. I suppose, if we could argue that if we did not have the policies that we have that it would be even worse, but I find that difficult to accept given the high numbers that you are reporting. So, if these policies, and if these practices at Miami are not working. Then, what is the alternative? Do we step back, or do we step forward and take even a more controlling and parental view of behavior. I would suggest, and this goes back to, or this addresses my main concern, which is that personal responsibility. Perhaps it's the wrong answer for us to want to maintain our flow-through of students and to see that they all graduate. Perhaps we should be even more draconian and simply say okay, one strike, two strikes, three strikes you're out and change the behavior in the university community in that way, as an alternative. Another alternative as I mentioned at the beginning is simply to say Miami says no drinking, period. I, I understand that that is a difficult decision to make, but I'm trying to be consistent here, if, if we have the behavior that we don't want our policies don't seem to be working, then it seems to me that we need to find a different direction.

Rosemarie: David, thank you. There's a lot of what you said that I agree with. There's a lot of policies that aren't working but another part of policies is to remember is the enforcement and the consistent enforcement of policies so we can have things on the books, and I'm sure you can think of many things that have happened in your 35 years at Miami that were not policies consistently enforced and the same is true for all the health behavior policies as well as that they have to be consistently enforced. The other idea is part of this is in my 18 almost 19 years at the university, I've seen people very interested in Miami, with regards to alcohol "let's make these policies let's enforce it let's do it let's do it let's do it, let's do it." And then I've also seen like this time where it's like, "please don't talk about that, please don't talk about that like we don't want to. That's not the issue right now but we have to deal with something else." And so we go through this, this phase of like being lukewarm, and if I parallel that too. If you're, if it's water, and you boil it, you can cook things in it. If it's water, and it's cold, you want to drink it, but when it's luke warm, nobody wants to do anything with luke warm water. And we're kind of in a lukewarm phase when it comes to the policies, we have not turned up the heat to make any kind of change and we have not cooled off completely either. And I think your call is exactly right if we want to do something and I'm not saying some of the draconian stuff that you were saying, but like, if we want to see change if this is important to us, we need to turn up the heat on the alcohol issue on campus, you really do to make a change.

But I go back to something we both said is like I do think it's having those honest conversations and educating the students, whether it's through your cook field example, or it's weaving it throughout in terms of learning personal responsibility, but it's also knowing developmentally the students that are traditionally in college, aren't ready ... aren't making those decisions, they haven't really thought in those ways that way and their brain isn't showing according to literature enough development to make some of those decisions. They're more impulsive. They're more. And here's this perfectly wonderful environment where they have this independence that they've never had before. And it, it's like, yes they want to try things and they without kind of having some kind of rules in place, they would be seeing all kinds of behaviors. So whether the policies are working or its enforcement. I think it's an ongoing like, what do we want to do with this year, at this university, and having those kind of honest discussions about what direction we want to go.

David: I agree with you wholeheartedly. One of the hallmarks of Miami University is our inconsistency. We, we lurch from side to side, we have policies, we say things and don't really walk the talk. And this goes on in a variety of different ways. The alcohol policies and practices are one of them, in my opinion. Really, this was a background reason why I wanted to actually participate in this discussion. We don't walk the talk. If we want to do something about this problem, then, I think we need to step up our game. If we really don't care, then we need to stop saying that we do and we need to get out of the way. But, and I don't have the answer as to which direction that should be. But I think that in order to be a consistent institution and to fulfill the values that we say we hold, I think that we need to make some sort of change here.

Rosemarie: I agree I mean, so I clearly tend towards the side that I think we should do something about it because I do care about the students and I'm not saying you're saying you don't care about them but like i tend towards like yes let's let's put the paint on the roads, let's, let's put policies in place so that people can make a decision because the vast majority of our students are following the policies. I mean yes we have high-risk alcohol on campus, I'm always amazed by what I collect in the data, and when I interview students I'm absolutely amazed, but I'm also amazed by how creative the students are when they want to talk about it and they want to change the situation and really getting them involved in the process is incredibly powerful. So just a real real short story is part of my data collection I go uptown to our bar district, and we stand on a corner and we breathalyze students. And we collect some data from them. And most people want to hear about the drunk students and they want to hear the stories about that and it's amazing stories from that. But what is most powerful for me is I bring you know 20 to 30 undergraduate and graduate students with me, and it is amazing because that's the first time they've seen the bar district, from a sober perspective, and they've seen what goes on and it gives us these deep conversations about how it impacts them and their drinking and impacts them and how they think about drinking and what they've seen from their friends and yes we have stories about again the students that we see uptown, but we also have this amazing connection about the role alcohol plays in their college career, and how they see it differently now because they've been part of my lab or been part of the data collection with it. So that's why I say that there's like power in having that learning and responsibility learning about what the substance does and what it does to your system and how it plays out with not just yourself, because if it was just you or just one person being impacted. It's a very different situation than how alcohol impacts you, your friends, your parents, the community, you know, Miami University impacts, many, many, many levels when students use.

David: Two observations first. Perhaps you have stumbled upon. Perhaps stumbled is not a good word, but you have found a part of the solution that students should be included in your research, or in something similar. Going uptown as sociological observers and recognizing "Boy, those folks look silly. Maybe I don't want to do that." So perhaps that is a part of what our policy should become second is that human beings at the age of our students have a sense of being bulletproof. And I think that that is a considerable portion of what goes on here, both in terms of alcohol use, drug use, high-risk behavior of all sorts. Sadly I have had any number of students who have died because of riding motorcycles in weird ways, falling off cliffs, you name it, but high-risk behavior. So I think that there is this bulletproof belief on the, on the students part, it's not going to happen to me and whatever the consequences are, I'll avoid them. I don't know that there's anything that we can do about that. But perhaps we can find other ways of dealing with this problem.

Tarah: This is Tarah Trueblood again. I want to just step in and just notice that, how well you all listen to one another and responded in ways so that I learned a lot I wasn't expecting to learn so much through this dialogue today but I learned a lot from both of your perspectives and and you introduce things that I had never thought of were part of this part of this conversation. So I wanted to give each of you a chance to say anything that you want to do, or ask anything. As we close today. Anything else that's gone unsaid or unfinished.

Rosemarie: Just that I, David, I appreciate your perspective I love, engaging in these types of conversations that I'm gonna be honest like I most of the time it's from the students of the student paper, because they want to know like make sure like why do you, why do you believe we should curb alcohol consumption and so I appreciate you and I appreciate you sharing your perspective today with us.

David: Well thank you I feel much the same way. I learned some things today that I didn't know particularly about university policy and I confess I did a little homework before sitting in on this discussion. And I learned more in doing my homework as well. High-risk drinking is a serious problem. My concern and I guess and my perspective "from the other side" is more one of consistency and what I said just a moment ago. But it was nice to meet you RoseMarie and Tarah, it was nice to meet you.

Anthony: Thank you so much for taking the time to have this discussion I think this is a good model for the types of discussions we want to have here at the institution we are, After all, and institution of higher education and so being able to talk through nuance of issues, different perspectives in a culture that, you know, depending on how you see it holds people accountable through calling them out, or shutting down conversation through calling each other out. That is an environment that we live in and so it can be difficult to have these conversations so I am grateful to both of you for being willing to have these conversations and model it for our community. We will post these on our website for others to see. We hope that you continue to be good ambassadors and have these conversations in our community so that we can help our faculty, staff, students with being able to coexist peacefully in a very diverse environment. Thanks so much for watching.



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