Targeting public enemy No. 1
Community coalition fires opening shot against alcohol abuse
“Our community has a serious alcohol problem,” reads the bold-faced opening line of a “Call for Community Action” that appeared as a full-page ad in the Chico Enterprise-Record Sunday (Jan. 13). It was also emailed to Chico State University students last Friday (Jan. 11).
The message was the first public action taken by an as-yet-unnamed coalition of local agencies to address Chico’s ongoing fight against alcohol abuse and persistent party school reputation. Signed by 25 representatives from organizations including school administrations, local law enforcement and the City Council—though not, notably, from the Associated Students or any other student group—it mentions the deaths of five student-aged people in the last six months and presents a litany of other problems exacerbated by excessive alcohol use.
The message calls for “focused, comprehensive, and certain” action to be determined at upcoming meetings and identifies specific issues like cheap drinks at downtown bars and lack of consequences for permissive landlords.
Chico State University Vice President for Student Affairs Drew Calandrella explained the coalition was organized largely by CSU officials, and the message written mostly by Chico State President Paul Zingg, with approval and input from all of the signatories.
“Fighting alcohol abuse is not something the university or the community can do by itself,” Calandrella said. “We need to work in partnership, and that’s why these community leaders have come together.”
Calandrella said the next step is a series of February public meetings to identify problems and potential solutions. Specific dates are pending while the college decides on a suitable venue.
“We want to make sure we can accommodate 40 or 400 people,” he said. “We want as many people as possible involved.”
Zingg confirmed by email that the group has been forming since early last fall, and with more immediacy since his Nov. 15 suspension of CSU’s Greek system.
“We have data to suggest that we are not making the progress we need to be making on the campus and in the larger community to stem the problems from alcohol and drug use,” Zingg said. For its part, Zingg said, the university administration will take a stronger stance on alcohol this upcoming semester.
“What students will see, beginning with my spring convocation remarks on Jan. 31, is an even more focused effort on the relationship between student social behaviors and choices and their learning and degree progress,” he said. “The big question is supporting student success, both in and beyond the classroom, so that they will make wiser choices about their behaviors, understand better the consequences of their actions, and be held more strictly accountable to them.
“This is a long-term undertaking, so the first steps focus on setting the stage. I do expect, though, new efforts addressing alcohol abuse to emerge sooner than later.”
In a December interview, Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle named Chico’s alcohol abuse issue has one of the department’s top four priorities for 2013, and alluded to the importance of partnering with local schools and business owners. Chief Trostle’s name is among the 25 listed.
Trostle acknowledged alcohol-fueled hijinks have long been a local problem, citing riots in 1987 and 1990 when he was a student at Chico State.
“I’m not proud to have the reputation as a party school,” he said. “I came to Chico State to get an education because I knew I wanted to be a police chief someday. My degree helped me get to that goal, so I’m very proud of it and everything the university does in the academic world.
“But we need to change our culture and our reputation, from that of a party town and a party school to an Ivy League-level school within the CSU system. We already have programs at Chico State that reflect that; we just need to change the view of the school and the community.”
Another name on the announcement/ad is that of Robert Combs, president of the Parent Advisory Council at CSU. PAC is a 45-50 member advisory board that meets twice yearly to share concerns with college administration, and also organizes outreach events in other communities for incoming students. Combs said the PAC joined the community coalition after being invited by President Zingg.
As an alumnus of CSU’s class of 1980 and the parent of two CSU students—one a recent grad, the other a junior—Combs also acknowledges Chico’s bad reputation is long-standing.
“As a former student, I’ve lived it and seen it with my own eyes and lived with it and seen it from my children’s eyes,” he said. “I think enough is enough. How many kids have to die on their 21st birthdays before we get a handle on it, recognize it as a problem and try to fix it?”
Combs said Chico’s alcohol stigma rises often at outreach events. “It’s one of those questions that always come up. Chico has in the past been considered a party school. It’s certainly not an image we embrace or would like to have, but it’s one we do have and need to get rid of.”