Safety first?


Before the apartment that is now called University House on 15th Street and 10th Avenue was approved by the Tuscaloosa Planning and Zoning Commission there was a discussion of a sidewalk that crossed the railroad tracks being built. Much was made at the Commission meeting about the complex being accessible to the University of Alabama’s campus by students who choose to walk.

Apparently nothing had been done to establish the viability of constructing the sidewalk before the apartment was approved. A city official explained it in this way: “The walkway across the railroad tracks on 10th Avenue was not approved by the railroad – the Planning Commission didn’t have the authority to require them to construct that walkway across a private entity like the railroad.”

According to a  member of the Planning and Zoning Commission the $100,000 that had been provided to build the sidewalk was refunded to the developer.

There is an old narrow sidewalk on the other side of 10th Avenue from where the apartments are located. It winds its way across the tracks in a serpentine fashion around the railroad crossing signal.  Asphalt covers the area where the the railroad tracks are crossed.

Many students prefer to walk on the ground and in the street to get to the apartments rather than walk on the existing sidewalk and cross the street at the traffic signal. The railroad put a “No Trespassing” sign in the area.


The phenomena of students preferring not to use sidewalks was commented on by a student leader. It was said that in one area near the campus students were known to “choose to cross the street and walk where there is no sidewalk rather than stay on the side with a sidewalk.” Hopefully a student who is paying more attention to a cellphone than traffic on the unlit path to the apartments will not be hit by a car.

Another dangerous place for pedestrians to cross the street was where the Hugh Thomas Bridge met University Boulevard  in Tuscaloosa’s downtown. For some inexplicable reason the speed limit on the bridge had been 55 MPH whereas the speed limit on either side of the bridge on Lurleen Wallace Boulevard was 45 MPH.

speed limit

Since there is a rise in the bridge as drivers approached University Boulevard, the traffic signal at the junction of the bridge and boulevard could not be seen until vehicles were near the end of the bridge. Since this was considered unsafe, the speed limit for the  bridge before the rise was been lowered to 45MPH. And the lower speed limit, which was previously not posted on the boulevard for over a block after crossing the bridge, is now posted at the end of the bridge. It is now less likely that pedestrians crossing with the signal will be hit by someone driving at a faster speed limit. Theoretically the driver who has slowed down will now be able to better observe the traffic signal and come to a stop. Why the speed limit on the rest of the bridge remains at 55MPH, when the speed limit before the bridge is ten miles per hour lower, has no reasonable explanation. In a letter to the editor in the Tuscaloosa News the former City Engineer suggested that some drivers might be expected to drive at 60MPH in a a 55MPH zone.

As a way to reduce the number of pedestrians who were walking on University Boulevard and crossing at the intersection of the bridge, there were discussions years ago at Planning and Zoning Commission meetings of there being a walkway that ran behind the residential buildings located on the boulevard.

A city official has given an update on this: “The ongoing Lurleen Wallace project includes a walkway under the bridges connecting the 4th Street / Greensboro Ave intersection to near the Home 2 Suites. Sidewalks that branch from that walkway will connect to the amphitheater and University Boulevard.  The City and ALDOT are sharing in the cost of this work.”

At some time in the future the walkway that was discussed at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting may come to pass. Someone who attended the meetings could well be forgiven for thinking that the walkway as well as the sidewalk on 10th Avenue were conditions for the approval of projects. Some of the ideas that are tossed out at the meetings are spontaneous. And the Commission is limited on making any conditions for approval of projects. In the end the City Council makes the decisions.


Kavanaugh & the Keg City Club


The nomination process for Brett Kavanaugh to become a member of the Supreme Court has been complicated by tales of his alleged bad behavior as a teenager under the influence of alcohol.

Matthew Yglesias’ Vox article “Brett Kavanaugh’s slippery answers about high school partying matter” addresses the inconsistency of Kavanaugh’s claims:

Dogged by an accusation of a sexual assault in high school and pressed to defend his character, Brett Kavanaugh went on Fox News with a curious strategy. Instead of owning up to his high school drinking habits, he told what appear to be lies.

Kavanaugh insinuated that he never drank when he was underage, saying on Fox that when he was a senior, the “drinking age was 18, and yes, the seniors were legal and had beer there.”

Not only is this not true with regard to the legal drinking age in Maryland at the time, it’s also extremely hard to square with the portrait he otherwise paints of himself as a hard-partying kid. Thirty-five years ago he seemed to have joked in his yearbook about being the treasurer of the Keg City Club, and in 2015 he quipped that “what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.”

Obviously if we disqualified people from high office for having engaged in underage drinking or some youthful drunken antics, we’d have a very hard time staffing the government. The mere fact that Kavanaugh drank to excess in high school is not relevant to whether he is fit to serve on the Supreme Court. And it certainly doesn’t prove that he sexually assaulted anyone.

Drinking to excess is unhealthy and sets the stage for potentially illegal activity, including unsafe driving and violence. However, it’s hardly unforgivable and certainly not proof that Kavanaugh committed any of the serious offenses against women that have been charged. The disparity between Kavanaugh’s statements about his high school activities and the apparent facts, however, does raise a serious question about his honesty.

Whether or not Kavanaugh sexually assaulted his accuser Christine Blasey Ford, the role of under-aged drinking has been brought to the forefront of national consciousnesses by media coverage of his nomination.

As bad as the problem of under-aged drinking in high school may be, such drinking in college seems to be a quantum step worse. As high as one in five women are sexually assaulted on college campuses. The use of alcohol is integral to this kind of abusive behavior.

It has been alleged that an inebriated Kavanaugh was involved in a gang rape in high school and indecent exposure at his Yale fraternity.

The MeToo movement has brought out that there is a national problem with sexual harassment and sexual assault.  Time magazine’s 2017 “person of the year”  featured victims of sexual assault who “broke the silence.”

Will the publicity on under-aged drinking problems brought about by the Kavanaugh nomination result in a greater awareness of a societal problem as serious as sexual assault involving under-aged drinking?  Wouldn’t a campaign to tackle such under-aged drinking be one of the most effective ways to reduce sexual assault?

At institutions of higher education such as the University of Alabama under-aged drinking is strictly prohibited on campus. Such a recognition of the problems associated with under-aged drinking is one step in curtailing sexual assault and other alcohol related problems. More effective community enforcement of the laws that prohibit under-aged drinking in conjunction with the University’s policy is needed to enhance the health and safety of University students.



Blackouts & The College Aged Brain


An article “Binge drinking and blackouts: Sobering truths about lost learning” in The Conversation by (Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Florida) reported:

Tens of thousands of college students nationwide will cheer for their football teams this weekend. Some of those who show up for the game after tailgate drinking may not remember the highlight touchdowns that they cheered so loudly for. Others may have trouble remembering even a rousing celebration of victory. Binge drinking, the leading type of alcohol misuse for college students, is the culprit. Drinking too much too fast can cause memory loss, sometimes called a blackout, erasing any recollection of an enjoyable life event.

What’s more, research is suggesting that binge drinking in the college brain can impair not only learning but memorizing. Deficiencies in both of these crucial neurocognitive processes would probably make studying very difficult, and far less productive. In such a case, maintaining a high academic standing might be impossible.

While many young people may euphemistically refer to binge drinking as “partying,” those of us who study addiction know that it is a serious health risk for young people. We have long known of the immediate risks from assault, death by motor vehicle and suicide linked to drinking. But the effects of binge drinking affect learning inside and outside the classroom and can have adverse effects on making successful transitions throughout life.

Binge drinking can have an immediate and neurotoxic effect on the still developing and susceptible college-age brain. And, the damage done by heavy drinking can worsen from one party to the next, harming the brain at an accelerating pace beyond what would be expected from chronic dependence on alcohol. When a heavy episode of drinking has ended, and the hangover has cleared, there is still a great concern about the neurological insults that can interfere with the accumulation of text book and classroom facts. It can result in neurocognitive deficits that are likely to cause serious academic problems. Beyond that, if a young vulnerable brain is subjected to four years of undergraduate partying, the development of maturational skill sets, necessary for a more successful shift into adulthood, may be impeded.

What has been a common, expected and celebrated relationship with alcohol for college students should continue to be viewed with great concern. Enough of the facts are in from neurobiological research to understand that alcohol has a substantial impact on the brain’s ability to transfer information into long-term memory. Binge drinking students experiencing blackouts could be compromising an opportunity to take advantage of a great education and perhaps diminish the probability of the success they anticipate.

The University of Alabama has a strict policy on under-aged drinking:

Individuals under 21 years of age are not permitted to consume alcohol or be in possession of alcohol. Alcohol paraphernalia (which includes but is not limited to: empty beer cans or bottles, shot glasses, etc.) are prohibited and considered a violation of policy.

The University of Alabama’s quest for academic excellence can most certainly be derailed by students who have their ability to learn impaired by alcohol use.



Bama’s #1!


According to a recent Sports Illustrated article “College Football Gameday Safety” the University of Alabama had the most police incidents on gamedays in the nation:

Sports Illustrated compiled campus police records from 33 of the biggest football schools in the country to determine the number and type of incidents that occurred across campus during each gameday of the 2017 season. The results […] are an illustration of college football gameday misconduct and provide a look into the safety of campuses during tailgate season across the country.

The average total number of police incidents on campus on gamedays was 139.4 incidents. Alabama led the group of schools with the most total number of police incidents on campus on gamedays with 448, while N.C. State reported the highest incident rate among the schools.

Typically, a higher number of reported incidents was correlated with a stricter policy on underage alcohol enforcement and the schools with the highest incident rates reported hundreds of alcohol-related incidents. Universities on the opposite end of the spectrum—those reporting 50 incidents or less over the season—reported markedly lower numbers of alcohol offenses.

Information for the article was derived from daily police logs:

Due to the Clery Act, schools are required to publish a daily police log of all occurrences on campus. Sports Illustrated obtained these records online or directly from university police departments, then pulled data for each gameday.

The article pointed out that:

The main incident linked to students is widespread underage drinking on gamedays.

The University of Alabama has a strict policy on under-aged drinking.

The University’s #1 ranking may have little to do with student behavior. Most of the fans are not students. After all the population of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (99,543 in 2016), where the University is located, swells to twice that number on big gamedays.

The sheer size of the number of football fans in town may be the reason for the number one ranking in incidents on gamedays in T-Town.



No Hard Stuff?


Matt Stevens in an article “Fraternities Vote to Ban Hard Alcohol After Deadly Hazing Episodes” in the New York Times reported on a move by some fraternities to limit the use of hard liquor:

The trade association that represents dozens of fraternities across the nation and around the world has voted to ban hard alcohol in the wake of a series of high-profile hazing episodes that have resulted in deaths and lawsuits, officials announced this week.

Specifically, the resolution passed by the group prohibits “alcohol products above 15 percent A.B.V.” from being present in “any chapter facility” — such as a fraternity house — or “at any chapter event” unless it is being sold by a licensed third party. Adults 21 and older are not exempt, officials said; beer, wine and malt beverages, which all fall below the 15 percent alcohol by volume threshold, will be allowed.

The move, announced Tuesday by the North-American Interfraternity Conference, was agreed to under a “near unanimous vote” at a meeting last month and is aimed at making fraternities and the more than 800 college campuses they are associated with safer, officials said.

The conference represents over 80 percent of fraternities nationwide, said Judson Horras, the group’s president and chief executive. Member fraternities with their more than 6,000 chapters must put a compliant policy in place by Sept. 1, 2019.

Many of the fraternities in the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NAIC) are represented at the University of Alabama.

According to the University of Alabama’s policy on alcohol, the use of alcohol in fraternities by under-aged drinkers is strictly prohibited.

Individuals under 21 years of age are not permitted to consume alcohol or be in possession of alcohol. Alcohol paraphernalia (which includes but is not limited to: empty beer cans or bottles, shot glasses, etc.) are prohibited and considered a violation of policy.

The Stevens article questioned NAIC President Judson Horras about the ban’s potential effectiveness:

Asked whether it was possible that students would sneak in hard alcohol anyway or simply ignore the policy, Mr. Horras conceded that “there is no perfect silver bullet for working with college students.”



Zero Tolerance


Ellie Melero reported in the O’Colly that Oklahoma State University and Stillwater are taking measures to curb under-aged drinking:

Oklahoma State University and the Stillwater community are working together to crack down on underage drinking and substance abuse.

The Payne County Substance Abuse Coalition has partnered with OSU Prevention Programs and local law enforcement for the past five years to help tackle and prevent alcohol and substance abuse that can often happen in college towns.

Chuck Lester, who works for OSU Prevention Programs, led the press conference Tuesday to let students and community members know there will be a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and improper alcohol use.

“We will have some saturation patrols where they’ll be working specifically on enforcing all the alcohol laws so that the expectations are set,” Lester said. “We understand that college can be a time where people drink. The expectation here is that they do it responsibly.”

Capt. Erik Smoot, a representative of the Oklahoma ABLE Commission, emphasized the zero-tolerance policy is for public safety.

“There will be a mass emphasis the first few weeks of school where we’re out,” Smoot said. “We’re enforcing these laws. There is zero tolerance. If these kids are drinking and driving, if these kids are drinking in bars underage, if they’re at these house parties causing problems, they’re going to go to jail for that. It’s all for their safety.” 

One of the goals of the coalition is to put an end to assault and driving under the influence.

“Our goal is that if we do this now, we don’t have as many fatal crashes,” Smoot said. “(And) we don’t have as many incidents on campus that involve alcohol and assaults.”

Alcohol sales are permitted at OSU athletic events but the zero-tolerance policy, according to Melero will still apply.

This year, vendors will sell alcohol at Boone Pickens Stadium during football games. OSUPD isn’t changing its policies toward alcohol misconduct. There will be no leniency on game days.

Sgt. Michael Galbraith, a representative for OSUPD, said the department would continue its enforcement.

“We’ve put together a team of officers that are specifically detailed to look out for underage drinking around the games and throughout the tailgate sections during game days,” Galbraith said. “If they’re underage, they will usually get cited for underage-in-possession, and if they’re inebriated to the point where they can’t control themselves or they can’t take care of themselves, they will be arrested for public intoxication and taken to the county jail.”

Under-aged drinking as a national problem has been recognized by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Its fact sheet states:

Underage drinking is a serious public health problem in the United States. Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth, and drinking by young people poses enormous health and safety risks.

The consequences of underage drinking can affect everyone—regardless of age or drinking status. We all feel the effects of the aggressive behavior, property damage, injuries, violence, and deaths that can result from underage drinking. This is not simply a problem for some families—it is a nationwide concern.


Oklahoma State University and the Stillwater community are to be commended for the zero-tolerance policy.  For such a program of enforcement of the law to be feasible both the community and campus have recognized that they must work together.



New technologies such as Intellicheck’s Age ID® are making enforcing age restrictions easier than ever.

But alcohol vendors in Oxford, Mississippi have expressed concerns over a new requirement to use such scanners.

From WMC Action News:

When you’re in a college town, everyone knows how to get a fake I.D., and technology can’t keep up.

Tuesday, Oxford city aldermen and Mayor Tannehill heard the concerns of bar and restaurant owners in the proposed downtown entertainment district.

In addition to paying for expensive I.D. scanners, it would also require 11 establishments in and around the court square to install multiple surveillance cameras, hire a security guard for every 50 people that enter a restaurant and bar, and provide detailed safety plans to police.

Most business owners at Tuesday’s meeting said the strict guidelines put them at a distinct disadvantage to other businesses outside the square.

The mayor is open to changes but she’s not willing to back down to making Oxford safe.

“Oxford, Mississippi, is a place where you can come and walk around the square with your family and you can go to bars at closing time and be in a safe environment,” Mayor Tannehill said.


An Alcohol-Free Campus?


A new study published in the Lancet medical journal concludes that alcohol is a health hazard — no matter how little is consumed.

Sarah Boseley in The Guardian reported:

Even the occasional drink is harmful to health, according to the largest and most detailed research carried out on the effects of alcohol, which suggests governments should think of advising people to abstain completely.

The uncompromising message comes from the authors of the Global Burden of Diseases study, a rolling project based at the University of Washington, in Seattle, which produces the most comprehensive data on the causes of illness and death in the world.

The University of Alabama’s policy on alcohol consumption by under-aged students now has a solid medical basis, beyond the restrictive laws against under aged drinkers.

Boseley’s article “No healthy level of alcohol consumption, says major study” had this to say about alcohol use:

Drinking alcohol was a big cause of cancer in the over-50s, particularly in women. Previous research has shown that one in 13 breast cancers in the UK were alcohol-related. The study found that globally, 27.1% of cancer deaths in women and 18.9% in men over 50 were linked to their drinking habits.

In younger people globally the biggest causes of death linked to alcohol were tuberculosis (1.4% of deaths), road injuries (1.2%), and self-harm (1.1%).

While the study shows that the increased risk of alcohol-related harm in younger people who have one drink a day is small (0.5%), it goes up incrementally with heavier drinking: to 7% among those who have two drinks a day and 37% for those who have five.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has published a fact sheet on college drinking:

Drinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher education experience. Many students come to college with established drinking habits, and the college environment can exacerbate the problem. According to a national survey, almost 60 percent of college students ages 18–22 drank alcohol in the past month, and almost 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same timeframe.


The University of Alabama has a strict policy on alcohol use by its students:

Individuals under 21 years of age are not permitted to consume alcohol or be in possession of alcohol. Alcohol paraphernalia (which includes but is not limited to: empty beer cans or bottles, shot glasses, etc.) are prohibited and considered a violation of policy.

AlcoholPolicyMD has listed some of the dangers of under-aged  drinking:

Underage college drinkers are more likely than their of-age counterparts to suffer consequences ranging from unplanned sex, getting hurt or injured, requiring medial treatment for an alcohol overdose, and doing something they would later regret.

Yet there seems to be a disconnect between the University’s policy on alcohol consumption and practices encouraged by the institution of higher education.

If the concept of leading by example has any validity, then perhaps the University shouldn’t be hosting alumni events where alcohol is lavishly consumed. Even the proposed design for the football stadium’s renovation seems to to some great extent based on the facilitating of the use of alcoholic beverages by fans.

To the extent that a blind eye is turned towards Interfraternity social events where alcohol is served on campus there is inconsistency between the University’s policies and actual practice.

To achieve a healthy and safe environment for students at the University of Alabama, just as in the case of its having a smoke free campus, perhaps it is time to consider instituting an Alcohol-Free campus?