NEWS- Finder's fee: $5 reward in UVA binging fight

Students who attended HooFest in the UVA amphitheater September 4 were feted by nine a cappella groups and Shirley Temple "mocktails" along with information about the evils of binging on alcohol. The event was part of a major push by the University to promote safe drinking, and it comes on the heels of last September's $2.5 million donation by Anheuser-Busch to establish the National Social Norms Institute at UVA.

Social norms? The University is making a concerted effort to quell binge drinking by informing students that most of their peers– i.e. those following the social norm– aren't binging. The drinking issue has become so pervasive that the Office of Health Promotions has even taken to the toilets. In a flyer posted in dormitory bathroom stalls, the Stall Seat Journal claims that drinking past a certain level "does not produce greater euphoria, but in fact has the opposite effect."

In addition to funfacts posted in bathroom stalls, the Office of Health Promotions is trying to raise awareness with cash, by enlisting students to pay their peers in a novel venture called the "Prize Patrol." Volunteers reward students who are carrying Blood Alcohol Concentration cards– pocket-size reminders that calculate how much a person can safely drink based on body weight. Anyone carrying the BAC card gets a $5 reward.

This year the Office can afford to pay the reward 100 times. 

But not everyone sees the wisdom of the project. Fourth-year Hunter Deeley questions whether handing $5 to students at a bar is "necessarily going to curb their intake that night."

Alison Beaver, UVA's director of health promotion, believes students are easily affected by peer pressure, and that's why UVA is pursuing its social norms campaign.

 "When we provide students with the protective behaviors that a majority of students are engaging in," Beaver says, "it allows them to act on their own values." But not all students subscribe to this collective school of thought. 

Sorority member Grey Fisher believes that trying to convince people of social norms is ineffective "because people judge their own norms based on their social groups." According to Fisher, a more realistic way of reaching students is initiatives such as the Stall Seat Journal, whose latest edition welcomes the class of 2011 by offering tips for keeping Blood Alcohol Concentration below .06 such as eating before drinking and alternating drinks with water.

While some may find the $500 allocated to reward students excessive, it pales beside spending on drinking by UVA students. A recent UVA study on local spending found that students racked up an $18.5 million restaurant and bar tab last year alone. 

Historically, UVA has been known as a drinking school. The last football game of the year is known for a tradition known as the "4th-Year 5th," in which fourth-years attempt to drink an entire fifth of alcohol throughout the course of their final game day. It has become such a notorious practice that some students have started petition drives to encourage others to pledge they will not take part in the dangerous tradition.

"Students underestimated how much other students would intervene," says Susan Bruce, director of the Center for Alcohol and Substance Education, yet another UVA body attempting to curb drinking. "Most would ask a fellow student to slow down." 

With that knowledge, the Center stages a Substance Abuse Awareness Week leading up to the second-to-last football game on Saturday, November 3, where some students will likely be attempting the 4th-year 5th. With so many traditional temptations encouraging students to binge drink, it's not surprising that major programs and funding are flooding a community seeming to float on a lucrative sea of liquor.