Release Date: 3/15/2012
Spring break: that wonderful week where winter is winding down and students get to take a much needed break from the pressures of studying and exams. In recent years, the phrase "spring break" has become almost synonymous with the word "vacation," as hundreds of thousands of students pack their bags and hit the road for any of several popular spring break destinations.
But while spring break is supposed to be a week of fun and relaxation, it can turn into something much different for students who find themselves in an unsafe situation or who engage in risky behavior. With Ozarks' spring break coming up, the Ozarks Residence Hall Association (RHA) teamed up with Residential Life to host a week-long series of events aimed at raising awareness of safety issues that students are most likely to encounter if they are making a spring break trip.
The activities began on Monday evening, when students were invited to the Rawhouser Fitness Center to work off a little stress on the punching bags. "This was just a way for people to come in and let off some stress from mid-terms," said Bo Funderburk, RHA Advisor.
But on Tuesday afternoon, event organizers focused on something much more serious, something that many see as a significant problem among college age students - driving under the influence of alcohol.
Early that afternoon, Tess Montgomery, RHA President, and the other RHA members headed out to the outdoor basketball court, and using orange cones, marked out a driving course. As students began to make their way over to the court, Clarksville City Police School Resource Officer, Sterling Penix, explained some of the consequences of drinking and driving. "There's a pretty big social stigma attached if you get a DWI," he said. "What I share with young people is, 'there's just no good reason to drink and drive.'"
For the students who came over for the event, this was a chance for them to experience what it would be like if they had a blood alcohol content of 0.06. With that BAC, a student over the age of 21 would not be considered legally intoxicated in the state of Arkansas. However, without exception, the students who went through the field sobriety test and the driving exercise were surprised at how the goggles affected their depth perception, their ability to concentrate, and their ability to navigate the course.
Montgomery had been watching as the first group of students went through the field sobriety test. "On the test, [the officer] has you catching the items while he's asking you questions," she explained, "and without the goggles, people are just talking to him…. But you put the goggles on, and he asks you to spell things, and you're like, 'uh, A… F….' It takes so much focus."
Officer Sterling Penix looks on as a student attempts to complete a mock field sobriety test wearing goggles which simulate a 0.06 blood alcohol content. The event was part of safety awareness week, organized by RHA and Residential Life.
One after another, students lined up to see how they would fare when wearing the goggles. Tyler Volz, a freshman from Bella Vista, Ark., stepped up to take the field sobriety test. "We're going to do a walk and turn exercise," Penix explained. "What you're going to have to do, is put your hands at your side, and take nine steps, like this, heel to toe, and count out loud," he instructed. "Then you'll turn around, put the goggles on, and take nine steps back." Counting out loud, Ty confidently walked the first nine steps. He turned, and put the goggles on. Arms held out for balance, he staggered and tried to regain his balance. "Hands at your side," Penix prompted. Ty put his arms back down and concentrated on taking another step. "Count out loud for me," Penix reminded him. Counting slowly out loud, Ty slowly and unsteadily made his way back to Officer Penix and took off the goggles.
Montgomery then drove Ty around the course in the golf cart, explaining where he would make each turn. Once Ty was familiar with the layout, he put the goggles back on and got behind the wheel. As he slowly and carefully navigated the course, he hit one of the cones. "Whoops! There we go," he exclaimed. "You were going pretty slow," said Montgomery, as they pulled up to the stopping point. "So I think if you were driving, you'd have gotten pulled over for that."
"It was very sketchy," Volz said describing the experience afterwards. Even though he was driving slowly, trying to be very careful, "I still hit 'somebody'," he said. "At points, I was having to ask her 'is this where I turn?' I had done the walking test before, at a driver's training camp, but I had never driven, so this was very enlightening. There's no reason to even try [driving if you've been drinking]. Like she said, each cone you hit represents a living family, so you're not just taking out one person; you're taking out three or four."
Ashlee Mitchell, a freshman from Clinton, Ark., actually did very well on the field sobriety test - you could hardly tell she was wearing the goggles. But when she finished the driving course, she said with a laugh "I failed epically! I ran over three cones on this one." Montgomery said that Mitchell's experience was pretty typical of what she heard from other students. It would be optimistic to believe that one short drive around the course would change someone's behavior. However, Montgomery said she believed that the exercise was having the desired effect - it made the students question just how well they could drive if they were under the influence of alcohol. "When we're driving with them, and you say 'you just hit a car,' you hear them say 'Oh! Oh, no!' Obviously, they're realizing it's not something they should be doing, and they're realizing that it's more difficult than they anticipated."
Funderburk watched as April Young, another member of RHA, gave the field sobriety test to the last of the students. "Generally, we do a program on spring break awareness, which is just one comprehensive program," he said. "This year, we decided to do it throughout the week, to hit people at different times, to get more people involved." With only a one-hour program, Funderburk said it was hard to cover any of the topics in depth. By spreading the programs out across the entire week, he said RHA hoped that students would be able to find the time to attend at least one of the sessions. "We've had about 60 students come through today," Funderburk said.
Other programs planned for spring break awareness week included a sex education program, a drug safety program, and another drinking and driving program where students could drive a course wearing the goggles. Katie Kloepfer , Smith Hall Resident Assistant, said the Smith Hall RAs will also hold a program aimed especially at young women who may be traveling over break. The program will cover the importance of taking precautions when traveling, with tips like traveling in groups, not leaving a drink unattended when in a crowd, etc. "We knew RHA was getting involved and we wanted to help out," she said. "Some issues aren't really addressed, and we wanted to raise awareness of those."
The week's final event will be a game of "Awareness Pong," where students will play a game modeled after the popular "Beer Pong" game (using water, not alcohol!). Funderburk said that the Awareness Pong game may be especially eye-opening for the students who play: each cup of water they are supposed to drink will instead be poured into a container. That amount of water in the cup will then be used to estimate what the student's blood alcohol content would be. By letting students experience the effects of 0.06 BAC wearing the goggles, Funderburk said students will be able to see how alcohol consumed in something like a Beer Pong game can impact someone. It's easy for people to lose track of how much they've actually consumed when they're playing, and this game will show them how high their BAC could actually get.
Ultimately, the goal of the week's activities wasn't about dictating what students should and shouldn't do on their spring break trip. "It's not necessarily about abstinence," said Sherrie Arey, Dean of Residential and Campus Life. "It's about responsibility. When you decide to drink, decide to be responsible. We could add 'texting' - have them go through here doing text messaging, and just see how they did."
By covering these safety topics, members of RHA and Residential Life hope students will have some fun while learning about these important safety issues. "We were trying to come up with ideas where we could get the entire student body involved," said Morgan Goates, Smith Hall Assistant Resident Director. "We're really hoping to raise our students' awareness. We like our kids! There are so many accidents during spring break…we want our kids to come back!"