AlcoholEdu should be taught in person

Ava Hosseini, Columnist

“I know these frat boys went to a hotel for a game and they came back drunk and busted a water pipeline.” 

Much like Justice Bustos, an informatics sophomore, many of us can recall a funny or embarrassing alcohol-induced adventure. However, those tipsy nights can quickly turn sour without teaching proper alcohol abuse preventative measures — a foundation where UT falls short.

AlcoholEdu is a required interactive seven-part online course for all incoming freshmen designed to spread awareness about the sobering realities of reckless binge drinking. Students are introduced to the course about a month before Mooov-In and have until the first weekend of the year to complete it, just before the critical first six weeks of college, which is a statistically vulnerable time for alcohol abuse. 

UT needs to administer AlcoholEdu in person with a trained mentor rather than allowing students to go through the program online on their own time. 

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that students have trouble focusing when taught behind a screen. AlcoholEdu has been administered online long before the pandemic, but our patience with web-based education as a culture has worn. It is time for this academic procedure to adapt according to students’ needs, especially in a matter of spreading potentially life-saving information.

Furthermore, it’s nearly impossible to monitor whether or not participants are actually paying attention and doing their own work in an online program. By assigning AlcoholEdu to be done on participants’ own time and allowing unlimited chances on each question, the administration runs the risk of students cheating to complete the program faster.

In theory, everyone ought to be alert when participating in such an important course. However, the reality is that most are likely to cut corners when it comes to online schooling if there are no immediate consequences. UT administration has a responsibility to absolve that instinct regarding alcohol exposure preparedness. 

As far as substance abuse awareness goes here on the Forty Acres, AlcoholEdu is the only required school-sponsored preparedness program we’re given.

 “In addition to the entry point of getting this baseline (AlcoholEdu), we have different learning offerings, other workshops, and programs,” said Brittany O’Malley, assistant director of prevention at the Longhorn Wellness Center. “Our office actually collaborates with UT Shift, which is an office that’s meant to shift the culture of alcohol and drug use at UT Austin.” 

Although the programs offered through  Healthy Horns and other programs on campus are useful, they can only be as influential as their reach. UT has better chances to prevent substance abuse by putting more focus on AlcoholEdu since it is a requirement for all new students. 

One way to empower the program would be weaving AlcoholEdu into mandatory freshman and transfer orientation, so that students can work and engage with others to finish their modules.

“We have peer educators in our office that we train, who lead some of our workshops that address some of the topics around substance use that we offer through our program,” O’Malley said. 

Bustos said the only way to improve alcohol abuse prevention is if it’s administered more accessibly.

“I really don’t think there’s anything they can do other than use more relatable, understandable language,” Bustos said.

Students would engage better with the material they learned in AlcoholEdu with a peer educator in a classroom. Qualified instructors would know how to make the information more digestible and open up a dialogue about substance abuse. 

AlcoholEdu is insufficient without the appropriate learning environment to accommodate it. UT administration needs to empower the program through human connection rather than an impersonal online course. 

Hosseini is an international relations freshman from Sugar Land, Texas.