College News

The Color of Drinking: Racism hidden behind alcohol consumption

University Health Services’ Color of Drinking survey shed light on the racism behind consuming alcohol and campus party culture. 

Image By: Sydney Widell

After a 2018 survey demonstrated alcohol amplifies racial tensions for students of color, Associated Students of Madison’s Student Council met with the study’s authors to learn more about their findings Wednesday night.

The Color of Drinking survey was conducted by University Health Services and focuses on the social, academic and physical implications of the drinking culture in UW-Madison — emphasizing the experiences of students of color. 

UHS representatives Jenny Damask, Reonda Washington and Valerie Donovan gave a presentation about the severity of the issue while inviting council members to work with UHS to create a more inclusive and safe campus for all students. 

In the past, UHS has aimed to decrease the drinking culture at UW-Madison through programs that focus on impacting both individual and group behaviors. Now, UHS has shifted its focus to changing the environment students are immersed in. 

“When we create a program we are looking at one person, but when we change the environment and look at systems we can change, policies we can change we have a greater reach,” said Damask, UHS’ Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Program Coordinator.

The survey is the first of its kind in the UW System due to its mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. It provides both numerical data and personal anecdotes to answer questions like  whether or not alcohol consumption has impacted students’ sense of belonging at UW-Madison. 

Students of color expressed alcohol causes them to feel unsafe while white students expressed alcohol gave them a sense of belonging, according to Washington, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs prevention coordinator.

When asked if they had experienced microaggressions, nearly 62 percent of students of color answered yes. Seventy-nine percent of African-American students who participated in the survey said they have experienced microaggressions on campus, making them the largest ethnic group to by a 16 percent difference to have experienced racism. 

While 84 percent of students of color claimed to have experienced racism during their time at UW-Madison, only 60 percent of white students said they witnessed incidents.  

“This past year I went out and this guy says to me, ‘I would love to see you take this shot’ as he and his friend stood around me staring me down like I was an animal,” an African-American female survey participant said. 

While nearly 82 percent of white students claimed to have consumed alcohol within the last month, only 66.5 percent of students of color responded the same. 

Twenty-five percent of white students reported performing poorly on an assignment due to alcohol, while 15 percent of students of color reported similar experiences. Similarly, 29 percent of white students admitted missing class due to being hungover, while for students of color that rate was 17.9 percent.  

Students of color who identified as non-drinkers or moderate drinkers scored higher on questions related to contentness, indicating that they were happier. White students who scored highest identified heavy, episodic drinkers. 

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