OHIO is currently one of two universities across the state piloting a poster and informational card campaign aimed at curbing underage persons' access to alcohol.
Funded through a mini-grant from the Drug-Free Action Alliance through the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, the campaign focuses on social host liability laws, or the legal consequences of providing alcohol to underage persons.
The campaign, titled "Buzzkill: Host Under-21 and the Party's Over," was modeled after "Parents Who Host Lose The Most," a successful social host liability campaign targeting parents of high school students.
"If successful, the Buzzkill campaign could be used on all college campuses to address the social host liability law," said Terry Koons, associate director of the Campus Involvement Center for Health Promotion.
Through Buzzkill, any student who checks a guest into a university residence hall receives a handbill in their mailbox informing them of the penalties and consequences of hosting underage drinking.
Since October, more than 5,000 handbills have been distributed to students living on and off of the Ohio University campus through mail, classes and peer-to-peer education. In addition to the handbills, posters are being distributed throughout the Athens campus that debunk common myths regarding underage drinking laws and their enforcement.
Andrew Powers, Ohio University chief of police, said the potential consequences for providing alcohol to underage drinkers are more severe than many people know.
"Providing alcohol to an underage person is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine," he said.
On Feb. 25, Ohio University students, staff, faculty and members of the Ohio University Police Department met with local law enforcement officials to discuss the Buzzkill campaign, as it relates to the current state of underage alcohol consumption on campus.
According to Koons, the meeting revealed that student apathy for social host liability laws stems, in part, from a lack of law enforcement.
"We had students at the meeting who said, 'Why bother educating everyone if no one gets in trouble?' Point well taken," he said, adding, "We know that most people party off-campus. But very few students believe anything will happen to them."
Currently, Ohio law requires prosecutors to prove that a host "knowingly" provided alcohol to a minor.
"There are many excuses for this," said Koons. "Most common is that 'I don?t know all of the people who come to my party.' It is a complicated issue."
"In some cases it isn't difficult [to enforce the law]; in other cases, it can be difficult to identify with certainty who actually handed the alcohol to the underage person," added Powers.
House Bill 351, introduced to the Ohio House of Representatives in November and currently in committee review, aims to better enable the enforcement of social host liability laws by changing the way the law is written.
In the meantime, institutions such as Ohio University are opting to address social host liability through educational measures, such as the Buzzkill campaign.
Outside evaluators will visit Ohio University's Athens campus in May to study the impact of Buzzkill. The campaign is currently funded through the 2010-11 academic year.
"We will continue to educate students on the message and continue to work with community and city officials through our alcohol coalition, CARDD (Coalition Advocating Responsible Drinking Decisions)," said Koons.
Buzzkill is not the only program to encourage responsible alcohol consumption in the university community. Ohio University was among four universities chosen by the Century Council to use and explore the effectiveness of student-created campaigns against high-risk drinking.
"We are educating students about managing their parties," Koons said. "Know who is attending your party, and do not allow underage people to bring or consume alcohol on your property."