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ISSUE 118 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/11/2005

Ill Communication

By Executive Editors
Executive Editor

Friday, March 11, 2005

The St. Olaf administration recently released the results of the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment, which – among other statistics – showed that only 60 percent of students drank at least once a month. Dean Greg Kneser felt that the survey accurately represented the attitudes, behaviors and health habits regularly demonstrated by the St. Olaf student body.

Yet, one can only wonder whether the survey itself was accurate, or if it was merely considered to be accurate by the administration because it (miraculously) confirmed the naive perceptions they have long harbored about the student body. Only 544 students – approximately 1/6 of the student populace -– responded to the anonymous online survey, which dealt with topics ranging from tobacco use to emotional health. Moreover, Kneser himself admitted that the one flaw in the survey seemed to be the students’ disproportionate perceptions of on-campus drug and alcohol use compared to the actual reported frequency.

The truth is that St. Olaf administrators – not to mention the majority of St. Olaf parents – are blatantly unaware of just how many supposedly “unhealthy” student lifestyle choices and behaviors occur on a daily basis. On any given night, students can be found consuming alcohol on campus. Furthermore, it’s likely that students are committing far more sexual acts – whether with longtime partners or with random acquaintances – than has ever been conceded by either the administration or students’ parents.

This should come as no surprise to St. Olaf students, who know better than anyone that a generally ignorant attitude abounds among the older, subjective observers of this campus. Since the inception of the “Sex on the Hill” column in 2002, the Messenger has received a number of letters from parents complaining about the inaccuracy of the column and its inability to accurately portray the sexual behaviors of students living on campus. While the column may, at times, be one-sided, it is certainly not as far removed from campus reality as parents and faculty would like to believe.

Yes, many of us drink. And yes, many of us are sexually active – of the 544 students surveyed, 48.5 percent were sexually active last school year; and it’s likely that many of the remaining 51.5 percent, have been sexually active prior to or since that year.

Instead of denying the behaviors that are so obviously exemplified by the students on this campus, our parents and administrators should frankly and deliberately address said issues – not by enforcing dry campus policies or installing condom machines in relatively inconvenient locales. Rather, they should encourage discussion and education about how to approach sex and alcohol in the safest, most responsible manner. Such a bold approach should certainly not exclude dialogue regarding abstinence or sobriety – but it should provide that these are not the only two options addressed.

What we need – more than anything – is the opportunity to communicate, without fear of reprimand or reproach. No survey on earth can substitute for that.

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