January 16, 2010 9:55:00 PM
Tim Pratt -
Mississippi State University is spearheading a campaign to combat underage drinking in Starkville.
With a federal Department of Education grant worth $355,000, MSU is leading an effort with Mississippi University for Women and the University of Mississippi called "Stay Dry: Mississippi Coalition of Partners in Prevention."
Posters with the "Stay Dry" logo already have started showing up in Mississippi State dormitories and have been distributed to several Starkville restaurants and bars. The posters bear messages illustrating the impact and consequences of underage and binge drinking.
April Heiselt, MSU assistant professor of counseling and educational psychology, said another campaign component involves participating merchants seizing fake identification cards used by underage patrons and returning to them a card that reinforces the "Stay Dry" message. The replacement cards will spell out consequences and legal ramifications to both patrons and businesses if false IDs are honored, but later uncovered by authorities.
Starkville Police Department Chief David Lindley said the use of fake IDs to purchase alcohol is a "major problem" in town. It is up to the business to prosecute if a patron attempts to use a fake ID, Lindley said.
If convicted, a patron using fake ID would face a $500 fine, plus $127 in court costs. If convicted of being a minor in possession of alcohol, the patron would face a $250 fine plus $132.50 in court costs.
"We could charge them with either/or," Lindley said.
In addition to the community education and awareness campaign, a campus peer-mentor campaign and alcohol-free social events are key components of the MSU strategy. The project is designed to reduce alcohol use and abuse by persons under 21 years old.
"The goal of the program is to not completely abolish (underage drinking), but to just reduce it," said Jennifer Glaze, vice president of tourism development for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. "The hope is that, with that logo, which is a little edgy in a way, that they''ll see it, pay attention to it and maybe see the Web site with all the alcohol-free events on campus."
"We''re hoping that maybe the freshmen and sophomores who might be easily influenced, who might not have made their mind up about whether or not they''re going to go to the bar and drink, but all their friends are, maybe will come across the Web site and see a list of activities going on campus that don''t involve alcohol."
When asked if posters and napkins could stop underage drinkers, Glaze emphasized the goal is to reduce the number of underage people consuming alcohol.
"Honestly, I really do think that it will work with some people and that''s the goal, just to reduce underage drinking," Glaze said. "But it''s not even using the traditional scare tactics or things like that. It''s about trying to provide alternatives so maybe you can hang out with people who are in the same situation that just want to go out and have fun with their friends, but don''t really want to go get drunk. That''s the goal, just to reduce the number of underage drinkers."
"If you''re a freshman or a sophomore and you see this logo everywhere, it might be sort of a wake-up call in a sense that if you go into this restaurant, you might think ''They''re taking this seriously.''"
Although Mississippi State is leading the effort in Starkville, Glaze hopes the Stay Dry campaign eventually will spread to Columbus and Oxford.