UVA smart-drinking program seems to be working, says NPR

NPR’s "Morning Edition" takes stock today of UVA’s "social norming" alcohol education efforts that University brass say are keeping binge behavior under control and limiting the number of undergrads who drink and drive.

" At colleges across the United States, the number of alcohol-related deaths is on the rise," reports NPR’s Brenda Wilson. "But at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, no student has died from intoxication or an accident linked to drinking since 1998.

"What’s UVA’s secret? It’s called ‘social norming,’ and relies on peer counseling, social events and solid information to challenge misperceptions students have about drinking."

Sounds great, and indeed teaching underage drinkers that those big red cups, ubiquitous at keggers up and down Rugby Road, contain 16 ounces (equal to a bottle of beer and a half) is important. But NPR is mistaken in making it sound like Jefferson’s campus has been free of alcohol-related deaths in the past decade. On March 17, 2006, Matthew Pearlstone, a Cornell undergraduate, died of alcohol poisoning in Cauthen dorm while visiting a friend at UVA. They had been partying at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity for part of the evening before Pearlstone died. His friend was a Sig Ep pledge.

At the time of Pearlstone’s death, UVA spokeswoman Carol Wood said,  "The university community was terribly saddened to learn of the death of a student. Our priority is to reach out to students and his friends here. We all grieve when we lose one of our students."