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Release: Sept. 17, 2002

Stepping Up wins renewal grant to continue efforts to reduce harmful effects of drinking

The Stepping Up Project, a community/campus coalition to reduce the harmful effects of excessive drinking, will continue its efforts begun in the fall of 1996 with a four-year, $466,729 grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The local coalition, which includes members from Iowa City, Coralville, Johnson County and the University of Iowa, is one of several "town-gown" coalitions participating in a national program called "A Matter of Degree: The National Effort to Reduce High-Risk Drinking Among College Students." The initiative is funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and administered by the American Medical Association.

"On behalf of the University of Iowa, I thank The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for this generous and much-needed support for a program of utmost importance to our students and their future," said University of Iowa President Willard L. "Sandy" Boyd.

"This renewal grant is a tremendous vote of confidence that our partners at RWJF and the AMA believe we are making progress," said Carolyn Cavitt, a retired Iowa City stockbroker who chairs the Stepping Up Project executive committee. "It is also an acknowledgement that our efforts must continue because our work is not finished. Students and others who drink too much continue to harm other students and members of our community by interrupting their studies, assaulting them physically and sexually, damaging other people's property, and injuring others by driving while intoxicated. That simply is not fair.

"Our goal is to balance the rights of adults who drink responsibly with everyone's right to a safe and healthy environment in which to live, work, study and have fun," she added.

Sarah Hansen wrote the renewal grant application. Hansen is coordinator of Health Iowa, the health promotion branch of the university's Student Health Service. Health Iowa and Student Health staff members also wrote the original Stepping Up grant application.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grants for the "A Matter of Degree" program are intended to allow town-gown coalitions to use an "environmental approach" to reducing the harmful effects of excessive or high-risk drinking. The environmental approach acknowledges that education, treatment, and prevention programs are necessary but not wholly sufficient approaches to reducing the harmful effects of excessive drinking. Changes must also be made in a community's physical, social, economic and legal environment.

"Stepping Up is trying to change the environment in our community in two major ways," Cavitt noted. "We are working with students and others to increase the number and variety of late-night social events that are not centered on alcohol. And we are pursuing policy changes aimed at reducing the easy accessibility of cheap alcohol in our community."

In the first six years of its existence, Stepping Up provided funding for dozens of late-night social events for UI students, including:

* "Nightgames," a regular event through which students can use the recreational facilities and equipment at the UI Field House until 2 a.m.

* "Up All Night," a residence hall program for late night study sessions, pizza parties, and a new event planned this year for a late night swim at City Park swimming pool for residents of Mayflower and Parklawn residence halls.

* An alcohol-free tailgate parking lot at Hawkeye football games.

In addition, Stepping Up has supported efforts by the Iowa City City Council to amend the disorderly house ordinance, to enforce the minimum legal drinking age, to pass new ordinances placing limits on drink specials. The coalition has also urged the City Council to consider an ordinance that would keep underage people out of bars.

During that same time, the UI also took a number of actions aimed at reducing the harmful effects of excessive drinking. Those included university-funded late-night social events, including reduced price tickets for Planet X, an entertainment business located in the Old Capitol Mall near the UI campus, and jazz performances by UI music students at Uptown Bill's Small Mall. The UI has also stepped up enforcement of the policy against underage drinking for UI students participating in orientation; refused to renew an athletic department contract with Miller Brewing Company; restricted alcohol service in social fraternities; and banned alcohol and tobacco from the entire residence system. In addition, this fall the Office of the Vice President for Student Services is sending letters to the parents of UI students arrested for possession of alcohol under the legal age.

"Our greatest successes have been the result of raising our community's awareness of the problems that excessive drinkers cause for all of us," Cavitt noted. "We are proud to have played a role in keeping the historic Englert Theatre from becoming another bar. Likewise, we are proud to have helped in the effort that kept Pearson's Drug Store from becoming a liquor store. Of course, the Englert Committee and the Northside Neighborhood Association deserve the lion's share of the credit for community activism in those high-profile cases. We look forward to more opportunities to collaborate on making our community a vibrant, inviting environment for people of all ages."

The Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It concentrates its grantmaking in four goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to basic health care at reasonable cost; to improve care and support for people with chronic health conditions; to promote healthy communities and lifestyles; and to reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by substance abuse -- tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.