UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer is calling on the Menomonie community to help curb high-risk alcohol consumption, citing the issuance of more than 50 underage drinking citations on one night earlier this month at a city tavern as a “wake-up call” signifying more work in needed on the issue. 

On Monday, Meyer called the citations at Rehab, 631 Broadway St. S., “an alarming example” of the kinds of behavior that put students at risk. 

While most Menomonie taverns work to prevent students from drinking too much alcohol, some put money above the interests of students and other patrons, Meyer said 

“When you start having establishments over-serving and allowing minors to drink, they should be called on it,” Meyer said. “It is the kind of behavior we want to and need to turn around.”

 Meyer admonished Rehab and other bars that offer cheap drink specials to entice students and others to consume too much alcohol. The issuance of more than four dozen underage citations on one night at that bar is evidence bartenders were not diligently checking IDs, he said. 

“Those businesses are not acting responsibly,” Meyer said, “and in the process they are putting the well-being of our students at risk.”

University, Menomonie and Dunn County law enforcement responded to Rehab on April 12 after receiving a tip about underage drinking there. Menomonie police Chief Eric Atkinson said the citations totaled more than 50, although the exact number was not available Monday. 

“We take these sorts of incidents very seriously,” Atkinson said, noting police are considering enforcement options against Rehab and its owner, David Zempel. He was not available for comment.  

‘Scary situations’

Student alcohol-related deaths at UW-Stout have prompted concerns during the past decade. Seven student deaths during that time have been tied to alcohol abuse. More than 1,800 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related injuries each year in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

To increase safety, UW-Stout officials have initiated multiple efforts to curb student alcohol consumption. Among them was the establishment of the Chancellor’s Coalition on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse started under then-Chancellor Charles Sorensen that works in a variety of ways toward that goal. 

That work also includes a Knock and Talk event at the start of the school year in which university staff meet with students to discuss the dangers of drinking too much alcohol and other risky behaviors.   

“I believe those efforts are making an impact,” Meyer said. “But more needs to be done.”

UW-Stout assistant dean of students Nate Kirkman agrees with that assessment. Kirkman, the commission co-chair, said more than a decade of attempts to address student binge drinking has resulted in some progress, but too many students still drink dangerous amounts of alcohol. 

“We are still seeing too many scary situations involving students in which their health is at risk,” he said. 

Discussions about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption also have been happening in Eau Claire for years, City-County Health Department director Lieske Giese said, and include an alcohol task force comprising a variety of community and agency members. 

While progress has been made on the issue, Giese said, resistance to curbing alcohol abuse surfaced in the form of objections to a proposed ordinance that would have strengthened police authority in cases of excessive drinking. On March 13, the Eau Claire City Council tabled action on that item to allow further debate. 

Education efforts

Changing views about alcohol will require a willingness on the part of tavern owners to work with UW-Stout on such issues as limiting drink specials and better monitoring the ages of students buying alcohol, Meyer and Kirkman said. 

“I am calling on the community to step up to address this issue. We need to work as partners,” Meyer said, noting he plans future outreach efforts to Menomonie taverns and others on the matter. 

Telling tavern operators how to run their business “is difficult,” Kirkman acknowledged. He said university officials will communicate with Menomonie bars to stress the importance of administering alcohol laws and policy to better ensure student safety. 

“More communication is needed with businesses to make this a better situation,” he said. 

Likewise, efforts to address excessive drinking in Eau Claire must involve continued education and community partners, Giese said. 

“We need more education and buy-in from people that this is an issue that matters,” she said.

Contact: 715-830-5911, julian.emerson@ecpc.com