Time to Talk
For parents and families of new and returning students, August can be extremely hectic. You and your student are likely running errands, buying “must-have” housewares, and beginning the packing process before embarking on the trip to Madison later this month.
SAFEwalk staff escort a student to a campus location at night. SAFEwalk is a free service available to faculty, staff, and students. Photo: University Communications
At the Parent Program, we know that you’re busy, but we encourage you to add the following important conversations to your summer checklist.
UW–Madison is concerned about all facets of a student’s life on campus. Over the past few years, topics that include safety, high-risk drinking, and student involvement have emerged as areas where parents have key influence, and can play an important, positive role. Whether you are a parent of a new or continuing student, we encourage you to talk with your student about these topics before the fall semester begins.
“Keep in mind that your relationship with your student is already changing,” says Wren Singer, director of the Center for the First-Year Experience. Rather than giving your student directions, she encourages parents to adopt the role of a mentor who uses influence to guide and advise.
“Catch them at a time when they want to talk, and encourage a discussion with gentle questions,” she says, noting that meaningful summer conversations about college life can help begin a smooth transition into new ways of communicating.
“These topics are important, but what you say is less important than the fact that you’re interested and are talking about it with your student,” she adds. “You want to create a line of communication that will remain open throughout the college years.”
Student involvement. When new students arrive on campus, parents can support that transition by understanding that students need to shift their mindset toward the actual practice of learning and thinking critically, as opposed to simply completing assignments, papers, and tests, says Aaron Brower, vice provost for teaching and learning.
Students can just attend class and fulfill basic academic requirements, but UW–Madison offers so much more in the way of leadership, cultural, and activism opportunities.
“Compared to high school, college is more challenging, the expectations are greater, and there are longer hours,” says Brower. “But it’s more interesting. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.”
In fact, UW–Madison has a history of graduating students who become extraordinary citizens, community members, and national and global leaders. The university has the unique distinction of producing unusually high numbers of Peace Corps and Teach for America volunteers, as well as CEOs of major corporations.
The idea that students can be engaged outside of the classroom in activities that matter is the core philosophy behind the Wisconsin Experience. Although every student is different, Brower says that parents can encourage students to become active participants in their education by taking advantage of opportunities such as study abroad, volunteering, or undergraduate research.
The beginning of the fall semester brings a flurry of organizational meetings and activity fairs that students can use to check out their options. Encourage your student to participate in these events and ask what sparked an interest.
Safety. Madison is a generally safe community in which to live and work, but it is not immune to the challenges of a growing city, including crime.
Violent crime is relatively rare, but one recent tragedy touched the campus community. Brittany Sue Zimmermann, a UW–Madison senior from Marshfield, Wisconsin, was the victim of a homicide in her downtown
Madison apartment on the afternoon of April 3, 2008. The case is still under investigation.
UW–Madison is aggressive in its safety efforts, offering a full-service, sworn police department, SAFE-ride and SAFEwalk nighttime transportation programs, lighted walkways, and emergency telephones. Since many UW–Madison students live off campus, the university works closely with City of Madison Police to collaborate on student safety issues and initiatives.
Dean of Students Lori Berquam leads many safety education and awareness campaigns on campus. Parents can help their student’s understanding of safety issues by talking about ways to reduce risk, and Berquam encourages parents to frequently follow up on safety matters, checking in throughout the semester.
“It’s important to help displace fear with greater awareness of the safety resources we have in place as a campus and community,” Berquam says. “Students can take a measure of responsibility for their personal safety. Crime is never the fault of the victim, but there are easy steps students can take to decrease their risk.”
The most important messages for students to remember are:
- Never walk alone to or from campus, especially at night; use the SAFE services offered on campus.
- Lock your doors or windows, even if you’re home.
- Carry a cell phone and dial 911 for help.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times and use common sense. Report suspicious activity as soon as you observe it.
- Use the “buddy system”: travel together and stay together.
Lastly, ask your student if he or she has signed up to receive WiscAlerts-Text Messages about campus emergencies. Students can log into the My UW Portal and input their cellular phone numbers.
Alcohol. One of the most important conversations to have with your student is on the topic of alcohol. Now living on their own—many for the first time—students will have newfound freedoms and responsibilities. The first few weeks of the fall semester are critical, as high-risk drinking is more prevalent.
The availability of alcohol and its excessive consumption is an issue that all college campuses struggle with. UW–Madison is especially concerned about the negative consequences of high-risk drinking, for the drinker and also for his or her friends, roommates, and classmates.
Research shows that these consequences can include disrupted sleep or studies; unplanned and unprotected sexual contact; sexual or physical violence; vandalism; or even nights that end at the detoxification center.
Brower, who also heads the campus PACE Project to reduce high-risk drinking, encourages parents to approach the topic in a way that fits their own style and relationship with their student.
First and foremost, it is important to note that many students choose not to drink alcohol while at UW–Madison. There are hundreds of social activities that do not involve drinking, including joining one of 700-plus student organizations and/or an educationally-focused fraternity or sorority, attending residence hall events or late-night activities offered at the student unions, working out at our recreational facilities, volunteering, or getting a job on campus or in the community.
The legal drinking age in Wisconsin is 21. Underage drinking is against the law in Wisconsin and can carry significant legal, academic, and financial consequences.
We recommend that parents initiate conversations about alcohol from a safety perspective, asking students to develop a safety plan for themselves and friends. Talking about how excessive alcohol use is directly linked to personal health, safety, and academic success is a good way to open the conversation.
Discussing campus and community transportation options, individual drink limits, and safety responses for persons who are passed out or ill, are often good opening topics that can lead to deeper conversations about the effects of alcohol. Realize that setting “hard” limits may make a student feel uncomfortable ever discussing the topic in the future, especially if he or she has tried drinking or believes that you may be judgmental.
Another way to approach the issue is to talk frequently with your student about the person he or she wants to become and wants to accomplish while on campus, Brower says. For most students, accomplishing their academic and personal goals at UW–Madison is difficult, if not impossible, when also balancing a heavy load of partying.
UW–Madison strongly encourages students to complete the e-Chug program at home before coming to campus. E-Chug is available through the University Health Services Web site and will provide your student with personalized feedback and education about alcohol use. (See www.uhs.wisc.edu;
search for E-chug.)
“Ultimately, we want students to learn from their experiences and mistakes, and begin making the right decisions,” Brower says.
For more information about these topics, including additional tips on how to start and continue these conversations, visit the Parent Program Web site or contact Parent Program staff.