It is move-in day at John Cabot University and like every semester the JCU Housing staff, along with a team of Resident Assistants and Orientation Leaders, is at Fiumicino Airport ready to welcome a new group of students. Stations have been set up for the check-in process and the RAs were ready to scan passports, hand students their packets with the apartment keys, and take pictures of them. Deanna Mayer, Dean of Students and Coordinator of Housing and Residential Life, is also here.
Since Fall of 2016, Deanna Mayer has been greeting new students and introducing them to AMA, which stands for Alcohol after Midnight Alone. This new program which JCU has adopted is designed to educate all visiting students about consuming alcohol and staying safe while studying in Rome.
“Dangerous drinking is a problem at universities across the globe,” Dean Mayer explains. “But when you are studying abroad you may be bringing well-established habits of drinking, sometimes dangerous drinking, into an environment you do not yet understand.”
Indeed, to many students, studying abroad offers the first opportunity to drink alcohol legally. They can order drinks at bars, and buy wine at the grocery store. For the first time, there’s nothing holding them back.
AMA was developed after the Health and Well-Being office ran through some statistics and noticed that in most of the serious incidents involving JCU students three factors were always present: students were alone, it was after midnight, and they had consumed alcohol. Thus, AMA.
The intent of the program is to educate students. “We want students to understand that if they find themselves in a situation in which all three of these factors are at play–they are in a dangerous situation,” said Mayer.
Before AMA was adopted, students who applied for JCU Housing used to only attend the Housing and the Health and Wellbeing Workshops during the orientation week. However, often students went out the same night they flew into Rome without receiving any recommendations on safety. This led to many alcohol related incidents.
Last June, 2016, one of our visiting students, 19-year old from Wisconsin, Beau Solomon, died on his first night in Rome. Beau had come to John Cabot to attend the summer session. Marta Canigiula, Coordinator for Student Health Services and Wellbeing, said, “Deanna and I took what happened to Beau very per- sonally.” The two decided safety tools and tips needed to be imparted at the earliest possible moment: the moment the students landed in Rome.
Now all students attend the safety session on their first day – a 15-minute presentation that advises them on how to stay out of danger. Tips include: getting a working cell phone, saving the JCU emergency number on it, always staying in group, and drinking responsibly. “The intention is not to be a downer,” says Mayer, “but to tell them, ‘Hey, this is a long semester. These first few days are especially dangerous. You are often jetlagged, you don’t know the area, and you may not have yet those trusted friends who will be looking out for you.”
In the intent of safety, JCU has also imposed a curfew on the first two days and organized nightly events, “to keep students out of the bar scene and give them an alternative way to make some friends and get acclimated”, says Canigiula. Some students have complained about the curfew, but Mayer feels the program is working.
The Housing staff registered a 95% compliance with the curfew and students have stopped by Mayer’s office to thank her and tell her they ‘get it’. “I think AMA is a really great idea,” says Micayla Mirabella, a 18-year-old student from New Jersey. “The emphasis that JCU puts on safety makes me feel comfortable living so far from home.”