While the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown is caught up in a debate over a new alcohol policy, many colleges are finding an effective way of curbing alcohol abuse among students.

Instead of pushing for rules against the use of alcohol, schools are simply offering students more alternative activities – labeled and advertised as such.

Because alcohol is permitted on the UPJ campus only if registered, it stands to reason that events there would be alcohol-free.

But the reality is that students serve beer and other beverages at parties, even on “dry” campuses.

That’s why schools are taking a more direct approach.

Penn State was at the forefront of the trend when, in 1996, the University Park campus developed its LateNight-Penn State program. Since then, the university has offered alcohol-free events every weekend on campus during “prime social times” – from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Activities have included live music, movies, dances, billiards, swimming and even a basketball league.

Other schools have followed the Penn State model. At Ball State, each Saturday brings Late Nite @ Ball State events that are alcohol-free. Admission is free for students with current ID cards.

At Slippery Rock, once known as one of the top party schools in the nation, a popular event is now in its sixth year. The Alcohol-Free Mix Off gives campus organizations an opportunity to win prizes for creating nonalcoholic drinks, and those who attend can dance and take part in other activities.

“(The event) is an opportunity for students to get together and see that you can have a good time without alcohol,” Cathie Sadler, coordinator of student organizations, said in the student newspaper.

The latest news out of Penn State is an alcohol-free jazz club at an off-campus venue.

Saxophonist Greg Johnson, an 18-year-old freshman, came up with the idea after performing with several local jazz groups in local bars, according to a Penn State news release.

“Playing in underground bars has become a normal experience for me,” Johnson said. “My roommate complains about the smoke smell, but I can no longer smell it.”

Johnson approached a local club about offering a music venue that is both smoke- and alcohol-free.

The new concept, dubbed Jazz Jam @ Sozo’s, kicked off Jan. 27. Instead of alcohol, coffee and espresso are on the beverage menu.

“If this event catches on,” Johnson said, “it will become a regularly scheduled event.”

The first go-round attracted upward of100 people, meaning a packed house at the club, said a member of Penn State’s public relations department who attended.

Annemarie Mountz said some performers were college-aged, some were in their teens and others were considerably older.

The crowd included Penn State students and local residents – including families with young children. So, in addition to offering an alcohol-free venue, the event is connecting the university with the local community.

We’re betting Jazz Jam, and other events like it, will continue to be successful, and will serve as further evidence that alternative entertainment options can go a long way toward reducing alcohol abuse among college students.

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