BEYOND BLACK(OUT) WEDNESDAY: EVC STUDENTS SHINE LIGHT ON UNDERAGE DRINKING & PUBLIC HEALTH

Still recovering from a turbulent fall semester, New York students everywhere prepare for the upcoming Thanksgiving Break: a time to be with loved ones and hopefully enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal. Many actually look forward to the day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as “Black Friday,” irrefutably the biggest shopping day of the year. For others, however, the festivities really start the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Tonight is currently considered the biggest “drinking holiday” of the year – in some places, even bigger than New Year’s Eve or Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s even trending as “Black Wednesday,” or more tellingly “Blackout Wednesday” (#blackoutwednesday).

Traditionally, this week is an open invitation to imbibe, but increasingly teens whet their appetites with something other than turkey – reports fear more underage drinking occurs on Thanksgiving Eve than other holidays or even special occasions like graduation or prom night. A mid-semester break with students often home for the extended feel-good weekend, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving has become a popular time for young people to binge drink the night away – but you don’t have to take my word for it. A quick social media search for #blackoutwednesday shows why sites like collegetownlife.com call Thanksgiving Eve “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year:”
– @UVAGossip: Favorite part of the thanksgiving break #blackoutwednesday
– @Wolfgang72988: The only thing that [sic] motivating me is knowing that im only 2 more days away from blacking out #blackoutwednesday
– @dan_lega: Getting all my hmw done so I can blackout to the point where I don’t remember my name #blackoutwednesday

We know from our own experience growing up, it’s not enough to just tell teens “don’t drink” – especially in an environment where alcohol is highly embedded in the culture of celebration. Together, adult allies, public health experts and community educators can work with young people to empower them to make more informed decisions. This fall, the Educational Video Center is collaborating with community partners to engage in a semester-long conversation with students on the influence of alcohol in their communities. Reviewing the risks of underage drinking, EVC youth took the dialogue a step further: how can we make healthy lifestyle choices when our neighborhoods are plastered with alcohol advertisements and accessibility? This week, for instance, students are bombarded by flyers and website banners promoting the best Blackout Wednesday parties, complete with discounted cover fees and drink tickets. On top of this, establishments notoriously turn a blind eye to underage drinkers and relax “carding” policies to maximize profits over a typical Wednesday. It’s bad enough they have to deal with peer pressure; the message to drink is literally written on the walls.

When the party is over, EVC youth filmmakers have uncovered consequences more far-reaching than the morning after. Students interviewed community members, health professionals, and local business owners asking hard-hitting questions that shed light on alcohol-fueled accidents, disease, and vandalism. While health and law enforcements point to an increase in risk-taking behavior like unprotected sex and drunk driving, there are also countless incidents of the “silent epidemic” –sexual assault– that plagues school campuses and college towns alike. TheAmerican Association of University Women (AAUW) estimates nearly 95% of all attacks go unreported; over 75% of the time, “either the offender, victim, or both were under the influence of alcohol.” This scary connection between sexual violence and drinking culture begins before the first bottle even pops. While mapping the Lower East Side and East Harlem, EVC youth counted the number of alcohol advertisements they encountered in bodegas and bar windows, many with degrading depictions of women.

The reality is, this issue extends beyond Blackout Wednesday. EVC and our partnering organizations are excited to help youth filmmakers expand this discussion in the new year. More than just a PSA, this intensive afterschool project is a call to action that addresses the environmental impact of alcohol-availability, particularly on low-income neighborhoods. Our students look forward to premiering their hard work at Mount Sinai Hospital in early January, and invite all youth, parents, teachers, business owners, and community members to join us for the discussion and reception. But we don’t have to wait until then to start important conversations in our communities. Tonight, we can remind bar owners and managers to enforce the drinking age and cut off patrons that appear too inebriated to function. We can ask business owners to be mindful of gratuitous ads, especially in school communities. We can be mindful of our own behavior at mixed-age and family-friendly holiday functions. And when young people have something to say, we can listen.