New Alcohol Office Director Focuses on Strong Peer Engagement

Garrett O. Fitzgerald was hired in August as director of Harvard’s Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services, the third in the office’s 11-year history.

His appointment comes as students and administrators debate and analyze the role of alcohol in undergraduate social life, particularly in the context of the College’s ongoing sexual assault prevention efforts.

Fitzgerald said he has thought about the role of alcohol in sexual assault since he arrived at Harvard, following the University's release of results from a sexual assault climate survey last fall and further recommendations from a University-wide task for sexual assault prevention.

“I think [the task force report] certainly informed and remained present in our conversations when we planned strategies for outreach,” he said. “What the report has definitely done is lived in basically each of our meetings where we direct any of our resources going forward and also guided, sort of, what we prioritize.”

The University task force recommended all Harvard units take measures to create more robust alcohol education programs to address the larger issue and prevalence of sexual assault on campus. At the College, the reported recommended considering policies discouraging the consumption of hard liquor.

The report charged AODS with updating Harvard Proof—the educational module used to provide information to freshmen about healthy drinking habits—and increasing grants that allow the Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors to fund food and beverages at alcohol-free parties.

Fitzgerald said he hoped to provide students better opportunities for learning about substances other than alcohol and gain insight into the attitude of student groups toward hosting safer parties.

He said students must remember their responsibilities as hosts to create safe party environments and how the expectations and power structures within organizations influence practices like drinking culture and hazing.

“You do have an obligation to those people coming to the event to make sure you’re creating an experience that can be safe for them, both from a substance related aspect, to even a physical safety, to an emotional safety,” he said.

Fitzgerald discussed the difference between what types of initiatives he considers realistic compared to ideals, and said efforts such as providing alcohol education to each student organization on campus may not be feasible.

“Trying to train the 400 student groups on campus is a daunting task when the people who would be expected to do that are also students and have class demands and things of that nature,” Fitzgerald said. “Otherwise, it’s two of us trying to reach 400 students in the first couple weeks of a semester.”

Before coming to Harvard, Fitzgerald previously worked for three years at Binghamton University, a public university in New York, focusing on drug and alcohol counseling. He was motivated in his decision to move to Cambridge by the peer-education model that AODS prioritizes in its work.

The issues that Fitzgerald will face as he leads the University’s alcohol education office are different than at the time of AODS’s founding. In 2005, citing concerns over rising alcohol-related hospitalizations at Harvard University Health Services, a University-wide office for alcohol education was established upon the recommendation of a student-faculty committee.

AODS was assigned to “oversee the University’s efforts to address alcohol and health issues among its students,” according to a Crimson article from July 2005. When Ryan M. Travia, the first director, departed in 2015, he praised accomplishments like the creation of a peer education group and the standardization of alcohol enforcement policies in the Houses.

In June, AODS moved from their location at 7 Linden St. to the sixth floor of the Smith Campus Center in an effort by HUHS to consolidate its broad array of auxiliary resources. Fitzgerald’s office falls under the purview of Harvard’s Department of Health Promotion and Education, which also oversees units like the Office of Sexual Assault, Prevention and Response and the Center for Wellness.

—Staff writer Menaka V. Narayanan can be reached at menaka.narayanan@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mnarayanan97.

—Staff writer Kenton K. Shimozaki can be reached at kenton.shimozaki@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @KentonShimozaki.

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