Student leading the way on preventing alcohol harms

    (Haley Stairs/AQ)

    In her first year at St. Thomas University, Wasiimah Joomun felt uncomfortable being around other students who drank alcohol. At the time, she wasn’t interested in drinking.

    Now, two years later, she’s the Atlantic regional representative for the Post-Secondary Education Partnership – Alcohol Harms, a group of representatives from Canadian universities and colleges that work together with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. According to University Affairs, the group formed in June 2017 after Jonathan Andrews, a student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, died from binge drinking in 2013.

    Although Joomun didn’t drink in her first year, her friends understood and made her feel included. But she understands that isn’t always the case for other students because of alcohol culture on university and college campuses.

    “There’s always that culture when you see movies and media [that] when you go to school, university especially, you just party and drink and very often you don’t see the full picture of it.”

    In her position, she aims to educate students about the harms that may come with drinking, regardless if they consume alcohol or not.

    Scott Duguay, vice-president enrolment management, approached Brianna Workman, president of the St. Thomas University Students’ Union, last summer to see if any members were interested in attending PEP-AH’s annual conference on Prince Edward Island. Workman reached out to Joomun. Joomun decided to attend and discovered she wanted to continue reducing alcohol harms on campus.

    In this position, Joomun will organize a symposium, attend conferences and continue to educate students.

    Wasiimah Joomun wants to continue educating students on alcohol harms as the Atlantic regional representative. (Haley Stairs/AQ)

    She hopes to bring the work that STU has been doing like putting up informative posters, hosting workshops and meetings, establishing the Keep It Social campaigns and a dry welcome week, to all universities. She also wants to learn from other post-secondary institutions in the country and share initiatives.

    “[At] STU, we are more about inclusion and making sure everyone feels comfortable and safe and included in any kind of setting.”

    PEP-AH and STU’s initiatives don’t discourage consuming alcohol, nor binge-drinking. They say this method doesn’t reach students.

    “We’re not going around telling students not to drink,” said Joomun.

    Instead, the goal is to teach students how to recognize when they’ve reached their limit and to drink at their own pace. They also want to inform students of the harms that may come from consuming alcohol, like alcohol poisoning.

    She wants to help educate students and create an environment where they feel comfortable making meaningful connections, especially during STU’s dry welcome week.

    Joomun is hoping to change the idea that students need to drink in order to fit in and get along with others.

    “There’s still a certain amount of people who decide not to drink for various reasons, so having that conversation and making those people who didn’t drink alcohol feel safe [and] engaging with those who do drink alcohol is one of the main objectives that STU and other universities are trying to work toward.”