Red Watch Band Program enters 10th year at Iowa as drinking rates rise

The Red Watch Band program enters its 10th year of educating students about healthy drinking habits and increasing alcohol awareness on campus.


Thomas A. Stewart

A sign is seen on Wednesday, October 3, 2018 in the Westlawn Student Health & Wellness building.

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

An alcohol-response program is in its 10th year at the University of Iowa as the levels of alcohol use among college students continue to rise.

The Red Watch Band program seeks to train college students to recognize and respond to alcohol overdoses. Students who participate in the program gain certification in CPR and anti-epileptic drugs and are given instruction on healthy drinking habits.

“The program was created at Stony Brook University [New York] in response to the tragic death by alcohol overdose of Matthew Sunshine, whose mother is a distinguished professor here,” said Lara Hunter, the founder of Red Watch Band and current national director of the program. “Following Matthew’s death, we recognized that students were not aware that alcohol overdose could be deadly, and they weren’t able to recognize the signs of an overdose or know how to respond effectively.”

Through the program originated in New York, it has spread to colleges nationwide, including the UI. 

“Our program is now in over 250 colleges and universities around the county and Canada, and we have begun educating local high-school students,” Hunter said. “Our goal is for every student to be Red Watch Band trained and eliminate death from alcohol overdose as well as change the culture around high risk drinking behavior.”

Student Health behavioral health coordinator Dakota Fix, the current Red Watch Band instructor at the University of Iowa, is in his second year of heading the program. Fix, a 2014 Iowa graduate, said he was attracted to the program as part of his staff position.

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He teaches 18 classes per semester, with an average of 20 students per class. His responsibilities include teaching about the program, promoting it, and furthering alcohol awareness on campus.

“I think just getting alcohol awareness out there, most people will be around alcohol at some point in their college career,” Fix said. “I think it’s something that most students, if not all students, should take at some point.”

Students are instructed on how to react in a situation in which an individual is exhibiting signs of alcohol poisoning. Fix estimated that the UI educates 700 students per year.

While high-risk drinking at the UI has decreased, students are still more likely to have dangerous drinking habits than the national average, according to the Spring 2018 National College Health Assessment Summary Report.

“[Students are] more likely to use alcohol, engage in high-risk drinking, and experience negative consequences from use,” the assessment said.

However, in a three-month follow-up survey administered to 2015-16 Iowa Red Band Watch participants, 62 percent of individuals reported either positively changing at least one drinking behavior as a result of the program or not using alcohol.

“It does make an impact,” Fix said. “Spreading the awareness so people know more about it is helpful.”

Fix is optimistic about the future of the Red Watch Program on its 10th anniversary.

“In the future, I’d hope more people take it,” he said. “We usually teach 15 classes a semester, but then we get some other groups that take it as a group, like Greek Life will take it as a group. It’s a good number, but I think the more people, the better.”