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About 50 students gathered on Tuesday night to share stories about how alcohol abuse has affected their lives and brainstorm for ways that Penn can address the problem as part of the National Issues Forum program. The forum -- sponsored by the Sigma Chi fraternity, the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team and the Office of Health Education -- marked the first time that Penn participated in any national public forum program. The National Issues Forum program runs discussions on complex issues, like substance abuse or death, among students on 13 campuses, including Penn, across the country. "This is not going to be your typical unstructured conversation, nor is it going to be a debate," said Harris Sokoloff, Penn's director of the Center for School Study Councils at the Graduate School of Education, who introduced the program. "The aim is not to reach a decision, but to move closer to reaching a decision." Sokoloff then showed a video produced by the National Issues Forum explaining three different approaches to dealing with alcohol abuse. The first method was to demand individual responsibility by enforcing and tightening existing alcohol laws, the second was to treat alcohol abuse as an illness and the third was to promote social change through education. The students were divided into three groups, each led by five trained student facilitators. The groups discussed their feelings toward the three possible ways to address alcohol abuse. The discussion within each group was recorded and the results will be presented to Penn's Working Group on Alcohol Abuse. Although most of the participants were Sigma Chi brothers, the facilitators came from such diverse campus groups as Navy ROTC, the Queer Student Alliance and the Athletic Department. Participants' reactions to the forum were generally positive. "It definitely wasn't a waste of time," College freshman Dina Parise said. "I know more now than when I came in. I think more can be done, but I think it was definitely informative and educational." Many other participants also expressed a desire for more action to be taken to combat abusive drinking behavior, saying that a voluntary discussion forum was not sufficient. But Drug and Alcohol Resource Team President Molly MacDonald said it is difficult to get students involved in programs like the forum. "This is a self-motivated kind of thing," the Nursing junior said. "You can't mandate this." MacDonald said, however, that DART is currently working toward including a more comprehensive alcohol education session in the New Student Orientation program.

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