This news release describes past events and should be used for historical purposes only. Please note date of release.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
Birthday Cards Remind Students of Alcohol Dangers
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: February 20, 1998

EAU CLAIRE -- When University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students turn 21, they receive at least one sobering message among their birthday greetings. It's the third year the university has sent birthday cards to students turning 21 with a gentle warning about the dangers of excessive drinking.
The cards, signed jointly by the leaders of the Student Senate and the dean of students, wish students a happy birthday and advise them not to let their upcoming birthday celebration get out of hand. Robert Shaw, associate dean of students, said the cards are aimed at encouraging students to take responsibility about the amount of alcohol they consume while celebrating.
"The importance of the Student Senate's support can't be over-emphasized," says Shaw. "The fact that students are supporting students makes the message particularly effective."
The tragic death of student Marc Dybdahl in December 1994 spurred the university to intensify its efforts of encouraging responsible drinking. The Green Bay junior died in his own bed from alcohol poisoning, killed by the party celebrating his 21st birthday. On the eve of his birthday he and some roommates had a few drinks to celebrate and then went to a local bar. Friends ordered up shots, and before midnight Marc had passed out. His roommates carried him home and put him to bed. He was still breathing at 2:30 a.m. but died a short time later with a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit for driving.
In response to Dybdahl's death and at the urging of his parents, the university developed a birthday card program, the only one of its kind at the time, according to Shaw.
"It's a way of preserving the teachable moment for future students. The birthday card allows us to personally approach each student about alcohol but in a gentle, non-preachy way," he said.
Students approaching their 21st birthday receive a card in the mail asking them to plan a safe night if they intend to drink. The inside of the card depicts a handful of balloons floating away from an outstretched hand with the message "Don't Let It Get Out of Hand."
The back of the card reads: "On Dec. 22, 1994, UW-Eau Claire student Marc Dybdahl died of alcohol poisoning. He was celebrating his 21st birthday. The sponsors of this card ask you to take responsibility on your 21st birthday so that another tragedy might be avoided." Students also receive a "Steer Clear OWI" assessment guide to help them monitor their alcohol level if they decide to drive.
Student Senate President Kevin Gatzlaff receives many positive comments about the card from students. "If it makes someone think for a even a moment that they need to be responsible about their drinking, then it's worthwhile."
UW-Eau Claire sent out 2,000 cards the first year of the program and has received funding to continue the program for two more years. Sponsors for the card, which was designed by student Matt Annis, include the Ecumenical Religious Center, Luther Hospital, Sacred Heart Hospital and the UW-Eau Claire Counseling Service, Dean of Students Office, Foundation, Health Services and Student Senate.

Janice Wisner is director of the UW-Eau Claire News Bureau

UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: April 3, 1998