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Sept. 27 , 2004
CONTACT: Linga McClair or Ward Mullens

EMU's Checkpoint program helps community deal with alcohol, drug issues

YPSILANTISome young people in Ypsilantiare getting an education at Eastern Michigan University without paying tuition.

EMU’s Checkpoint program has been helping college students learn about alcohol and drug use for the past 10 years. And while most who go through the program are EMU students, a growing number of non-college students are being recommended by District Court in Ypsilanti.

“The goal is to try to catch the problem early and correct it,” said A. Thomas Truesdell, magistrate in the 14-2 District Court in Ypsilanti. “It does seem to make a difference. We see probably five percent repeat offenders and have a better turnover rate than Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m really satisfied with the working relationship between us (and the University).”

When the court refers defendants to Checkpoint, it’s mandatory and requires the defendant to attend. Violators must be first time offenders and under 21 years of age for the courts to allow them an opportunity to go through Checkpoint instead of punishing them with the law.  Although court referrals are forced, participants usually say they don’t mind coming and appreciate receiving help. And that’s key to how receptive participants will be to the information they are given, said Elizabeth Davis-Cahimba, Checkpoint’s coordinator.

“It’s about choice,” said Davis-Cahimba. “We offer education and encourage participants to make their own choices. We’re not preachy or prohibitionists that say ‘stop drinking’ or ‘don’t smoke,’ because we know that doesn’t work. People will always make their own choices.”

 EMU has helped students with substance abuse behavior since 1991. Every other year EMU conducts a CORE survey of students to compile alcohol and other drug-use statistics. Men are referred to Checkpoint more often than women. Out of 201 participants in 2003-04, 67 percent were male and 33 percent were female.

The program was originally geared toward first-year college students because surveys have shown they use alcohol and marijuana at a higher rate than their upper-class counterparts, said Davis-Cahimba. The marijuana module was developed four years ago.

            “Since the program started, more than a thousand people from the surrounding community and EMU have participated in Checkpoint,” said Davis-Cahimba.

            Checkpoint is a series of three, two-hour class sessions with interactive activities. During one session, participants are required to wear Fatal Vision goggles while attempting various exercises. The purpose is for participants to understand their capabilities while impaired.

“The Fatal Vision goggles simulate a certain level of blood alcohol content based on vision,” said Davis-Cahimba. “Participants usually say they’re not like [the simulation] when they drink and we try to shift their thought process, and ask them, ‘How do you know if you’re impaired?’ to get them to see what they’re doing.”

After attending the three sessions, participants have an exit-interview with the Checkpoint facilitator. For many, this is a pivotal time in their education because this is the point they decide to continue the same behavior, or use the opportunity as a wake-up call.

It’s an important program at EMU because it builds connections in other ways without beating the information into them,” said Davis-Cahimba. “If they know people who might need this resource, participants can be the voice that educates others in the community.”

For more information, call University Health Services at 734.487.2226.


Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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