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College Drinking Prevention - Changing the Culture

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View From The President's Office: The Leadership Of Change

Working With Campus Constituency Groups

 

"Understand that the campus is a community and deal with the alcohol issues presented by each segment…Work with multiple audiences on campus and in the surrounding community…Communicate campus priority about alcohol issues to faculty, staff, students, and parents…"

Promising Practices: Campus Alcohol Strategies, 1998 (Anderson)


 

One of the challenges of implementing programs to reduce college drinking problems is the variety of groups and subgroups to be addressed and their diverse needs and agendas. Key campus constituencies for alcohol efforts include students; specific student subgroups such as Greek organizations, athletes and student leaders; faculty; alumni; and parents.

Students

"Many students respond to alcohol policies with resistance," President Malloy says. "Some identify alcohol with the freedom to make their own mistakes. We try to stress that decisions about alcohol consumption are not just individual—they can affect the common life of the university."

"For a subgroup of students, it's always about their 'rights,' and never about their responsibilities," former President Ramaley reports. "They feel this is their time to sow wild oats and that it is 'part of the college experience' to drink to excess. There is also this strange myth that they can drink irresponsibly and be held harmless—that the only record that exists of their college days is their transcript—which, of course, is not true."

How are colleges working constructively with students on alcohol issues? Interviewees offered the following approaches.

  • Involving students in alcohol program efforts. At Louisiana State University, for example, students are an active part of the task forces that direct program efforts and are developing approaches to promote cultural change in student organizations. They are also a visible part of the campus-community coalition, helping to clean up the local bar scene, working with media representatives, and having the authority to interact with community leaders. "Our student members are just terrific," Dr. Matthews notes. "Students must apply to be part of the coalition, and we're selective about whom we choose. Because the chancellor has been so vocal in his support and so actively involved in our efforts, it is considered an honor to participate. We reinforce that perception through rewards and recognition."

  • At Ohio State University, students are part of ad hoc task forces, but in addition all students are invited to review and respond to suggested new policies before they become official. This input helps administrators see where students actually stand, and it makes policies more credible. For example, the no-alcohol policy at football games has strong student support. Students are also on the front lines of Ohio State's judicial review through the dormitory councils that review cases of first alcohol infractions.

  • Interestingly, no pattern emerged from those interviewed about which types or groups of students get involved or should be recruited into alcohol efforts. For example, student government leads the drive for responsible behavior on one campus, while leading the resistance at another.

  • Recognizing that "students" are not homogeneous regarding drinking issues. The University of Vermont, for example, focuses heavily on freshmen, because statistics have shown them to be particularly problem prone. Others note that nondrinkers and responsible drinkers are important audiences for program efforts and an important source of support. "Part of our approach is to create an environment where students don't feel they have to be tolerant of abusive drinking," Rick Culliton says. "It's empowerment for those who are acting responsibly."

  • Starting immediately, if not sooner. Schools are informing students of alcohol policies and modeling cultural goals in admissions literature, pre-application site visits, and orientation week activities. Presidents Carothers and Arcienega have developed relationships with high school personnel, recognizing that many of the drinking problems they see began during the high school years. The University of Rhode Island has particularly focused on communicating with high school guidance counselors about the school's goals and strict alcohol policies, encouraging them to recommend serious students and debunk outdated "party school" expectations.

  • Communicating clearly and often about alcohol policies and punishments. Engaging residence hall staff is central to this effort, since they can be a source of mixed messages if they are lax in enforcement or project tolerance of irresponsible behavior.

Greek Organizations And Athletes

The alcohol program literature provides little guidance on effectively addressing members of Greek organizations and athletic teams, who have traditionally been associated with alcohol problems. Among those interviewed, this trend held true. Only Ohio State reported few, if any, recent problems with athletes. After a football player was killed in an alcohol-related car crash about five years ago, the institution made some changes that David Williams believes have made the difference.

"Coaches in all sports began the 'Champs' program, in which athletes receive a great deal of counseling and support from the coaches themselves about responsible behavior and avoiding alcohol use. In addition, our head sports physician is the former doctor for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was the architect of a new alcohol policy for athletes based on the policy of the National Football League, in which penalties go up sharply after a first offense. Since these approaches were adopted, we've only had one athlete suspended for alcohol infractions, and athletes here are now among the most responsible of student groups."

Presidents and administrators reported three approaches to working with Greek organizations that have shown some positive potential: a formal assessment process for chapters, strict enforcement of strict alcohol policies, and risk management.

Louisiana State University has implemented an annual assessment process for all Greek organizations, with fraternities and sororities being evaluated against standards regarding academic and behavioral goals, including alcohol-related behaviors. A task force on Greek life (whose student and faculty/administration members almost all had current or past Greek affiliations) recommended this approach. "The process will expose chapters to public scrutiny because we feel that public information is critical as an external pressure for change," the Task Force Report explained (Office of the Chancellor, Report of the Task Force on Greek Life and Related Issues, 1998).

In addition to public accountability, LSU's assessment process includes strong penalties such as expulsion of a fraternity or sorority from the campus. Several interviewees felt that consistent enforcement of strong sanctions was the key to changing Greek culture and reducing the negative impact of irresponsible drinking on the campus. "We take a multiple approach," President Foote notes. "We have a dry rush. We enforce the drinking age at Greek events, and police attend fraternity parties to oversee responsible beverage service. We have educational programs, and we communicate our policies. When Greek groups commit violations, we are quick to prosecute. We have kicked fraternities off our campus, and when one sued us, we fought back and won. Now we have people's attention, and they know we are serious."

When the University of Rhode Island adopted its "no alcohol on campus" stance, "The change was perceived as an anti-Greek policy, although this was not the case," President Carothers says. "We had opposition from unexpected sources, including the police who had moonlighted as 'enforcers' of drinking age laws at fraternity parties. Two nearby town councils expressed concern that we would be driving wild Greek parties into their communities. Over time, however, it became clear that this fear was unwarranted. We have now closed seven fraternity houses for disciplinary violations, and one closed for financial reasons. Without heavy drinking, membership has declined drastically, and it's an open question now whether the fraternities that remain will reshape around different values or fade away altogether."

At the University of Puget Sound, working with Greek houses on risk management has been an effective approach to reducing drinking problems. "When they understand the liability issues involved, the Greeks themselves become cautious. We've had alcohol-free parties simply because no one in the house was willing to be legally responsible as a 'host' for the drinking behavior or outcomes of guests. As part of our goal of renewing campus life, we've helped the Greeks renovate their houses, and we feel it's now up to them to do their part. The President of the Interfraternity Council has said publicly that they are dedicated to moving away from an 'animal house' culture, and I believe our risk management efforts have helped bring about this change."

Faculty, Alumni And Parents

The experiences of interviewees in working with faculty, alumni, and parents have also been mixed. Some faculty members, particularly those involved in research related to college drinking efforts, have become a valuable source of support and implementation expertise. On some campuses, the Faculty Senate or faculty committees get involved in alcohol issues and policy. Overall, however, few faculty have become directly involved in one-on-one or classroom discussions with students. In some cases, faculty are a source of resistance whose attitudes reflect nostalgia for their own college party days. Being able to relate academic performance to alcohol use may be important to gaining faculty interest and reducing faculty contribution to the drinking culture (e.g., not scheduling exams—or even classes—on Fridays because of Thursday night parties, and being lenient with students who miss academic deadlines or cut classes).

Alumni can also be a source of resistance to alcohol-related change, and colleges continue to struggle with irresponsible drinking at tailgate parties and homecoming events. Alums who favor reducing alcohol problems may be less visible to students, although some administrators reported alumni support for their efforts. President Arcienega believes that learning how to work effectively with alumni could have big payoffs for alcohol programs. "Most campuses have alumni networks to support career initiatives," he notes, "and alumni associations are an established vehicle for relating to this group."

Parents, another potential source of support for responsible student behavior, are also a diverse constituency with whom many schools have little experience regarding alcohol issues. With new laws allowing public universities and colleges to notify parents when their children commit alcohol and drug infractions, institutions are now weighing the issues and deciding whether and how to involve parents. Will they be supportive? Do they have influence over their children once they are in college? Will a parental notification policy make students hesitate to get help for friends with signs of alcohol poisoning? Answers to these questions should become clearer in the years ahead.

Former President Ramaley initiated a parental notification program that she believes may be contributing to a decline in alcohol-related problems. However, she points out that it is difficult to separate out the effects of this strategy from others in the university's multifaceted effort.

At the University of Virginia, President Casteen also began a parental notification policy. He sent all parents a copy of the policy in a letter that talked about the "partnership linking students, parents, and the university" and described other university alcohol policies and programs. He also writes to the parents of all incoming students, stressing the value the university places on "a culture of responsible behavior within the law," and he urges parents to discuss values and expectations with students before and after they leave for college.

President Malloy says that Notre Dame, a private university, has long had a parental notification policy. He reports that, "We get a mixed reaction from parents. Some clearly support our efforts, but others don't see alcohol as a serious problem. We often hear, 'Oh, I'm just glad he's not using cocaine.' And when their children are punished for violations, many parents want us to make an exception for them."

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Last reviewed: 9/23/2005


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