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College Drinking Prevention - Changing the Culture

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

Collaborating With The Community

 

"College presidents should appoint other senior administrators, faculty, and students to participate in a campus-community coalition that is mandated to address alcohol issues in the community as a whole."

Presidents Leadership Group, 1997


 

Because factors outside the campus have major effects on student attitudes and behaviors regarding alcohol, many believe that working cooperatively with community organizations is essential to reducing college drinking problems. Another background paper in this series provides details about the potential goals and roles a campus-community collaboration can encompass and what is known about the effectiveness of such partnerships. While the literature provides little guidance about effective approaches to implementing campus-community efforts, presidents and administrators interviewed offered the following insights from their own practical experiences.

  • Be inclusive in creating community-campus coalitions. In addition to local political leaders, consider involving interests such as local law enforcement, high schools, religious organizations, media, and alcohol-related groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, as well as State attorneys general, health departments, or highway safety commissions.

  • Take time to find out what the community's priorities are, and be willing to help them with their issues. For example, the mayor of the town in which the University of Puget Sound is located was not interested in focusing on alcohol abuse among college students. However, when the issue was broadened to include other youth audiences, common ground emerged.

  • Have the campus-community coalition or task force address campus policies, enforcement processes, and reporting systems before tackling community-related issues. This shows community representatives that the college is willing to do its part and is serious about the effort, while educating them about key issues and needs.

  • Be sensitive to political concerns. For example, while the policies of local bars may be hindering campus efforts, no community leader will want to be perceived as antibusiness. Instead, it may be more acceptable to focus on shared goals, such as helping businesses avoid liability problems by providing training for managers and employees.

  • Be supportive and create a win-win environment. "It's easy to point fingers around this issue, and any group identified as 'part of the problem' will feel defensive," Dr. Matthews notes. "To work together, everyone has to feel like they can be part of a solution they can live with. Creating shared goals takes time and a commitment not to offend any of the players."

  • Integrate alcohol concerns into broader campus-community collaboration. For instance, the University of Vermont worked with the local chamber of commerce to provide a year-long series of leadership seminars for members; topics included alcohol issues. One result of the project was a manual for businesses on how they can support schools and young people in positive ways.

  • Pick your first coalition project carefully, after testing the waters to be sure it will be successful. Starting with success builds credibility and momentum; starting with the most difficult problems could lead to early failure and discouragement.

  • Make sure campus and community reporting systems for alcohol-related incidents are linked and use comparable indicators.

  • Consider involving State or local representatives of the alcohol beverage industry. President Arcienega notes that this group is usually viewed as the opposition. Yet other health-related initiatives have found common ground with business, and Penn State University has recently received support from the beer industry for a campaign to promote responsible drinking among people of college age.

  • Provide rewards and public recognition to community groups that take part.
Success Factors: Campus-Community Partnerships
  • Base partnerships on the academic strengths and philosophy of the university and the needs and capacities of the community.

  • Recognize that there is no such thing as a universal "community." It takes time to understand what elements make up a community, how people experience membership in it, and who can speak for it. Often campus-community partnerships are fragmented by competing interests in the community itself.

  • Spend time bringing everyone up to speed on the issues. Involve local experts, including faculty, in educating coalition members about alcohol topics.

  • Focus on what the university can and should bring to the partnership, such as its strengths in teaching and learning.

  • Allow the time and face-to-face interactions needed to build successful collaboration. Allow all parties to participate in decision making based on mutual learning, not just cooperation.

  • Don't over-partner. A university or college shares many areas of concern with its local community. Getting involved in too many collaborative efforts can strain resources and credibility. It's important to focus on cooperative efforts that relate to the university's strategic goals.
Adapted from: Holland and Gelman, 1998; Holland and Ramaley, 1998

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Last reviewed: 9/23/2005


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