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College Drinking Prevention - Changing the Culture

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The Need for Student Participation in Prevention Policymaking and Programs

Both college presidents and student members of the Task Force reiterated the importance of involving students in rethinking a school's approach to high-risk student drinking. Students are not only the primary targets and beneficiaries of prevention programs, but also key contributors to their successful implementation (Mara, 2000; Presidents Leadership Group, 1997).

In their discussions about the practical issues involved in developing and sustaining workable policies, Task Force members described several areas where student participation not only improved a school's policy, but also increased campus-wide "ownership" of the prevention efforts emanating from it (Mara, 2000).

These include participation in (Mara, 2000):

  • Campus-based task forces to direct prevention program efforts and develop specific strategies for promoting change in student organizations;
  • Joint campus and community coalitions;
  • Reviews of proposed policies before they are finalized;
  • Judicial reviews by dormitory councils that hear cases of first alcohol infractions; and
  • Photo of four students sitting on lawn.Training of student residence hall staff to eliminate communication of mixed messages about alcohol use on campus and improve consistent enforcement of alcohol policies.

From the Task Force's perspective, inviting students to share in the development and implementation of the recommendations outlined above will help ensure that the strategies selected meet an institution's specific needs and receive the continued attention required for success.

Steps That Signal Imminent Change in the Culture of Drinking

College and university presidents will need time to carefully consider the implications of the Task Force's recommendations. As they do, the Task Force suggests that they take the following, immediate steps to signal their interest in changing the culture of drinking on campus:

  • Review current alcohol prevention programs, assess whether they are working, and consider what could be changed. Research-based methods are available to assist college presidents with this task. Without an informed assessment, colleges and universities cannot fully identify needs or structure programs to respond to the particular types of drinking problems on their campuses.
  • Involve students, the community, and other stakeholders in the review and assessment process and in the planning and implementation of interventions. Stakeholders can help ensure that planned interventions represent and reconcile the diversity of perspectives on campus, include appropriate and acceptable strategies, and achieve wider buy-in for proposed changes. A mix of students and more "permanent" stakeholders will help guarantee continuity over time.
  • Focus on strategies most likely to make a difference at individual institutions and document them in a strategic plan. Effective alcohol policies and programs are tailored to the specific situation on each campus. Just as there are multiple contributing factors to high-risk drinking, there are multiple strategies that can be applied to improve identified problems. A strategic planning process conducted in collaboration with campus and community stakeholders can identify strategies appropriate for a given school and community. Strategic plans also include ongoing program evaluation and campus monitoring components to ensure that both needs and progress are assessed at timed intervals.
  • Communicate the institution’s position on underage and excessive drinking. Students, parents, alumni, community leaders, and college faculty and staff are more likely to support a school's efforts to reduce underage and excessive drinking if they understand why action is necessary and how student health and safety can benefit from the university's position. Orientation and other appropriate gatherings of the university community may offer appropriate opportunities to convey those messages.
  • Commit to addressing the issue over time. Strategies effective in reducing underage and excessive drinking require substantial time to produce results. Planning efforts recognizing this need can help ensure that programs are implemented effectively and achieve intended outcomes.
  • Collaborate with NIAAA to develop an evaluation plan. Practical strategies for beginning and supporting institutional initiatives include:
    • Using data collection and data extrapolation methods to assemble information needed in problem assessment,
    • Evaluating campus-based approaches and longer-term campus- and community-based environmental approaches, and
    • Participating in research dissemination initiatives offered by NIAAA.


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Historical document
Last reviewed: 9/23/2005

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