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Chapter 14.   Get Involved... contributing to a safe and healthy campus

I was in SADD in high school and wanted to do that kind of thing in college, too.

Janet, University of Massachusetts first-year student

 

I don’t care what they say or do to us, we are going to drink no matter what!

Ralph R., Michigan State University junior

 

It all seems so hopeless.

Jason M., University of Pittsburgh junior

 

After her death I decided to try to make a change on my campus. I have enjoyed the challenges so much that I am now getting my degree in counseling. I hope to be able to work on a college campus in the future and help students avoid alcohol problems.

Angel B., University of Colorado senior

As a college student you have become a member of a community that can use your help. The high-risk use of alcohol and other drugs can create serious problems in your campus community. As you have seen in this book, these problems can have a dramatic impact on not only your own life but the lives of everyone around you. You can help in reducing these problems. How you help is up to you. But the value of your contribution cannot be underestimated.

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Why Bother?

 

Abstainers and low-risk drinkers experience widespread harm resulting from others’ misuse of alcohol. These secondary binge effects can range from interrupted study and sleep to destruction of property, assault, and unwanted sexual advances. Here’s just one example of a secondary binge effect: You spend the evening out with a friend, including dinner, a movie, maybe even a drink or two. The evening comes to an end and you head back to your residence hall. Upon your arrival to your room you see your roommate asleep in your bed. This may not disturb you, so you choose to sleep in your roommate’s bed. Then you find out why your roommate is in your bed. She moved to your bed because she had vomited in her own bed. (By the way, this is a true story from a former student of mine.)

 

The secondary effects of binge drinking jeopardize the collegial and scholarly environment that university administrators and faculty hope to create for their students. Some might argue that most heavy drinkers, if left alone, will eventually learn from the adverse consequences of their drinking and, as they mature, will approach alcohol consumption with a greater sense of responsibility. This is not always true, and in the meantime, other students, both non-bingers and those who abstain, are left to fend for themselves against the inconsiderate, insulting, intimidating, and sometimes criminal behavior of their binge-drinking classmates. On campuses where high-risk drinking (also referred to as binge drinking) is done by more than half the students, fully 87 percent of the non-binge drinkers who lived in dormitories, fraternities, or sororities experienced one or more negative consequences caused by the excessive drinking of other students. And the grades of non-drinkers may also be impacted negatively since on these same campuses 70% of the students report having their studying or sleep interrupted by drinkers. Even on low-drinking-level campuses with 35 percent or fewer students classified as binge drinkers, a substantial majority, 62 percent, also reported experiencing such consequences.70 In other words, on campuses the heavier the drinking the more students – even non-drinking or low-risk drinking students – are negatively affected by alcohol. Therefore, contributing to the education and abuse prevention efforts on your campus has the potential for improving the lives of not only the high-risk drinkers themselves, but also everyone being impacted by the excessive drinking of others.

 

STUDENT VOICES: Abstainers

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Imaginary Peers

 

The best thing I can do is live a healthy life and be a role model for new students.

John R., Keene State College senior

 

Throughout this book you have been reading a number of stories and some statistics that seem to indicate the majority of students are drinking and having problems as a result of that consumption. However, I have also tried to reinforce the fact that choosing to abstain from alcohol or to drink alcohol at a low-risk level is really not unusual. Despite all the aforementioned tragedies occurring in the lives of many students, ongoing research indicates 19 percent of college students do not drink, 31 percent did not drink in the month prior to the survey and the average number of drinks consumed per week by college students is only 4.4 drinks.  Less than half, 43.9 percent, of college students reported engaging in binge drinking (5 or more drinks in one sitting) in the two weeks prior to the survey. 71

 

It is common for many students, especially students who drink heavily, to dismiss these survey results as misrepresentations or outright lies by the survey respondents. Without going into the details of how the validity of these numerous surveys is established, let me assure you, the results are reliable. Even if there are some discrepancies in the results, the bottom line is only a minority of students around the country drink at a high-risk level – yes, a high-profile minority, but a minority nonetheless. How do we come to believe that “everyone” is abusing alcohol when the data suggest large numbers are either abstaining or consuming at a low-risk level?  Some possible factors include:

 

  • The intoxicated student makes a vivid impression by being loud, aggressive, obnoxious or promiscuous.

  • Observers, especially when drinking, do not notice their less obvious, non-using peers, but rather tend to observe other drinkers.

  • Non-drinkers and low-risk drinkers are not as likely to gather in large, obvious groups or settings such as alcohol-related parties.

  • People who are having a good time at a party and abstaining or drinking minimally could appear to be drinking excessively.

  • Typical conversations focus on excessive alcohol use, and little conversation portrays restraint in any positive light. (People who abstain or drink minimally are not very likely to say something like “I had a blast at that party. It was great, and a lot of us didn’t drink any booze.”)

 

In summary, the abuse of alcohol in student groups and social settings may be recalled more vividly and quickly than actions surrounding abstinence or moderation, thereby getting a disproportionate amount of attention in peer conversation, as well as in mass media news and popular entertainment images. The inordinate public attention and peer talk about the antics of intoxicated peers and campus drinking events may inflate a student’s sense of what is normal or typical behavior among peers. Athletes or fraternity and sorority affiliates may have higher levels of alcohol use than the campus-wide average at some institutions and, simultaneously, may have greater visibility in the campus culture than most other students, potentially further distorting perceptions of what is characteristic of most students.72

 

One of the most interesting challenges professionals face today in educating students about this campus alcohol issues is clarifying the misperception of peer norms Why is it important that we reduce the misperception that most students are high-risk drinkers? Well, consider this: National, regional and campus surveys of college students indicate that many students greatly overestimate the amount of high-risk drinking that occurs on college campuses. Based on this misperception, some students may conclude that high-risk drinking is the social norm. This in turn could lead students to increase their own alcohol consumption in an attempt to participate in what they imagine is normal drinking. In other words, the misperception may cause students to believe they are both justified and pressured to consume large amounts of alcohol in order to be like other students – their imaginary peers.

 
College Quick Tip

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Contributing

 

Each individual on your campus is responsible for his or her own choices. However, we can all be responsible to each other as well. If you are concerned about the health and safety of your peers, there are a number of opportunities for you to be a contributing member of your campus community. In his book The Education of Character, Dr. Will Keim says it best when it comes to getting involved: 

“Contributors are men and women of character who are open to the ideas of others. They search for better ways to do things, never say never and are teachable people who are willing to learn. Contributors are responsible and imaginative and work for the betterment of all concerned. They utilize existing resources and solicit new ones. Contributors treat other people as they would like to be treated and own their own evaluations of others. They are respected because they respect others and are good stewards of themselves and their organizations. Contributors develop a good sense of humor and laugh with others, not at them. Contributors admit mistakes and are patient with themselves and others. They are men and women of integrity who say what they mean and do what they say.”73

 

Most campuses have an administrator, staff member or committee responsible for the development and implementation of alcohol and other drug education and abuse prevention programs. Consult with them to find out what you can do. I am sure they will welcome your energy, dedication and contribution to these programs. Here are some ways you can help:

 

  • Participate in peer outreach programs.

  • Help develop Alcohol Awareness Week i.

  • Assist residential life staff in developing educational programs.

  • Support social events conducted by your Student Activities Department.

  • If you join a campus organization, be sure the members understand their responsibility for conducting social events and follow appropriate party management guidelines.

  • Participate in discussions about campus alcohol and other drug policies with campus leaders.

  • Work with campus administrators and committees in reducing the role of alcohol in the campus environment.

 

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Personal Challenge: Your Contribution

 

Goal

To identify ways you can set an example and be a contributor to the individuals and groups with whom you interact on a daily basis.

 

Instructions

Making a contribution means setting the example for others. Make a list describing how you can make a contribution to the following groups:

a. your friends

b. your living group

c. your campus

d. your local community

 

Reflections

  1. Have you ever previously thought of yourself as a contributor to your friends, living group, college or local community? Is this a comfortable role in which to see yourself? Why or why not?

  2. How do you think people’s words and actions might be different if everyone thought of themselves as contributors?

  3. Are you aware of an experience where you have set the example for your friends or another group? What was that experience like for you?

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Adapted from Activities Manual for The Education of Character, Lessons for Beginners, Will Keim (1995). Harcourt Brace College Publishers.