Rebuilding Campus Culture
How do the role models in our university community deal with the minority of students who abuse alcohol? Are students involved in discussions and decisions about campus life? What kind of marketing of alcoholic beverages and of alcohol-related events do we allow on our campus? Are we sending appropriate messages or reinforcing poor choices?
How many alcohol-free events do we offer? Do they appeal to our students? Are we, or can we, work productively with the local community to help us change expectations and solve problems? Are student social traditions and practices in line with the school’s academic mission and policies? Do we make sensible, enforceable rules? Do we enforce those rules fairly and consistently?
These are vital questions educators need to ask, continuously, as they assess their own campus.
The Task Force believes that to rebuild campus culture, to change expected and often accepted behavior, it is essential to return to the principles set forth in the first national conference, held in 1985:
- Remind students emphatically of their individual responsibility for their actions.
- Acknowledge the role of students in changing campus culture.
- Include students in decision making.
- Consider carefully how alcohol is marketed on campus.
- Involve everyone on campus including the president and trustees.
- Enlist the help of local merchants and community members.
“You can put policies in place, you can legislate… but if my friends are drinking, I’m going to drink. It’s about changing attitudes and behavior, and that’s not going to happen with legislation.…
It’s wonderful for administrators to care, but the dialogue has to happen with students. The only thing that’s going to change our behavior is not thinking it’s cool.”
College of William and Mary ’98
Graduate Student, Harvard University
Inter-Association Task Force Participant
Governing boards and other administrative leadership groups must be proactive in developing and reviewing regularly policies, programs and initiatives that establish standards for the entire university community, that its members understand and for which they are accountable.
Addressing the reckless use of alcohol is not the responsibility of a single department, office or individual. It requires the collaborative effort of everyone in the university community: faculty in all academic disciplines, administrators, staff and alumni. Faculty in particular are a significant link, usually the greatest link, with students. Students who exhibit poor academic performance and who have physical and emotional problems tend to abuse alcohol. Faculty may be the first to observe and know a student’s difficulty, and be able to refer that student for help.
A recent Core Institute for Alcohol and Drug Prevention survey of faculty and staff found that 64 percent of those responding considered alcohol abuse on their campus a major concern and 90 percent said that colleges and universities should be involved in prevention. Eighty-seven percent reported that alcohol abuse negatively affects their students’ personal and academic lives. More than three-fourths did not consider themselves “actively involved” in prevention, but many said they would like to be more involved.
Important peer leaders—Greek-letter organizations, student governments, student-athletes, residence hall associations, and other campus programming groups—must take the lead in educating students about safety and wellness, in encouraging alcohol-free living environments, and in supporting facilities and programs that encourage healthy interactions and development of students.
“Epic acts of alcoholic stupidity form the basis of a rich oral history, and the most legendary excesses are burnished and passed down like treasured heirlooms. …
Shot glasses and beer mugs stamped with school crests and mascots can be scooped from campus bookstore shelves along with the textbooks and other essentials.”
“Students Keep Alcohol in Curriculum,”
USA Today, March 30, 1998
The Task Force offers specific guidelines (see below) for beverage alcohol marketing on campuses. Alcohol beverage marketing programs should conform to the school’s code for student conduct, avoid demeaning sexual or discriminatory portrayals, and avoid encouraging any form of alcohol abuse. Alcoholic beverages should not be given as awards to students or campus organizations or used for uncontrolled sampling or in any way entail “drinking contests.” Promotional activities attached to existing campus events, if allowed, and local off-campus promotions directed to students should have the prior knowledge and consent of the institution’s appropriate officials. Drinking should not be portrayed on campus or in school media as a solution for personal, academic or social problems or necessary for success.
One of the significant challenges for universities is to work in partnership with the local community, especially with merchants who depend on the college trade. Often businesses that serve alcohol and are near a campus facilitate drinking abuse through weak enforcement and practices. And when institutions tighten campus policies, even more students may simply drink off campus. Educators must establish a rapport with community members and work together to establish safe practices regarding the sale and consumption by students.
The Winter 1998 issue of Catalyst, a publication of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, notes that, following two alcohol-related deaths in Massachusetts, the state’s Board of Higher Education banned alcohol on all state campuses. Other colleges and universities have banned alcohol on campus and formed campus-community partnerships to address drinking problems by serving students responsibly, enforcing the law more rigorously, or both. “School administrators,” newsletter reports, “can do a great deal on campus to address the problems of dangerous drinking, but their success will be limited until they also do something about local retail outlets that sell to minors or to intoxicated patrons.”
“We are adults. I may not act like one all the time, but we are adults. And we want to be treated like adults.”
Student, Hastings College
Inter-Association Task Force Participant