A Community Based Approach to Alcohol and Drug Education
April 2, 2013 - 10:53am
The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is often used in education circles to stress the importance of community in the learning process. And it is a concept that we in private higher education espouse as a core value in preparing young adults for lives of leadership and service by providing support in the classroom with excellence in teaching and mentoring and out of the classroom with quality student services. In the education of our extended family we have to deal with the dysfunctional side of the human psyche as well as the functional side, and an area where colleges and universities continue to face new problems every year is the issue of drug and alcohol use and abuse on our campuses.
While it would be hard to suggest a solution that would solve issues that are so often unique to individual campuses, I would like to present an idea that we have put together through the cooperation of a diverse group of offices that focuses on creation of fun, alcohol-free environments as alternatives to those where drug and alcohol use are the focus.
At Gustavus Adolphus College it has been our experience that, in attempting to reduce high-risk behavior related to drug and alcohol use, an environmental management approach involving a variety of strategies is most effective. Those strategies at Gustavus have included:
• A comprehensive alcohol and drug policy with consistent enforcement of those policies
• The use of social norming practices
• The creation of campus coalitions to address the issue as a communitywide concern
• Curtailing the availability of alcohol to underage students
• The availability of alcohol-free options, especially during the critical weekend times of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Historically, alcohol and drug education efforts have been directed at the individual student. However, individual students often make decisions concerning their alcohol and drug use within an environmental framework. It is the environmental pressure that leads students to make choices one way or the other about their use. Given what the research suggested, especially for a residential, rural, liberal arts college campus, Gustavus teamed with the National Collegiate Athletic Association through an NCAA Choices Grant to develop a program that would help develop a comprehensive environmental management approach to our drug and alcohol education program.
One result of this effort was a collaboration between the Athletics Department and the Peer Education and Chemical Health Office to initiate a program called Saturday Night in Lund (the College’s Health, Recreation and Athletic Complex). This program, which has grown to affectionately be called SNL, involved the creation of a non-alcoholic alternative campus activity during a critical weekend time of 10 pm to 2 am on Saturday nights sponsored by various campus departments and approved student organizations.
Sponsored events have included roller skating around the indoor track, a headphone disco, a hypnotist, a Brazilian Carnival, and a broomball tournament to name a few. Supplemental activities around the main event have included face painting, popular foods, craft activities, and board games. The student groups organizing the event are given $400 to develop the concept for the night and then an additional $400 stipend to support the work of the student group. Attendance has ranged from 200 to 700 students, with an average of around 350 students per event.
In addition to the primary benefit of providing a positive environment in which students may gather on weekend nights, the student groups organizing the events gain valuable leadership skills by virtue of organizing and planning a significant campus activity, working as a group, assigning duties, and following through on their commitment.
The fact that the students organizing the activities are the ones urging other students to attend the event creates a positive environmental framework. These students are encouraging their peers to take part in alcohol-free activities, which leads to this type of healthy environment becoming the norm.
The Saturday Night in Lund program has attracted an average of 25 percent of the student body during a critical weekend time for the past five years. It has also helped Gustavus make significant strides toward developing a comprehensive environmental management approach to reducing high-risk alcohol and drug use behavior. In this way, the campus “village” is supporting the growth and development of our students.
Jack R. Ohle, President
Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minn.