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Taking on 'Habits That Suck'

May 24, 2010

Instead of relying on a stuffy code of conduct to police its students – like Hinds Community College officials who received flak last week for punishing a student who cursed at a professor – officials at Onondaga Community College hope students will be able to keep their smoking, swearing, spitting, parking rage and littering in check with the help of good old-fashioned peer pressure.

The two-year institution in Syracuse, N.Y. will launch a good behavior campaign in the fall called “Create Change,” in an effort to purge what officials there call “the habits that affect [its] campus in an adverse or disadvantageous way.” Or rather, as a student-produced public service announcement puts it, “the habits that suck.”

Among other behavior, the campaign hopes to curb smoking in prohibited areas, cursing in public, spitting anywhere on campus, using more than one parking space – the college issued a whopping 3,137 parking tickets last year – and improper disposal of garbage. Of these, Onondaga’s student code of conduct does not have provisions that specifically address swearing, littering or spitting, and the campaign is not based on enforcement anyway.

Though “Create Change” was the brainchild of Onondaga’s administration, those behind it are hopeful the college’s students will take ownership of it and begin to discourage these bad habits among themselves.

“We didn’t want this to come across as finger-wagging,” said Amy Kremenek, college spokeswoman. “That would probably backfire. The students have the ability to do this on their own.”

Kremenek added that the college will give “undercover” student advocates for the campaign “rewards cards” redeemable for a treat from the campus coffee shop that they can give to fellow students they see “doing the right thing” – smoking in designated areas, throwing away trash, etc. She also noted that the college is trying to promote informal discussions, in part through the PSA on YouTube.

Terry Griffin, assistant to the provost and head of the committee behind the campaign, said the idea for it grew out of work the college was doing for a New York State grant it had earned five years ago to fund a “tobacco cessation initiative.” After implementing a new smoking policy two years ago with relative success – from 263 violations in 2008 to 196 in 2009 – Griffin and other officials thought, “Why should we just focus on one behavior on campus?” Since then, they have been plotting how to shape the larger campaign and explain it to students.

“There’s not really a behavior problem on our campus,” Griffin explained. “But, part of what we’re trying to do here is develop these young people into good citizens of the community. The approach we’re taking uses the carrot and not the stick, saying to our students, ‘Hey, take pride in your campus. Let’s do the right things. Still, we’re not going to beat you over the head if you’re doing the wrong thing.’ Eventually we hope this will reach a tipping point and students will just police themselves.”

So far, some Onondaga students have already bought into the campaign and its message. Rebecca Wemesselder, a 20-year-old sophomore and president of the drama club that produced the campaign’s YouTube PSA, hopes “Create Change” will improve how her fellow students perceive the college.

“I think that we have a nice campus, and we’ve got a lot of good kids,” Wemesselder said. “I also think, though, that some people come to Onondaga and think, ‘Oh, it’s just a community college’ or they treat it like another level of high school or something. That’s wrong and can be disrespectful. All the people I know are working their tails off and having a great time. It’s important to see other students, and not teachers, saying we’ve all got to be more respectful.”

 

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