SHU Receives $22,000 Grant to Combat High-Risk Drinking

Janice Kessler

Counseling Center Alcohol and Drug Coordinator Janice Kessler shows off one of the posters seen around campus after a random survey of students

News Story: February 1, 2011

Sacred Heart University is the recipient of a $22,000 grant from the State of Connecticut under the Connecticut Healthy Campus Initiative program. The grant will be used to combat underage drinking. Specifically the grant, which will be administered by Alcohol and Other Drug Coordinator Janice Kessler, will be used to:

• Reenergize and reorganize the Campus Community Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Coalition
• Continue the work of the Social Norms Marketing Campaign
• Administer the Core Survey in 2011 and 2012
• Expand the Peer Educator program

Kessler is extremely excited about this opportunity to continue the work she and the rest of the Counseling Center team have done to combat the misperceptions about student drinking and lower the amount that students drink – especially the instances of high-risk drinking. 

“Alcohol-related death is the number one national health problem on campuses and high-risk or binge drinking is the number one alcohol-related issue,” she says. “Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks for a woman and five or more drinks for a man in a short period of time. There is a misperception among college students that the majority of their peers engage in binge drinking.”

Over the past several years, Kessler and her team have worked hard to combat that misperception. They surveyed random groups of students in 2007 and 2009 about their drinking behavior. The results in 2009 showed that 68% of students did not engage in high-risk drinking. The survey also showed that most students did not drink during the week – Monday through Thursday. Kessler says another misperception is that the weekend (and drinking) starts on Thursday for most students, which proved not to be the case.

Following the first survey, Kessler plastered the campus with posters proclaiming the results. She also provided professors and staff with talking points should the students make comments about the posters or want to discuss the information. Finally, she took every opportunity to serve as guest speaker in classes. Whether she visited a marketing class to talk about her marketing tactics or a media communications class to discuss delivering messages through the media, she also reinforced to students that the norm for campus drinking is 0-4 drinks one day a weekend and no drinking during the week.

“We want to be realistic. Most college kids drink. The Social Norms Marketing Campaign is about harm reduction. The goal is to inform students that most of their peers drink responsibly and very few indulge in binge drinking,” Kessler says.

The campaign worked. The 2009 survey indicated a 17% decrease in binge drinking from the 2007 survey. This reinforces the message that most Sacred Heart students do not binge drink. Kessler will administer the survey again this spring and is hoping for similar – if not better – results. She also plans to use the grant to find ways to restrict the marketing and promotion of events with alcohol through signage in the community and on Web sites such as Facebook and to target specific groups, such as freshmen, athletic teams, fraternities and sororities, for screening and intervention.

In addition to continuing and expanding the Social Norms Campaign, the grant will allow for changes to the Campus Community Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Coalition. The Coalition is made up of students, faculty, staff members, police officers from Fairfield and Bridgeport and a representative of the State Liquor Commission. Kessler says the student representation tends to be from students who don’t drink. She wants to expand the coalition to reflect the more typical student.

Finally, she plans to expand the Peer Counseling program where students create and deliver programs to other students about the dangers of binge drinking. The grant will allow the counseling team to train more peer educators and perhaps even offer them a stipend for their work.

“We have already begun to see changes in student behavior. More and more students are referring their friends to us for counseling. The culture is shifting, and there is actually some peer pressure to get help,” Kessler said.

She is excited about the opportunities the grant will provide to continue to educate students both about what is normal drinking behavior for students and the dangers of binge drinking. She is especially grateful to Nancy Dekraker of the Counseling Center, who wrote the grant application.

“We want students to know that there is a safe place on campus where they won’t be judged and their confidentiality will be respected,” says Kessler.