Grant Will Continue Fight to Combat High-Risk Drinking at SHU

News Story: March 1, 2012

Sacred Heart University’s Alcohol and Other Drug Coalition recently welcomed Carla Lapelle, associate dean of Student Affairs at Marshall University in West Virginia, to campus. Lapelle is a national speaker and expert on collegiate alcohol and other drug issues. While at SHU, Lapelle also spoke with members of the University’s Student Affairs staff.

Lapelle, who was part of an effort to curtail high-risk drinking at Marshall, shared prevention strategies with both groups. A big part of her message was that there needs to be consequences for drinking and drug use. She said that although the three populations who tend to drink most are freshmen, Greeks and athletes, targeted programs don’t work as well as community-wide ones. “We can target specific populations and groups, but if we really want to see a change, we need to target the entire community. If someone doesn’t see a problem, they are not going to act,” she said.

She pointed out that addressing the issue of high-risk alcohol and drug use can improve retention. Not only do students who stop such behavior have better results in class and are less likely to drop out, but students who are focused and on campus for the right reasons are less likely to perceive a party atmosphere and transfer out, she said.

Lapelle introduced seven steps for change that ranged from providing information and support and enhancing skills to changing consequences (such as enforcing tailgating rules, requiring students on probation to have classes on Monday and Fridays) to changing the physical design (providing a place where college students can hang out with the peers late at night). She noted that changing consequences can include rewarding the behavior you want to see as well as punishing bad behavior.

The Coalition took some time to come up with ideas and programs that fit into each category, and Alcohol and Drug Coordinator Janice Kessler plans to go through them, get members to take ownership and launch some new programs.

Lapelle’s visit was made possible by a $25,000 grant that Kessler and Sacred Heart received from Diageo and the First Mate Program, which is aimed at educating students about responsible drinking. Money from this grant was also used to relaunch the Coalition, which consists of students, faculty, staff, members of Sacred Heart’s Public Safety team and representatives from the Bridgeport and Fairfield police departments.

Kessler said the remainder of the grant will be used to continue to fund the Social Norms Marketing Campaign, BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening Intervention for College Students) and to work with the Student Wellness Education & Empowerment Team (s.w.e.e.t.) to fund student-driven prevention programs that promote a fun and healthy lifestyle.

The Social Norms Marketing Campaign publicizes the results of an anonymous survey taken by more than 850 students that indicate that college students perceive that there is more drinking going on than there actually is, which means some students may be drinking more than they would if they had the right perception, Kessler said. She said that since 2007, anonymous surveys showed that most students at SHU do not engage in binge drinking and have 0-4 drinks on a typical night of drinking. “It’s important to get the message out there that the majority of students don’t typically binge drink. All the research and data in the world doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t use it to change attitudes, behavior and culture,” she said.