12/05/2013 Peter Durantine

F&M To Introduce Innovative Programs to Promote Responsible Drinking

  • In January 2014, F&M students will be asked to take part in a pair of initiatives designed to help them make better informed decisions about alcohol consumption. (Photo by Ian Bradshaw)

Building on ongoing efforts to encourage responsible drinking, Franklin & Marshall College will launch a series of initiatives in January 2014 to help students make informed decisions when it comes to alcohol.

Supported in part by a competitive grant F&M secured from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, initiatives will focus both on individual behaviors and also on the responsibilities students have to each other and other members of the F&M community.

One initiative is an online program used at many colleges for first-year students and sophomores called AlcoholEDU, which will teach students to understand their own drinking behaviors, how to make informed decisions, and how to better cope with their peers' drinking behaviors.

Early in January, students will be asked to complete the first of two online surveys with questions designed to help students correct misconceptions about alcohol's effects, link their drinking choices to academic success and promote a healthier campus community. The deadline for the first survey is Feb. 1, and students will be asked to complete a follow-up survey about one month later. Once they finish both surveys, they will have completed the program. Students who complete the surveys will be eligible for rewards from the College, such as gift cards.

In the second initiative, seniors and juniors who live in apartments, themed houses and fraternity houses will participate in a Responsible Resident Community program. They will meet in small groups to discuss the responsibilities of living in a residential neighborhood, including hosting safe parties and drinking responsibly.

"Both initiatives are designed to help foster a safe and healthy community at F&M," said Dean of the College Margaret Hazlett. "One of the best ways for our students to do that is to be well informed and responsible."

Funding for the programs comes from a two-year, $38,945 grant from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, with an additional $19,106 from the College and $9,000 from the three landlords who maintain more than 800 beds of College-approved housing off campus: College Row, College Hill Apartments and James Street Properties.

The College also is planning a program that would invite parents of current students to become partners in prevention, said Christine Conway, director of F&M's Counseling Services. The program is still in development.

The grant-funded initiatives are part of the College's comprehensive approach to promoting socially responsible behavior and health and wellness among the student body, Conway said.

The grants supplement the following existing F&M resources: a team of professional and clinical staff with expertise in alcohol prevention, a group of student peer educators committed to offering social alternatives to drinking, and an annual "alcohol and other drugs" (AOD) survey of students to allow the College to constantly align programming with the activities of students.  

Supporting public health

Responsible drinking has even been incorporated into certain courses in the curriculum, some of which will receive grant support. This fall, B. F. Fackenthal, Jr. Professor of Biology Kirk Miller taught as part of his "Introduction to Public Health" course the public health effects of alcohol consumption in America and how much Americans drink.

The course uses data from the annual AOD survey of roughly 700 F&M students conducted every April by Counseling Services and the Floyd Institute's Center for Opinion Research. This year's survey found that students believed their classmates drank more than they actually did.

"There are perceptions of drinking that certainly play a role in how much other people drink," Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion Research, said. "The more drinks people believe other people have, the more drinks they are likely to say they have."

Using data from the survey, Miller, co-chair of F&M's public health program, is preparing a research project that examines how much a student drinks based on his or her social network.

"For example, if you belong to this network, you increase your chances of bad behavior by this much," he said, holding his hands a few inches apart, "and if you belong to this network, you increase your chances of good behavior by this much," he said, widening the gap between his hands.  

Miller expects to engage a student in the work as one of the College's Hackman research projects that pairs faculty and students in research.

Visiting Professor of Psychology Christina Abbott plans to use the survey data in her "Health Psychology" course this spring, focusing on the social norms of alcohol consumption, ways students can intervene when they observe excessive drinking, and whether or not to engage in risky behavior.

"It is teaching students to understand the pressures and situations that encourage drinking and arming them with strategies that can counter those things," Abbott said.

Yost, who has worked with Counseling Services to conduct an annual survey of students and alcohol consumption at F&M since 2005, said data from this year's survey, and an analysis of the results from AlcoholEDU, could help encourage responsible drinking among students.

"I think we'll be able to assess students who have participated in these interventions and determine whether there are changes in their attitudes and, more importantly, their behaviors," Yost said.

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