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State system wants to cut back alcohol abuse within state schools

By: Courtney Nickle
The Online Rocket
(Slippery Rock University’s online student newspaper)
9/24/10

This semester, two programs will be implemented to help prevent and reduce binge and underage drinking among freshmen.

The programs are part of a new statewide initiative set forth by PASSHE (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education) targeting first-year students. SRU was awarded a two-year, $500,000 federal grant in October 2009. The other 14 state system schools were also awarded money.

The overall goal of the grant is to reduce binge drinking by seven percent, according to assistant professor, Alcohol and Other Drug program director and representative for SRU Chris Cubero.

“We hope SRU’s is a bigger percentage but if it averages into seven percent across the state then great, that’s overall what we’re looking for,” he said.

Constance Foley, vice president of Student Life, said drinking is a serious problem on-campus.

“Abuse of alcohol has always been, and continues to be, a primary problem of student behavior on-campus,” she said.”The hope is that we can better educate our students so the end result is to have less abuse of alcohol on-campus.”

Renee Bateman, coordinator of health promotion and representative for SRU, said the first year with the grant consisted mainly of planning and preparing. A coalition was also formed statewide so representatives from each school could meet and discuss the grant.

The first program beginning this semester will be the Social Norms campaign, focused mostly on prevention. Bateman said other schools have used this type of campaign and research shows that it was successful in decreasing drinking.

Posters are being placed all over campus with various statistics. For instance, Bateman showed a poster that said, “66 percent of the first-year PASSHE students refused a drink in the last 30 days.”

“The point of the Social Norms campaign is to bring more normalized perceptions because a lot of students overestimate what the typical student is drinking,” Bateman said. “There are a lot of students making healthy choices.”

The Social Norms campaign also has giveaways distributing t-shirts to freshmen with the same statistics.

Every month, a new poster and t-shirts with a new statistic will be distributed throughout campus.

Eventually, the statistics will stop focusing on PASSHE students in all 14 schools and instead be specific to Slippery Rock students.

The CORE (Center for Organ Recovery and Education) Survey will help collect information to put on the posters. The alcohol and other drugs survey is distributed to freshmen every February about their experiences. Bateman said it will also be used as a gauge to see if the new programs are working to curb alcohol use.

The second program, focused on intervention, is BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students).

Cubero said BASICS is a prevention education program for first year students who get cited for underage drinking, disorderly house, DUI or any other alcohol-related violation.

After the student is cited, they are required to attend one 90-minute group session and a follow up one-on-one session two weeks later.

At the group meeting, Cubero said they will discuss facts about risky situations and other information.

“For instance, if you’re blowing a .30 blood alcohol level you can be passed out, in a stupor or in a coma,” he said. “And at a .05 breathalyzer content we would discuss the physical effects or behaviors such as loss of judgment or slight coordination problems.”

Also at the group meeting, students will receive a self-monitoring card that they are supposed to fill out and bring to the individual session two weeks after the group session.

“There are also phone applications if they wanted to keep track of their drinks that way,” Cubero said.

“If you’re at a party, you’re not going to be thinking ‘Oh, let me break out my card.’ If you have an app for it you can look like you’re just looking at your e-mails or whatever and actually monitor how many units of alcohol you’re drinking.”

Cubero made it clear that students will never get in trouble for what they put on the card or phone application.

“We just want to have a frank discussion and look at what you’re drinking and talk about it,” he said. “Of course we’re not condoning it. That’s a risk you take drinking if you’re underage.”

The BASICS sessions don’t take the place of the classes required by the magistrate for an underage consumption of alcohol citation.

The success of the BASICS program will be measured through a test given to students both before and after they go through the program.

When students first begin the program, they will be asked to fill out a questionnaire about their drinking habits and how they feel about it, Cubero said.

Then once they have completed the program, the student will be asked to answer the same questions. That way it’s easy to compare the two and see if anything changed.

Neither the Social Norms campaign nor the BASICS program are new to SRU. They have both been around in different variations. This is just the first time they have been targeted towards freshmen as a part of the PASSHE grant, according to Bateman.

It’s unclear whether the grant, or the two programs, will continue after the money runs out in October 2011.

Cubero said BASICS will depend on the data. There is currently a program in place for sophomores, juniors and seniors that differs a little bit from BASIC but is still backed by research. Depending on what the feedback says about BASIC, it may be expanded to all students, left only for freshmen or replaced by something else.