The San Bernardino Sun
Fighting College Drinking
can be used to reinforce abstinence from alcohol among students, say
July 08, 2001
By Matt Bender
Cal State San Bernardino
officials plan to unveil an unorthodox weapon in the fight against problem
drinking peer pressure.
That may surprise
those who remember the "Just Say No" campaigns of the 1980s
and 1990s, which encouraged young people to actively resist peer pressure.
say many students would drink less if only they realized how responsible
most of their peers are.
doing is taking advantage of, as it were, peer pressure and conformist
tendencies in order to correct a problem behavior," said H. Wesley
Perkins, a sociologist at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva,
N.Y., who studies alcohol abuse.
Behind the approach
is a body of research, dating back to the 1980s, that says most college
students vastly overestimate how much other college students drink.
In fact, Perkins said, most students abstain or drink only in moderation.
But because most
students believe otherwise, they feel pressure to drink heavily. That
reinforces behaviors that lead to drinking problems.
The social norms
model originated by Perkins and New York psychologist Alan Berkowitz
argues that simply telling students how responsible most of their peers
are will lead them to drink less.
They say the approach
has proved successful at universities around the country.
"We just give
them accurate information about what the norms are and let that conformity
behavior start working," Perkins said.
Howard Wang, Cal
State San Bernardino's assistant vice president for student affairs,
said he saw firsthand how powerful the social norms approach can be
as an administrator at UCLA.
Wang, who is expected
to head a task force to develop new strategies to deal with alcohol
abuse, said he likes the approach's positive tone.
"It has proven
more effective than just pointing fingers and saying, 'Thou shalt not
drink,'" he said.
Cal Poly Pomona
already has in place a nationally recognized program using the approach.
It involves sending birthday cards to students on their 21st birthday.
The cards give statistics
like "On the day Cal Poly Pomona students celebrated their 21st
birthdays, 46 percent did not drink any alcoholic beverages," and
offers tips on how to drink safely and help friends who have drunk too
"It's one of
the best programs in the country," said Michael Haines, director
of the National Social Norms Resource Center, a DeKalb, Ill.-based health
The push at Cal
State San Bernardino is part of a movement throughout the Cal State
system to improve efforts to combat alcohol abuse. On Tuesday, the university
system's Board of Trustees is expected to approve a report calling for
new programs to deal with the problem.
The draft report
makes general recommendations but does not prescribe how each campus
should deal with alcohol abuse. Rather, it calls on each campus to devise
an approach that fits its students' needs.
Cal State San Bernardino
has avoided high-profile alcohol-related incidents of the kind that
have marred the reputations of San Diego State, Cal State Chico and
UC Santa Barbara in the last year. And administrators there say alcohol-related
problems are relatively uncommon among the university's students, who
are mostly commuters.
"A very high
percentage of our students work," said Frank Rincn, Vice President
for student affairs. "They're very busy with their working lives
and their families, so partying isn't as much of a problem."
But Rincn said counselors
at the university say problem drinking still takes a toll on students'
health and academic success.
"They see it
firsthand, with these people who are not able to control that part of
their lives," he said.
Luis Portillo, president
of the university's Associated Student Body, said the planned approach
makes sense to him.
"When I first
came to college, I thought everyone drank a lot. But it's not true,"
He said an emphasis
on prevention, not enforcement, makes sense for Cal State San Bernardino.
At best, enforcement policies can only affect what happens on campus,
not where people are drinking. People are drinking off campus,"
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