is nothing to celebrate
The Princeton Review, one of the major resources for college-bound students
and their parents, recently issued its "Top Party School"
designations. While much of the information provided by the Princeton
Review is useful, the designation of which schools are best for partying
is not, since it undermines the work done over the years to address
alcohol abuse and injures the reputations of the colleges, students
and the surrounding communities. How? By promoting a powerful perception
that alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, substance abuse and excessive
behavior are the norm among the student body. If students think this
constitutes normal behavior, they may feel pressure to emulate it because
"everybody's doing it."
that perception is wrong. In fact, nearly two-thirds of college students
drink moderately, infrequently or not at all—hardly the perception
that the general public has today about college students. But before
campus health officers and administrators run out and implement scare
tactic campaigns that include tight restrictions on social functions
and stiff penalties in misguided attempts to address alcohol abuse,
they should consider that those approaches have proven ineffective.
In fact, the University of Colorado at Boulder ranks as this year's
top party school despite its six-year participation in A Matter of Degree,
an alcohol abuse prevention program sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation. This program has embraced and employed those kind of heavy-handed
administrators should realize that the most effective method of curbing
substance abuse on college campuses is a scientific approach called
social norms. The strategy of a social norms approach is to consistently
communicate the truth to students about what the majority of their peers
actually think and do—using credible data drawn from the college's
own student population. The resulting messages to students, delivered
via variety of media, are positive, since research consistently shows
that the norm for student behavior is one of moderation and safety.
students learn about the true norm, it has a positive impact on their
perceptions and their behavior. The misperception of excessive substance
abuse among their peers is dispelled and, as a result, moderation and
safety become more prevalent. Colleges that inform their students about
the actual norms of moderation and safety have achieved an average 20
percent reduction in high-risk drinking in only two years. Some of the
schools where this approach has been used effectively include the University
of Arizona, University of Virginia, Northern Illinois University and
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, to name a few.
information about social norms is available on the Web Site of the National
Social Norms Resource Center at http://www.socialnorm.org,
and in a new book called "The Social Norms Approach to Preventing
School and College Substance Abuse," edited by H. Wesley Perkins,
Ph.D. Both resources contain numerous case studies of effective social
norms campaigns and steps to guide campuses in implementing such programs
and correcting the kind of misperceptions that the Princeton Review's
Annual Party School List unfortunately help to promote.
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National Social Norms Resource Center
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