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Collegians get the message on moderating alcohol use

Tuesday, April 06, 2004
By Ken Thorbourne
Journal staff writer

Seen that couple crashing the party on the Saint Peter's College campus, wearing purple and red crowns and matching capes? That's Mr. and Miss Information.

Their goal, according to Ronald Becker, director of the Jersey City college's Center for Personal Development, is to give students the bare facts about alcohol consumption on campus.

Indeed, the most surprising fact may be that most students aren't getting sloshed every night - even if that's the impression movies and television shows give about college life.

But at Saint Peter's, students fit the national pattern of fairly moderate drinking behavior, according to Becker. A recent survey of over 300 St. Peter's students found that seven in 10 students go out drinking twice a month or less, and consume four or less drinks when they do.

By making these facts known, Becker said, students who are drinking more than this should cut back, according to the "social norm" theory.

The theory, which states that peer influence can play an important role in the lives of young adults, also proposes that the behavior of college students can be greatly influenced by perceptions of their peers' behavior.

That's where the caped and crowned couples -six people in all - come in.

Since the beginning of the school year, they've been showing up at the college's basketball games and free movie nights, the Mardi Gras party and a host of other events, speaking to students, circulating flyers, giving away freebies - all aimed at communicating the social norm.

The program is underwritten by $12,000 state grant, which is used to pay the anti-drinking ambassadors about $7 an hour for their efforts.

And the Mr. and Miss Information participants seem to be making headway - even if students don't always believe the numbers.

"Really?" is the most common reaction Heather Maselli, a 20-year old English major, has encountered when she gives students the lowdown on how much and how often fellow classmates are drinking.

"'Have you seen the boxes in the basement with all those bottles?' they ask," said Maselli, who is also the editor of the campus newspaper Pauw Wow. "I say, 'Learn moderation.'"

Simona Dambauskas, a 20-year-old international business major and another Miss Information, said the campaign's key is peer level communication.

"It's like when you are in high school and there is this 80-year-old woman teaching you about sex, drugs, and tobacco," Dambauskas described. "People are like, 'What does she know?' . This works."

Dambauskas, who is also president of the college's multi-cultural Heritage Club, said her own drinking dropped off between her freshman and sophomore year.

"You realize you have to graduate and drinking is not going to help you," she said.

William Murphy, a Mr. Information, agreed. The 20-year-old philosophy and theological major said watching his buddies get drunk got old fast.

"You come in thinking this is what college is like," he explained. "Some people constantly make bad choices."

Philip Benson, a 20-year old biology major, credits a friend with getting him caped and crowned.

The Mr. Information activity he's most looking forward to is dorm room checks. That's where Benson and his fellow crownees will be searching campus residences - not for contraband, but for their campaign's red and white "Healthy Choices" posters.

If they find one hanging on a dorm room wall, that resident will receive $10, Benson said.

Ken Thorbourne covers education. He can be reached at

Copyright 2004 The Jersey Journal.