Theories Shine Encouraging Light in Division III Study
June 21, 2004
By Beth Rosenberg
The NCAA News
Final results from a pilot
program designed to encourage student-athletes to make responsible decisions
about alcohol and tobacco use show that employing a "social norms"
theory to encourage behavior can produce successful outcomes.
Student-Athletes Taking Active
Responsible Roles, or STARR, has been in place at a group of Division
III college campuses from the fall of 2001 through this spring. Final
survey results demonstrate that the program has led to a decline in
the use of alcohol and tobacco, as well as a decline in the misperceptions
that most collegiate student-athletes abuse alcohol and tobacco.
"I think it was definitely
a great program and it's shown better results than some of the other
(alcohol-education programs)," said Denise Bierly, head women's
basketball coach at Eastern Connecticut State University, one of the
schools that participated in the pilot STARR program. "It definitely
gets the campus talking and the students talking, which I think is a
STARR, which was funded through
the NCAA Division III Initiatives Task Force, is based on the social-norms
approach, which uses simple facts, specific to the campus, about alcohol
use and other issues to reduce misperceptions and help students make
healthy choices. For example, rather than messages that stress the dangers
of alcohol abuse, the STARR message may state that most student-athletes
on a particular campus drink only once a week or less. Student-athlete-specific
statistics are gathered through surveys, which gives the messages credibility.
The thought is that by correcting
student-athletes' misperceptions of their peers' behavior, they will
be more likely to make responsible decisions themselves.
Eight Division III schools
took part in the initial program. In addition to Eastern Connecticut
State, the other schools were: Baldwin-Wallace College, Carroll College,
Goucher College, Linfield College, Rockford College, State University
of New York at Cortland and Wesleyan University (Connecticut).
Of those eight schools, five
continued the program for an additional year. Those were: Eastern Connecticut
State, Baldwin-Wallace, Carroll, Goucher and Cortland State.
The study was conducted by
H. Wesley Perkins, professor of sociology at Hobart and William Smith
Colleges, and David Craig, a biochemistry professor at the school.
"All too often we hear
about violations, or alcohol irresponsibility, academic dishonesty and
things of that nature, and I feel that STARR has definitely afforded
us the opportunity to bring forth a positive message," said Michelle
Nicropolis Gallagher, CHAMPS/Life Skills director at Baldwin-Wallace.
"I've definitely engaged in more conversations with individuals
and groups on campus, especially student-athletes who are thankful that
the reputation they work hard to improve is finally being noticed."
To conduct the study, an
initial survey was taken at all eight schools in the fall 2001, and
a follow-up survey was conducted in the fall 2002. The five schools
that continued the program took a third survey in the fall 2003.
After the first survey was
conducted, those results were used to disseminate information that countered
myths about student-athlete alcohol use and other behaviors. The information
was circulated through computer screen-savers, posters, ads in the student
newspaper and give-aways at sporting events.
For example, a screen saver,
poster or ad might say, "Seventy-five percent of Baldwin-Wallace
student-athletes drink once a week or less."
Results showed that after
exposure to such messages, not only did perceptions change, but actions
changed as well. For example, aggregate data from the five schools showed
there was a 16 percent reduction in the proportion of student-athletes
consuming alcohol more than once a week and a 29 percent reduction in
the number of student-athletes who got drunk more than once a week.
Significant reductions in
student-athlete tobacco use also were achieved, including a 33 percent
reduction in the proportion of student-athletes using tobacco weekly
or more and a 38 percent reduction in the proportion of student-athletes
using tobacco daily.
There also were reductions
in misperceptions, such as a 15 percent reduction in the proportion
of student-athletes misperceiving a permissive alcohol attitude as the
norm and a 20 percent reduction in the proportion of student-athletes
perceiving that more than once-per-week alcohol consumption among teammates
was the norm.
The study also found that
the mean hours reported for studying each week went up, while the mean
hours of partying went down.
Perkins' study found that
the more exposure student-athletes had to the messages, the less likely
they were to engage in risky behavior.
"We significantly reduced
the perceptions of high-risk drinking, and we significantly reduced
problem drinking rates. We also prompted significant reductions in tobacco
use and other things," said Perkins. "That's an important
message because nationwide, other kinds of projects have not had much
or any success in reducing the problems at all.
"So even if you get
a few percentage points reduction, and we got more than that on many
of the measures, that's really big news," he said. "This project
was the first one to successfully deliver messages about the positive
norms of the majority of student-athletes."
Perkins will be presenting
these findings next month at the National Conference on the Social-Norms
Model in Chicago.
"We will be saying that
this was a first experiment to try to conduct a social-norms campaign
targeting student-athletes in an intensive way," he said.
Perkins also said that a
number of other schools have expressed interest in doing this type of
project on their campus. He hopes the schools that participated in the
pilot program also will continue their outreach.
Gallagher said she hopes to continue the program on her campus.
"It's just a great program,
even by naming a student-athlete of the month, or putting an ad in the
school newspaper or making fliers or posters, I think more campuses
can encourage continuing responsibility of the great majority of the
student-athletes," she said. "And hopefully that would run
over into the entire student body."
Bierly, too, hopes to continue
the STARR program.
"I think because they've
seen good results, hopefully they'll continue funding for this program
and in the fall we can start anew and get recharged again," she
said. "It's the type of program that if you do it every year, hopefully
the momentum will build from year to year."