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Hobart and William Smith Colleges
40% Reduction over 5 Years

Project Description

Hobart and William Smith (HWS) Colleges is an undergraduate liberal arts institution with approximately 135 faculty and 1,800 students. In the fall of 1996, the HWS Alcohol Education Project was undertaken in order to expand the applied intervention research on the social norms approach in several ways. First, social norms strategies had not been tested in a small college setting. Second, because selective liberal arts colleges in the northeast typically experience relatively heavy alcohol consumption among their students as compared to larger universities, HWS researches felt it was particularly appropriate to assess how effective this approach was in reducing alcohol abuse in a traditionally heavy alcohol consumption environment. Third, the design of this experiment was intended to combine previously employed print media strategies with new electronic media strategies and curriculum infusion.

Project Funding Source

U.S. Department of Education Drug and Violence Prevention in Higher Education grants

Project Objective

To reduce misperceptions of use, actual use, and harm caused by use even in those environments where heavy drinking prevails.

Baseline Data

A representative campus-wide survey in 1995 revealed that:

  • 89% of students typically drank alcohol during the average week
  • 55% of students were frequent heavy drinkers (often drinking 5 or more drinks in a row)
  • 25% of students experienced injuries to themselves as a result of their own drinking
  • 9% of students had injured another person as a result of their own drinking
  • 21% of students reported some form of fighting as a result of their own drinking
  • 6% admitted, as a result of their own drinking, attempting sexual contact unwanted by another person

Sample Normative Messages

(Click on any message in order to view that particular piece of media.)

Marketing Methods Employed

Print Campus Factoids (campus newspaper column), poster displays, campus newspapers ads, table tents, sport cups, t-shirts. A significant innovation of this intervention is the development of a the campus factoid screen saver program that randomly displays facts from the HWS "Campus Factoids" database; this program was installed on every student-accessed college-owned computer and on many faculty and administrative office computers as well. In addition, an interactive multimedia access to "Campus Factoids" was created so that students and staff are able to browse and search the database by subject and see graphical displays of posters and video clips containing information relevant to the factoid being displayed. The most recent innovation is an online Campus Factoids Quiz Challenge which is open to all HWS faculty, staff and students.


Three types of data have been used to assess the project's impact on HWS students. First, data are drawn from senior exit surveys and from electronic login records to monitor exposure to project media campaigns. Second, data are provided by a fall term survey administered to students in introductory course beginning before the introduction of project initiatives and repeated each subsequent year to assess short term impact. Third, data are drawn from a cross-sectional mail survey of a sample respresenting the entire student body conducted in the spring academic term before and at two subsequent points after the intervention was introduced that allow for a longer term assessment of impact.

Project Results

As measured from 1995 (pretest) to 2000 (posttest), the personal drinking frequency and quantity of use saw, as a result of this intervention:

  • A 30.2% decline in the number of students who are frequent heavy drinkers (defined as 5 or more drinks in a row, 3 or more times in the last 2 weeks)
  • A 24.3% decline in the number of drinks consumed in the last two weeks (mean) A 13.3% decline in the number of drinks consumed at parties and bars (mean)
  • A 21.5% decline in the number of drinks consumed in a typical week (mean)
  • A 18.2% decline in the number of days drinking in the last two weeks

A comparison of 1995 and 1998 Spring surveys showed the following rates of change in negative consequences of drinking during the academic year:

  • 36% decline in property damage
  • 31% decline in missed classes
  • 25% decline in inefficiency at work
  • 40% decline in unprotected sex
  • 25% decline in memory loss

The perceived and actual drinking norms among students before and after the social norms intervention saw the following rates of change:

  • A 64% increase in the perceived percentage of abstainers
  • A 21% decline in the perceived percentage of heavy (5=) drinkers
  • A 11% decline in the perceived average number of drinks consumed by friends at a party
  • A 13% decline in the perceived average number of drinks consumed by all at a party

Note: The text of this project description was drawn from "The HWS Alcohol Education Project Experiment: A Synergistic Application of the Social Norms Approach to Reduce Collegiate Problem Drinking," (2001) by H. Wesley Perkins and David Craig. A version of this article is forthcoming from the Higher Education Center.

Principal Investigators

H. Wesley Perkins
Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, NY 14456

David Craig
Department of Chemistry
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, NY 14456

Further Information

Perkins, H. Wesley, and David W. Craig. 2002. A Multifaceted Social Norms Approach to Reduce High-Risk Drinking: Lessons from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Newton, MA: The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education.

This 2002 publication provides a comprehensive presentation of the HWS Social Norms Project. Contents include a complete description of program components, including data collection, print media campaigns, electronic media campaigns, curriculum development, and campus presentations. Positive changes in both perceived and actual drinking norms among students before and after the intervention are provided. A highly detailed program activity table is also appended.

See also:
Perkins, H. Wesley and D. Craig. "The HWS Experiment: A Synergistic Social Norms Approach Using Print, Electronic Media and Curriculum Infusion to Reduce Collegiate Problem Drinking," (2003) in The Social Norms Approach To Preventing School And College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook For Educators, Counselors, And Clinicians, Ed. H. Wesley Perkins. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The HWS Alcohol and Other Drug Education Project
This is the web site of the HWS Project. It provides an extensive collection of education and research initiatives designed to better inform students and college personnel about alcohol and other drugs and to address problems of abuse. Among the topics covered are:

  • History of the Project
  • Campaign to Reduce Misperceived Norms
  • Posters and Poster Campaign
  • Web-based Normative Message Campaign
  • Use of Electronic Multimedia in a Social Norms Prevention Program

**Portions of the information presented on this page were originally prepared by Michael Haines and Richard Rice and are printed here with their permission.