CU beefs up its orientation
The Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.
New students get bigger doses of drug, alcohol programs
By Elizabeth Mattern Clark
Lindsey Monett spent two whirlwind days at the University of Colorado last week, touring the campus, watching presentations and registering for her first semester at college.
Not lost on her was CU’s reaction to increased scrutiny following its ranking in the Princeton Review as the country’s No. 1 party school and a series of accusations of sexual assault against football athletes.
“Sex and alcohol is pretty much all they talked about,” said Monett, an 18-year-old incoming freshman from Grand Junction. “Overall, I think their approach is good. The school realizes that drinking is going to happen, but they want you to use common sense and make sure you don’t hurt yourself or other people.”
Freshmen this fall will be the first class to take a mandatory Web-based alcohol course, and they’ll be the first to enter CU since its “two-strikes” policy was drafted – which can mean suspension for students ticketed twice for alcohol violations. They will also be targets of a beefed-up, $20,000 marketing campaign touting normal drinking behaviors.
CU officials tightened the university’s alcohol policies in the spring, and they’re now letting soon-to-be students and their parents know about it at orientation sessions.
“I guess if we err, we err on the side of talking too much about it,” said Bob Maust, chair of the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse at CU.
An interactive theater presentation on alcohol and date rape for students and a parent discussion on alcohol, drugs and safety have been moved from the second day of orientation to the first day to improve attendance, Maust said.
And officials have worked more closely this year with fraternity and sorority leaders to “get out a consistent alcohol message” at orientations, he said.
‘Social norms:’ Does it work?
Scattered around dorm-room and hallway bulletin boards over the past four years have been posters showing that 80 percent of CU students don’t drink before football games. Or that 69 percent had four or fewer drinks the last time they drank.
Maust said the “social norms” theory grew out of frustration with highly publicized Harvard University studies that for years classified large percentages of students – including 63 percent at CU – as binge drinkers based on surveys that defined a binge as four or five drinks.
The social norms strategy aims to show students that they are actually normal if they don’t drink heavily.
“Students typically believe that their peers drink much more than they actually do,” social norms advocate H. Wesley Perkins of Hobart and William Smith Colleges said in an interview posted on a State University of New York Web site. “The importance of this general misperception is that it fuels problem behaviors as students try to live up to a distorted image of what their peers believe and do.”
Maust said CU was one of the first campuses to solicit a presentation from Michael Haines, an early creator of a social norms campaign that claimed to cut heavy drinking in half at Northern Illinois University between 1990 and 2000.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges boasted a 30 percent reduction in alcohol use between 1995 and 2000 from its social norms campaign.
CU has been trying the strategy for about four years and is hoping to step up the campaign this fall with help from student volunteers, Maust said. But the results of the effort so far are anything but clear-cut.
Last year, a Harvard study reported that social norms campaigns at many colleges have been ineffective and even reported some increase in drinking during the campaigns.
The rate of binge drinking at CU was well above the national average in Harvard’s 2002 study and around the same percentage as it was in 1999.