HWS professors’ social norms theory named to 2001 list – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

HWS professors’ social norms theory named to 2001 list

By KEVIN DeVALK
Finger Lakes Times

GENEVA – A locally developed plan to combat drug abuse on college campuses has been named as one of the most important ideas of 2001 by The New York Times Magazine.

The newspaper’s Sunday magazine on Dec. 9 presented its unranked analysis of what it called “a catalog of 80 notions, inventions, conceptual swerves, and philosophical leaps that mattered this year, and may well continue to matter in years to come.”

Hobart and William Smith Colleges professors David Craig and Wesley Perkins’ social norms approach to combating student misconceptions was on the list, along with nonromantic dating, self-cooling buildings, air taxis, and the end of shoelaces.

The professors’ approach, which has been implemented on college and university campuses across the country and is now being tried by high schools, is an educational campaign. They said it is based on research that shows students think their peers are drinking and using illegal drugs more than they actually are; since students are strongly influenced by their peers these misconceptions can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Perkins said the idea was based on research that he and Alan Berkowitz, who was director of the Colleges’ counseling center, conducted in the mid-1980s. It was tried experimentally at Hobart and William Smith in the 1980s, and, as the magazine reported, launched full-scale at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb in 1990.

On the local campus, newspaper ads, posters, computer messages, and other avenues carry messages such as “Most HWS seniors drink only one to four drinks or do not drink at all at parties,” and “82 percent of all students prefer not to have illicit drugs present at social events.”

Perkins said someone from The New York Times contacted him and vaguely mentioned some plans for a story, but he had no advance knowledge that it would be one of the top ideas of the year.

“It’s really an idea whose time has come of age,” he said.

Craig, who also recalled being contacted by a reporter, said this is not something that the professors solicited. He said that in October 2000, the newspaper reported on their approach in an investigative piece, which also appeared in other newspapers.