Social Norms Theory Targets Student-Athletes – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Social Norms Theory Targets Student-Athletes

Geneva, NY – Hobart and William Smith Colleges Professors Wesley Perkins and David Craig have recently been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to further their work in the area of alcohol abuse reduction on college campuses. The two-year, $250,000 grant will focus on misperceptions of alcohol and drug abuse among student-athletes. Of the 110 colleges nationwide to apply and 14 approved for the funding under the Safe an Drug-Free Schools Program's Grant Competition to Prevent High-Risk Drinking and Violent Behavior Among College Students, Hobart and William Smith ranked fifth overall.

Research that Perkins and others began in 1982 demonstrated a pervasive and continuing pattern of misperceptions about alcohol and other drug use norms among college students. No matter what actual patterns of use were, students perceived that their peers were drinking more than they were, modeled that behavior, and a pattern of heavy use was reinforced.

In an effort to give students accurate information, Perkins teamed up with Craig in 1997, and, with an initial grant from the Department of Education, initiated a comprehensive program to educate students about actual alcohol use patterns. The program has been a huge success and has become a model program for other institutions around the country. The social norms theory and the program at Hobart and William Smith have received media attention in such venues as Time magazine and the Los Angeles Times. (For more information about results, visit

The goal of this program, titled “Most Valuable Players – a project reinforcing positive norms, correcting misperceptions, and reducing high risk drinking among student-athletes,” are to apply social norms principles to students who participate in athletics. In addition, work as a result of the grant will collect data on student-athlete drinking and drug use to help reduce misconceptions among the general college population about student-athletes, and promote other positive messages such as service, volunteerism, and academic achievements. The primary objectives are to produce a new and more integrated athletics, academic, and social climate where athletes and the general student body have a more realistic awareness of peer disapproval of alcohol abuse, to stimulate a more responsible level of public conversation about alcohol norms, and to reduce high-risk drinking among athletes.

“We are delighted to be a part of this important study and congratulate Professors Perkins and Craig on their contributions to this critical issue,” Patricia Stranahan, provost and dean of the faculty of the Colleges, said. “Their research findings will be of enormous interest to every university and college administrator and faculty member, and to parents as well.”

Funding received for the current project will allow for such activities as a mass-media campaign based on local survey data to reduce myths about athletes; an orientation program for student athletes that communicates expectations as well as positive norms and values; training of student athlete peer educators to promote healthy norms and communicate alcohol policies; workshops on social norms prevention strategies; and social norms education workshops for alcohol policy offenders who are athletes.

“This is a great opportunity for the Colleges,” said Michael Hanna, director of athletics for Hobart College. “A program of this kind will add value to the national programming that is in place for our student-athletes and entire student body.”

” I am gratified that the Department of Education has seen this program as worthy of support,” said Susan Bassett, director of athletics for William Smith College. “The program creates an exciting opportunity for learning and growth for student-athletes.”

For more information about the program at Hobart and William Smith, visit the website at

For more information about the U.S. Department of Education's funding of such programs, visit

Hobart and William Smith Colleges are coordinate, private, liberal arts institutions, located in Geneva, N.Y. – the heart of the Finger Lakes region. The Colleges, which have a combined enrollment of 1,800, offer a remarkably broad array of majors and minors, with a cross-disciplinary flavor intended to better inform both professional and intellectual pursuits. The Colleges are noted also for an ambitious emphasis on international study, and for their programs in community service. Hobart College for men and William Smith College for women share faculty, facilities, and curriculum, but maintain separate dean's offices, athletics programs, student governments, and traditions.

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