November 22, 1999 Geneva, NY – For more than a decade, H. Wesley Perkins, professor of sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, has been studying the abuse of alcohol and other drugs on college campuses. He has written prolifically and spoken around the country about his work, and has had a tremendous impact on this field of study. The Network of Colleges and Universities Committed to the Elimination of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, recognized his dedication and influence recently when it awarded him its first-ever “Outstanding Service Award.” The award recipient was determined by nomination and vote of the membership of the Network, which represents all 50 states.
The award was presented to Perkins at the National Meeting on Alcohol, Other Drug, and Violence Prevention In Higher Education, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in Albany from November 6 through 9. Perkins was acknowledged for displaying integrity, stature, and demonstrated achievement and innovation on campus; for providing service beyond the expectations of his position on campus; and for his significant contribution to the growth and development of alcohol and other drug prevention strategies across higher education settings.
Perkins received the award not only for his dedication to the field, but for his introduction of a new, and effective, way of thinking about prevention. Perkins developed, with Alan Berkowitz, now a private consultant who shared this award, the “Misperceptions of Alcohol and Other Drug Norms” concept in the mid-1980s. Simply put, this theory states that although college drinking is frequently a serious concern, college students generally perceive that their peers are drinking more often and more heavily than they actually are, and based on that misconception, tend to increase their own abuse habits. Perkins found that when students were educated to the facts – to the truth about the consumption patterns of their peers – drinking and related abuse statistics fall, often dramatically.
Perkins, along with David Craig, professor of chemistry and co-director of the Alcohol Education Program at Hobart and William Smith, have developed a multimedia approach to provide such education to students. The information is provided in ways that do not preach to the students and in ways for which students don't have to search, such as in “factoids” on computer screen savers.
The initiative on the HWS campus has been extremely successful, reducing binge drinking at parties by 15 percent and frequent binge drinking by 21 percent. The consequences of abusive behavior has also been reduced dramatically: property damage is down 36 percent; missed classes are down 31 percent; and incidents of unprotected sex have been reduced 40 percent. (All statistics are based on survey data gathered regularly during the course of the year and the course of the four-year college experience.)
Perkins notes that nationally such numbers have not varied more than one or two percentage points. Perkins and Craig are now speaking at a number of colleges and universities across the country, as well as at high schools and middle schools, to share their model with others.
Joining Perkins in award receipt in Albany was Senator Robert Byrd, (D-WVa.), who was honored with the “Visionary Award” for service to the field from outside the field. Byrd was lauded for promoting legislation for prevention funding in higher education.
Hobart College for men and William Smith College for women — private, liberal arts institutions with a combined enrollment of 1,800 — are noted for both their ambitious emphasis on international study and their integrated curricular and co-curricular programs in community service. They are among the top 10 colleges in the nation in participation in off-campus programs. Hobart and William Smith are located in Geneva, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.
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