Before I begin to talk about Gonzaga’s alcohol prevention efforts, I want to share insights from a student who graduated from another university. The former student described himself as a “sober observer” in an article titled, Sobering Reality. After pointing out that college students drink because they want to drink, he emphasized that the students’ “collective attitude toward alcohol” more than any policy or regulation is the hope for creating a safer drinking culture on campus. He further stated that there was no “silver bullet” or “quick fix” to eliminate drinking but that a proactive preventative educational approach will have an impact on the average student’s attitude toward drinking. His observation is quite accurate and parts of his writing are reflective of what Gonzaga student have said to me. There is a belief, an attitude, for Gonzaga students to want to choose to drink. In many ways students have expressed the “rite of passage” or the freedom they have to engage in drinking. They talk about the social benefits like meeting new people, music, funny stories, etc. When asked about the “not so fun” things, they list the most immediate and relevant like vomiting, hangovers, not remembering and not wanting to be “that guy” or “that gal”.
Since 2002, Gonzaga has diligently worked at reducing alcohol risks in multiple ways because there is no silver bullet, and most importantly by choosing evidence based practices that work. Gonzaga’s two significant prevention programs that are effective with college students are CHOICES and BASICS. These programs are built on over 25 years of research.
CHOICES is designed to be delivered in a larger classroom setting to groups that are “selected” as a higher risk group. This program is delivered to various clubs and organizations and used for presentations to freshman and sophomores in the residence halls. These presentations are facilitated with staff alongside other students in a peer to peer presentation.
BASICS is designed for a more individually focused intervention with students who “indicate” that they are drinking. These are students who have been documented for violating Gonzaga’s alcohol policies. Peer educators work with staff and graduate students to deliver the BASICS message in a smaller group of 8-10 students. This includes a personalized feedback sheet giving students’ detailed information about their own drinking.
Both of these programs are facilitated conversations, not lectures and are tailored to the student’s experiences. Our approach is to recognize students as young adults who are learning to make responsible choices. We know that if students are going to change their drinking attitudes and behaviors, they themselves must make that decision. One reason most alcohol education programs do not work is because knowledge does not equal change. How CHOICES and BASICS differ from other programs is the emphasis on motivation and skill in making less risky decisions. Choosing abstinence is one of many options; it is the only legal one and the only no-risk alternative. However, if students do choose to drink then we can talk about safer and less risky choices. By focusing on when drinking is most risky and the students own experiences, students do become motivated to make less risky choices or choose not to drink at all.
Parents can support this message. Let them know how much you care. Students can play a larger role and have a greater sense of ownership in student drinking as they learn in BASICS and CHOICES how to make less risky decisions. Rather than tell students to “just say no”, which we know doesn’t work, we ask them to consider how they might want to make a change and then help them find better options.