Volume 80 | Issue 3
May 2012

Guest Column: Alcohol: What does your campus say about it?

Tori Amason, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi

Student alcohol use is a concern for administrators, and I think our campuses must begin providing more applicable information for our students. At Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, we have a four-prong approach, including online education courses, experiential prevention programs, enforcement efforts, and a social norms campaign. To complement these efforts, some staff members, including myself, use an approach called “motivational interviewing.” Amason

What I love about this technique is that it’s natural and can be used in everyday conversations. I often hear the details about students’ alcohol use; this creates an opportunity for me to ask some probing questions such as, “What do you like about drinking?” “What do you like least about drinking?” and “If you were going to make changes in your drinking, what would you do?” The greatest thing about this approach is that I do not offer advice unless solicited. It has allowed me to have honest and open conversations with students about their drinking habits. It gives students the opportunity to reflect on their behaviors and discover alternative, safer choices. However, students sometimes feel the need to justify their behavior. 

Some students have communicated that their alcohol use is under control. Many of these same students use alcohol heavily and do not think it’s affecting their lives because they only drink on the weekends. After repeatedly hearing this response, I started to think about what our campus was really saying about alcohol use. Like many campuses, we teach the basics: the dangers of drinking and driving, alcohol poisoning, substance abuse, and sexual/physical assault involving alcohol. I agree that these problems need to be in our message; however, I’m not sure that message alone is relatable. People can be convinced to change their behavior when experiencing one of those significant events, but how many of our students actually face these situations? 

I am proposing a new approach to the conversation to make alcohol education relevant to every student. As I thought about how I would do this, I tried to mentally put myself in the shoes of students who are drinking: they are often in social situations, dealing with the effects of alcohol publicly (e.g., crying, acting out of character, becoming violent). Now think about how that connects with what we know about this generation of students: they like working in teams, they prefer instant gratification, and they are always connected.

I came to the realization that we should be relating our alcohol message to what students experience. We should be telling our students to think before they text/post/tweet when drinking, how to handle delicate situations when drinking, that it is best to be sober when having important conversations, and that habitual heavy drinking might be detrimental to social life after college. The danger is students thinking alcohol and having a good time are synonymous, that alcohol is necessary to relax or socially interact, or that overconsumption is a must. These dangers should be communicated to our students, along with how to avoid creating these habits.

Similar to diversity education, I believe many people do not start caring about issues until it directly affects them. Make your students care by making alcohol awareness relevant, realistic, and intentional. I know many of you are waiting for me to unveil the award-winning program to answer this call; unfortunately, I do not have it. To make each program personal and meaningful, each campus’s message will vary. I am simply offering you the encouragement to start the conversation.