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Planning for prevention
Facilitators Sally Linowski and Kimberley Timpf address a packed room during the alcohol coalition strategic planning retreat on Sept. 25, 2017.

Planning for prevention

Photo by Casey Impagliazzo

Campus-wide alcohol and drug abuse coalition convenes to talk strategy

At the University of Delaware, developing students into thriving individuals is a collaborative pursuit extending far beyond classroom walls, with many staff working around the clock in support of Blue Hens’ holistic wellbeing. The campus coalition for alcohol and other drug abuse prevention, colloquially referred to as the alcohol coalition, is one such effort being actively pursued by faculty, staff, community members, and students.

EVERFI, Inc. is the designer of the AlcoholEdu for College course, which is administered at UD through the Division of Student Life’s Student Wellness and Health Promotion. Coalition members met recently with EVERFI’s Kimberley Timpf to review University-specific data and analyze UD student needs in relation to local, national and historical trends.

“If a campus is safe for students in recovery [from alcohol or drug abuse], then it’s safe for all students,” Timpf said in her opening remarks. “Ultimately, our aim is to prevent problems from happening by getting to them before they start.”

Alcohol Coalition strategy planning
Graduate student leader, Cesar Caro (right), discusses student wellbeing with UD administrators during the alcohol coalition strategic planning retreat.

 

AlcoholEdu for College is required for all first-time UD students under the age of 26 at the time of admission, including incoming undergraduates, transfers, graduate students, continuing education and certificate students, and students enrolling in the Associate in Arts Program. Through AlcoholEdu, participants learn about risk avoidance and can opt into later communications from other UD students and departments who strive to support healthier lifestyle goals.

The UD Lifestyle

What kind of lifestyle is the average UD student looking for today?

Timpf, EVERFI’s senior director for prevention education, began the data analysis with an overview of trends from UD’s dominant student population: Generation Z. These students, who were born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s and grew up during the Great Recession, reported an emphasis on risk aversion and career-oriented success.

“We need to move beyond this thinking that the majority of high school seniors have drank alcohol in the past year, because it simply isn’t reflected in current research,” Timpf said. “The truth is that, nationally, the percentage of high school seniors reporting no alcohol use has doubled since 1991, from 22% to 44%. In 2016, 65% of first year students nationally identified as nondrinkers. Students are telling us what they want; we need to be listening.”

Jen Tomasetti and Valerie Yancy, fraternity and sorority life staff in UD’s University Student Centers, work in small groups during the alcohol coalition strategic planning retreat.

This fall, more than a third of incoming UD students reported interest in attending alcohol-free events and activities, specifically movie nights, outdoor adventures, live music, and cool places to hang out. Attendance estimates support these findings, with more than 500 students swiping into each Perkins Live program every Friday night. Supported in part by UD’s Parents Fund, Perkins Live is one of two weekly late night programming series and a mere sample of the many alcohol-free activities students can connect with on Student Central.

Barriers to Wellbeing

Though many UD students do connect with services, communities and opportunities that support their wellbeing and success, the University is not immune to the alcohol and drug abuse that takes place on campuses nationwide. Prevention hinges in part upon identifying who is at risk for abuse and why, and national research again provides a wealth of knowledge for UD’s alcohol coalition.

“Overwhelmingly, students of color are not our high risk drinking population,” said Timpf. “Students of color report lower rates of drinking, but experience increased negative encounters with their white counterparts as a result of campus alcohol culture.”

More than 90% of 18-24 year olds in alcohol or drug recovery identify as caucasian, with 70% suffering from substance abuse in concurrence with a mental health concern.

Coalition members discussed the need to focus broadly on student wellbeing during the strategic planning portion of the day, facilitated by Sally Linowski of University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“In light of this data,” said Nancy Chase, director of Student Wellness and Health Promotion and co-chair of the coalition, “it’s more important than ever to reframe the alcohol and drug discussion in terms of student wellness and health, how quality of life suffers from substance abuse, and the value of wellbeing resources available to students at the University of Delaware.”

Newark mayor Polly Sierer and senior administrators from UD’s Division of Student Life as well as the UD and Newark police departments brainstorm strategies for enhanced community partnership.

 

The Work Ahead

How can UD’s campus culture best support nondrinkers, those in recovery from former abuse, and those who imbibe legally and responsibly? National best practices support the creation of a collaborative council bringing together faculty, staff, community members, and students. At UD, such a group has been in operation for three years under the leadership of the Division of Student Life. Coalition accomplishments to date include:

  • Working with students and the City of Newark to investigate and suggest improvements in city governance of parties involving alcohol

  • Assessing student understanding, perception, and opinion around city governance of alcohol consumption and off-campus alcohol culture in the 2016 UD College Study

  • Forming a campus-wide working group to analyze policies and practices observed by formal student groups including fraternities, sororities, club sports teams, registered student organizations, and residential communities

  • Creating opportunities to assess student understanding, perception, and opinion around UD governance of alcohol consumption and on-campus alcohol culture

  • Investigating and suggesting improvements in city and UD governance of alcohol consumption and culture both on- and off-campus using five years of data collected by the UD Police Department, Newark Police Department, and Office of Student Conduct

  • Investigating and suggesting improvements for alcohol- and drug-related procedures, sanctions, and fines in the Office of Student Conduct

  • Conducting two years of student focus groups including representation from all fraternities and sororities, club sports teams, registered student organizations, and residential communities to inform development of alcohol- and drug-related communication on campus

  • Refining five key institutional messages based on student focus group feedback to inform the development of all alcohol- and drug-related communications at UD

The coalition’s retreat concluded with discussion on additional issues facing the institution including the possibility of legalized recreational marijuana, rising rates of opioid addiction, and the need to coordinate alcohol and drug communication throughout every unit of the University of Delaware.

“Just as every UD staff and faculty member needs to know how amnesty protocol works, our approach to alcohol and drugs and the values and expectations around these topics need to be ingrained at every level of the University,” said José-Luis Riera, interim vice president for Student Life and co-chair of the coalition.

As strategic planning and the next round of working groups continue, the coalition looks increasingly outward to engage stakeholders. Efforts will include an online resource to assist all members of the UD and local communities in addressing these topics.

“Articulating and living one’s values is an integral part of being a Blue Hen,” said Riera. “All students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff share ownership of the University of Delaware experience. Together with our neighbors, we have not only the power but the obligation to help our community members make informed decisions about alcohol and drugs.”

About the Division of Student Life

The Division of Student Life includes the Career Services Center, Center for Black Culture, Center for Counseling and Student Development, LGBT Program, New Student Orientation, Office of the Dean of Students, Office of Student Conduct, Residence Life and Housing, Student Health Services, Student Services for Athletes, Student Wellness and Health Promotion, and the University Student Centers.

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