For some individuals, substance and alcohol abuse have become major issues on college campuses. However, two colleges in New Hampshire are working to solve this problem.
Together, the Monadnock Voices for Prevention, Dr. Anna Adachi-Mejia of Dartmouth College, Keene State College and Franklin Pierce University are working to find new strategies that will help prevent alcohol and drug abuse.
To help achieve this, the institutions were given a $571,617 grant from the N.H. Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.
According to Polly Morris, Regional Public Health Network Substance Misuse Prevention Coordinator for the Monadnock region, KSC and FPU have been working on this grant plan since November of 2013.
“It’s a two-year grant that already started in November and goes until July first, 2015. Both colleges have certain strategies that they are trying to implement, so we’re still in the planning stage for some of them and we’re actually starting to implement a few,” Harris said.
“The long-term goal is for the schools to develop a campus-wide strategy for prevention,” Director of the Center for Health and Wellness at KSC, Christine Burke, said in a press release issued November 21, 2013.
Harris continued, “Nobody has a quick fix for college students who drink too much, and so this was a great opportunity for the two schools to analyze the issue, collect some data and see what will work.”
According to Coordinator of Wellness Education at KSC, Tiffany Mathews, the groups plan to accomplish this by using three strategies: appreciative inquiry, alcohol screening and media campaigning.
“Appreciative inquiry is a groupthink session. It’s basically having people from a community comment on things that are working very well in their environment. So, it’s really trying to focus on the positive. Some people normally think of all the things that are going wrong, but appreciative inquiry is to help appreciate the things that are going right,” Mathews said.
Morris compared this concept to recent news. “In life, we look at people like Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan where the media focuses on the negative,” Morris said, “We focus on what’s bad with Keene State College and Franklin Pierce as far as substance use and misuse.”
Mathews said the appreciative inquiry group sessions will occur in October, and students, staff and community members will all be invited to participate.
“A piece of the grant is to get the community to change their perception and see the benefits of having the campus in their community. We’re trying to bridge the gap between the college and the Keene community at large,” Morris added. The second strategy involves students, especially those who live off-campus, taking brief alcohol screenings.
However, according to Mathews, this is not an easy task, and the grant will help advance this project.
“We do outreach to off-campus students, but it’s not as consistent and thorough as it is with the undergrads. We don’t do as many reports, but we also don’t have the staff that is needed to implement these services. So, we find that with the basics piece we are going to be hiring a coordinator to facilitate these service, the grant money is paying for that for one year,” Mathews said. Next, Mathews said she sees media campaigning as another opportnity for people to come together.
She said the main aspect of this strategy is photovoice, where students and community members will take part in creating a film.
“They’ll go out and take pictures of what they think the positive side of how substances are being used in the community is, and then the negative side of that. Then, the students will come back and share those pictures or videos and have a group discussion about why they chose these things and what the images mean to them,” Mathews said.
Mathews added that after this, the media will be edited into a movie with voiceovers from the students explaining their work.
However, despite these strategies and a series of other smaller programs on campus at KSC, the organizers of this project said they are not trying to tell people what to do.
“We’re not in the field of telling people what’s right and what’s wrong; we want to say, ‘here is the information,’” Mathews said.
“My thoughts are that I think it’s going to create awareness,” Morris added, “I think the campuses both know that there are issues among use — any college campus has these issues — but the perception of the use can be misconstrued.”
Mathews referred to the theory of social norms, which she described as people doing and following what they see and believe, regardless of accuracy.
“When people only know about negative behaviors and they think they are widely followed by a majority of people, then people are more likely to behave negatively. The social norms theory says that there’s complete misperception about what the actual behaviors are. If people knew that most people are making healthy decisions, then more people would make the same healthy decisions,” Mathews said. In addition, the program wants people to come together and get involved; they encourage students to take the brief, anonymous survey that appeared as a pop-up in their MyKSC accounts on April 6.
After completion, students can then send their name in to win a chance to win one of four $100 gift cards to Amazon.com.
Diana Pimer can be contacted at email@example.com