David M. Granger
AU RESPONSIBLE DRINKING CAMPAIGN TO TAKE 'PLAINS TRUTH' APPROACH
AUBURN -- Auburn University will be taking a new approach when it begins its 2001 campaign to combat underage and irresponsible drinking among its more than 22,000 students.
AU's Student Counseling Services has received a $100,000 grant through the Traffic Safety Division of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs for the new effort dubbed " The Auburn Plains Truth Project"-- which will focus on educating students on the social norms regarding alcohol on campus, promoting a positive message.
"This is really a marketing campaign through which we hope to make a campus- community effort to promote responsibility and reduce underage drinking and alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents in the Auburn-Opelika area," says Vern Russell, coordinator of counseling and assessment with AU's Student Counseling Services.
"What you'll begin to see are posters around campus promoting the fact that most Auburn students make responsible choices when they drink (64 percent of Auburn students are defined as moderate drinkers, drinking between zero and five drinks per sitting.). We want to stay positive and get away from what's become known as 'health terrorism', where you try to scare the students into behaving responsibly and which studies have shown doesn't really work."
The approach that Russell describes is called the social norms model and has been shown to be effective on other college campuses across the country. Over a period of six years (between 1989 and 1995) during which it implemented a social norms strategy, Northern Illinois University saw a 35 percent drop in binge drinking and a similar drop in alcohol-related injuries among its students. During that same period, the rates for these incidents nationwide remained static. The University of Arizona has seen a 29 percent decrease in its heavy rate over the past three years of its social norms program. Hobart and William Smith Colleges have seen 10 percent reductions in heavy drinking in just two years.
"What you're really doing is educating the students on what the real norms are and reinforce in them through your positive message that you don't have to engage in these dangerous behaviors to belong," Russell said. "And it seems to work."
Russell said the campaign will focus largely on marketing, but that CADRE (a student organization that provides programs to help educate and inform the campus and community about important health related topics, such as alcohol abuse) hopes to take programs that follow the social norms model into the local high schools and Southern Union State Community College.
"We hope to get involved in the local high schools and spread the same messages that we do through the posters, the ads in The (Auburn) Plainsman and whatever other media venues we pursue," Russell said. "The thinking there is that a lot of these students will attend college here or elsewhere and they sort of look at college behavior as the norm. We want to make sure that they know what normal college behavior really is."
CONTACT: Vern Russell, 334/844-5123.