Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Feb. 6, 1998

How to be part of the alcohol solution

by Anne Dolan

Faculty and staff at Iowa State will be part of the problem or the solution to student drinking, says Alan Berkowitz; they can't remain neutral.

Berkowitz, scholar-in-residence at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a national expert on alcohol prevention programs, addressed about 100 faculty and staff Jan. 22. Following are some ideas he offered those who want to be part of the solution.

  • Create classroom environments that don't allow students to drink excessively and do well. Examples include scheduling early classes, emphasizing attendance and sticking to assignment deadlines.

  • Don't repeat the stereotype that most students are problem drinkers. This only spreads the misperception. Even if one talks about a stereotype in an attempt to refute it, the plan may backfire: what listeners may remember is the stereotype. Instead, give positive, inclusive, empowering messages to students, Berkowitz said.

  • Do a comprehensive survey of student drinking behavior and share the results widely on campus. Because most faculty and staff are removed from student drinking, they are more likely to misperceive their drinking habits. Berkowitz cited studies done at Northern Illinois University and the University of Arizona in which rates of student binge drinking went down as the campus community reduced misperceptions about student drinking habits.

  • Share survey results. The results could be used in courses across all disciplines. Students have an interest in the topic and it's one way to share accurate information with them. Berkowitz said students think their peers drink more than they actually do. "The community needs to know what the true and perceived norms are if it wants to solve the problem," he said. By sharing survey results with students and arming them with facts, not perceptions, faculty and staff can help students discourage their friends from abusing alcohol, rather than ignoring or accepting the behavior. "Most people really would like to do something about it; we need to give them the courage to do it," Berkowitz said.

  • Create an environment for class discussion that eliminates "barriers." For example, Berkowitz said a student who concedes in a large group that "there's no way students won't drink during Veishea weekend," might have more positive, constructive comments to offer in a small group setting.

  • Coordinate faculty-staff efforts across campus (classes, residence halls, student orientation, for example). Efforts will work best if they are "coordinated and synergistic," Berkowitz said. "It tells the students, 'We're working on this together, we care about you.'" It requires collaboration between faculty and student affairs units, he said.

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