Yale is devoting more resources and staff toward efforts to evaluate drinking culture and promote healthier habits among students.
The Alcohol and Other Drugs Harm Reduction Initiative, a unit of the Yale College Dean’s Office, is set for a significant expansion next year. It has already created new paid student intern positions and is in the midst of searching for a director. Seven upperclassmen were selected as interns at the end of March, and the director is expected to be hired by the end of the term, according to Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd, who oversees the office.
These new additions will significantly increase both the size and capacity of AODHRI, which is currently supported by four staffers who work on policy assessment and educational programming surrounding Yale’s harm reduction initiatives. AODHRI was launched in 2011.
Because of the number of changes that have been made to Yale’s alcohol policies in recent years, such as the implementation of a Medical Emergency Policy that promises not to discipline students who call for help, having a director to oversee and assess existing guidelines will help pull together disparate policies, University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews said. She added that efforts to increase campus safety extend beyond alcohol to the work done by groups like the Communication and Consent Educators, who focus on preventing sexual violence.
“It’s really important to have someone who can oversee the entire [AODHRI] initiative from start to finish,” she said. “Someone who’s looking at what’s going on when people are referred to [the Executive Committee], what’s going on with educational components, but also doing it in a way that complements the other things being done to build a safe campus. Having a person who fits into that overall framework but is also focused on alcohol will make the initiative run better and help it be more confident in everything it does.”
Boyd said the director will take over some responsibilities currently assigned to her and to Director of Student Life Hannah Peck DIV ’11. These responsibilities include designing new educational and social programming, as well as incorporating public health research about factors that influence alcohol and drug use on college campuses. The director will work closely with the Yale College Dean’s Office, Yale Health and the Yale Police Department.
She and Peck will both remain involved with AODHRI, Boyd said, adding that the director will simply allow the program to expand in scope.
Three candidates for the director’s position are being interviewed by a search committee composed of student life administrators, students, a residential college dean, a residential college master and Chief Psychiatrist of Mental Health and Counseling Lorraine Siggins, said Boyd, who is also on the committee. Candidates also meet with other administrators and students while on campus, including Goff-Crews, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry.
Among the students who will have a chance to meet the candidates are the new AODHRI interns. While students have had input on alcohol policy in an advisory capacity in the past, Student Affairs Fellow Hana Awwad ’14 said, the intern positions will allow a core group of students to play a consistent role in shaping and implementing new initiatives.
In addition to helping with existing programs, such as bartender training and freshman alcohol education, the interns will focus most of their energy on developing new programming, said Student Affairs Fellow David Lindsey ’12. Because students are the most familiar with alcohol culture on campus, they are an ideal source of ideas, he said.
“Students are particularly familiar with the details and challenges of hosting a fun and safe event on campus, so it makes sense to have students with additional training and knowledge help their peers think through the planning process,” Lindsey said.
Leah Motzkin ’16, one of the newly hired interns, said she has witnessed instances when students are confused about Yale’s alcohol policies and concerned about getting in trouble, even when safety is at stake. Her goal is to spread awareness of Yale’s safety-first policy, she said, adding that having students as the mouthpiece of that message will ensure that the information comes across clearly.
When asked if she had any concerns about engaging students from her position as a student, rather than that of an authority figure, Motzkin emphasized that peer-to-peer conversation is the key to helping administrators shape effective policy.
“AODHRI’s goals are the same as the student body’s: to have a fun campus culture that is also safe,” she said. “We can only find more creative and fun initiatives through ongoing dialogue between the student body and the administration.”