Despite an unsuccessful search for a new alcohol policy director this summer, the University is moving forward with its plans to expand alcohol safety programming and offer more safe alternatives to Yale’s existing party culture.
In late April, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Harm Reduction Initiative — a unit of the Yale College Dean’s Office — announced plans for significant expansion, including hiring seven paid student interns to develop new programming and selecting a new director to oversee the initiative by the time classes resumed in the fall. The program has not yet hired a director, but the interns were hired in the spring and have already begun planning how to address big drinking events on campus, like Halloween and The Game, according to Student Affairs Fellow David Lindsey ’12.
“Our goal this year is to get [the interns] established on campus and start dialogue,” Lindsey said. “[We want to] let people know that they’re not here to rain on anyone’s parade but that they’re here to provide options.”
The search for the director, he added, will continue this semester. He emphasized that not having a director has not significantly hindered the office’s operations, as the YCDO has provided active support.
The interns meet weekly and provide a perspective on Yale’s drinking culture not readily accessible to administrators, Lindsey said.
“They give us a sense of what’s actually happening on campus, like ‘Where do people go?’” he said. “The perspective is invaluable because we don’t actually know student behavior without consulting students.”
Though the specifics of the interns’ projects have yet to be decided, one possible initiative would be to set up a tent at the Game that would provide food and water in an environment where alcohol is prevalent.
Some students interviewed were in favor of new educational programs, while others pointed out weaknesses in existing ones. David Guzhnay ’18 said he thought the “Think About It” online alcohol safety course required before freshman year was informative, but he added that by now he has forgotten much of what he learned.
Katie Choi ’18 noted that the education may not be as effective as possible because the information is not reinforced over time.
“We just got a bunch of [information] at the beginning of our freshman year, but people don’t get reminded about it over the next four years,” she said.
Li Wang ’17 suggested greater transparency from the University. If Yale communicated more statistics about dangerous drinking, he said, students would be encouraged to be safer.
All students interviewed agreed with Yale’s stance that alcohol is a medical rather than a disciplinary issue, and several knew students who had participated in AODHRI’s free bartender certification course.
There is evidence that Yale’s safety-first approach to drinking is working: Last February, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd told the News that the number of alcohol-related emergency transports initiated by students who were not Freshman Counselors had risen by 70 percent since fall 2012, partially due to educational programming. In addition, Lindsey said the introduction of the “Think About It” course three years ago was associated with a lower incidence of alcohol-related medical emergencies among freshmen at the beginning of last year.
Still, while experts on alcohol-abuse prevention said educational programming is an important first step, they cited less tangible changes, like addressing a school’s drinking culture, as necessary to enacting reform.
Traci Toomey, a professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota, said student knowledge of the adverse consequences of drinking is not enough to change habits. Individual factors like perceptions of social norms and environmental factors such as the availability of alcohol on campus are also important, she said.
According to Dolores Cimini, a professor at the University at Albany and an expert on alcohol-abuse prevention in college students, AODHRI’s push to provide non-alcoholic options is “protective behavior” — minimizing the risks associated with drinking.
“If there are options to reduce risks, then students will be more likely to consider those options,” she said.
Still, Toomey cautioned that input is often solicited from only those students who drink, noting that it is important to hear from students who do not drink as well. Lindsey said the AODHRI interns come from a variety of social backgrounds on campus, including sports teams, Greek life and other groups.
According to Cimini, student input is critical for an alcohol policy’s success. She cited theories in psychology which state that for policies to work best, the people affected by them should be involved in their creation.
“There are some pieces of policy that are not changeable — the law is the law,” Cimini said. “But just being involved in a process of development of new policies, even though they may be restrictive, does make a difference in terms of people feeling that they’re fair and that they should be enforced.”