Campus: CSU, Chico -- August 22, 2001

University Receives Federal Grant to Help Prevent Alcohol Abuse;
Education Campaign Includes Ads and Interviews with Student Drinkers

California State University, Chico has received a $276,590 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for a two-year program beginning this fall to reduce alcohol abuse and its negative consequences among first-year freshmen.

CSU, Chico was one of 14 campuses nationwide to receive word this summer that it had been awarded a federal anti-alcohol abuse grant. Other awardees included UC Berkeley, San Diego State, Michigan State, University of Virginia and University of Arizona. Walt Schafer, professor of sociology and program director, was informed the CSU, Chico grant proposal was ranked fourth by the panels of grant reviewers among 110 university applications for federal funding.

The grant-funded alcohol education program will blend two innovative approaches that depart from commonly-used efforts that emphasize the hazards of drinking. Both will begin this fall on campus.

One part, titled "Wanna Know?", will consist of a series of short interviews with students on 12 randomly-selected weekend nights each semester. Randomly-chosen freshmen will be asked to discuss their drinking, if any, that evening and to give a breath sample. These interviews will be voluntary and anonymous and will not in any way be related to enforcement of alcohol laws. A registered nurse and students trained as team leaders will conduct the interviews.

The "Wanna Know?" interviews will provide immediate, accurate information to students about their blood alcohol concentrations in order to assist them in making informed choices about their drinking. Information about warning signs of alcohol poisoning and advice for handling a friend showing these signs will be provided with the interview.

The second part of the program, titled "Did You Know?", is a social norming campaign that is based on the assumption that students tend to drink to the level they believe their peers drink. At CSU, Chico, as at many campuses nationwide, students over-estimate the amount of drinking among their peers and therefore orient their drinking to a false standard or norm. For example, a random sample survey of 874 CSU, Chico students during spring 2001 found students drank less often than believed by their peers.

Marketing techniques such as advertisements, posters, e-mails and other communications will be used to correct such widespread misperceptions among students by publicizing accurate facts about drinking, based on recent student surveys. Social norming campaigns have been found to be the single most effective method to diminish alcohol abuse at a number of other campuses in recent years.

Results of the "Wanna Know?" interviews and breath samples will be recorded to provide a more accurate picture than is now available about the actual drinking patterns of CSU, Chico freshmen. The University of North Carolina, which also has conducted breath sampling, found that actual blood alcohol levels of students were substantially lower than commonly believed. If similar findings emerge at CSU, Chico, they will be added to future social norming messages.

Schafer currently serves as special assistant for alcohol issues to CSU, Chico President Manuel Esteban. He is a member of the President's Advisory Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and served last year on the California State University's system-wide Chancellor's Committee on Alcohol Policies and Programs, which issued its report to the CSU board of trustees in July.

In addition to Schafer, the program staff includes program coordinator Melissa Stearns, a health educator; Neal Cline, an emergency medicine registered nurse at Enloe Hospital in Chico, who will be field supervisor; and Roland Lamarine, professor of health and community service, who will conduct the evaluation through Duerr Evaluation Resources of Chico. The program will also work closely with the university's Campus Alcohol and Drug Education Center (CADEC). CADEC is involved in many activities to combat substance abuse, including training peer educators, hosting the Fun Without Alcohol Fair and mailing birthday cards to students turning 21 years of age, urging them to make smart choices regarding alcohol and other drug abuse.

President Esteban said the federal grant will play an important part in the university's multi-faceted effort to curtail student drinking. "Our studies show that most Chico State students who drink do so responsibly most of the time. Still, we are redoubling our efforts on several fronts, some in concert with the wider Chico community, to reduce student alcohol abuse and its harmful effects, especially among underage drinkers and those who drink too much.

"Research across the country has shown that students will moderate their drinking if they have accurate information, especially about the level of drinking of their peers," Esteban said. "This research-based program will provide students with the facts to make better choices about alcohol. I'm very enthusiastic about this educational approach."

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