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Presenter Tom Doughman (Counseling & Psychological Services)

NCAA Grant Helps Drive Steps to Address Alcohol Abuse

Student-life leaders from 44 Catholic universities discussing the culture of alcohol use on college campuses learned of new approaches at St. Norbert at their annual conference last month. 

Tom Doughman (Counseling & Psychological Services) delivered the presentation about new alcohol protocols and programming at the 2016 ASACCU (Association for Student Affairs at Catholic Colleges and Universities) Conference, July 19-21.

The culture of alcohol use in the state promotes a college culture of drinking that is of appropriate concern at St. Norbert, Doughman told delegates. He pointed to Wisconsin’s status as the number-one consumer of brandy in the country, as just one example of the regional propensity for heavy alcohol consumption.

A new $30,000 grant from the NCAA is supporting efforts at St. Norbert to continue shifting the campus culture toward responsible attitudes and behaviors regarding alcohol consumption. The grant, which will also help fund fun, safe, alcohol-free recreational alternatives on campus, is specifically targeted to athletes and first-year students. St. Norbert is one of four Division III schools to be awarded a grant this cycle. 

The state-wide context
Doughman told the conference (hosted this year at St. Norbert), “In Wisconsin, the density of bars outweighs the number of grocery stores in our communities. [Generally], one of the expectations of going to college is having fun. When I went to college – it was in Wisconsin – in the handbook, the [maximum amount allowed] was one full case of beer per resident and one quart of liquor per resident.”

Binge drinking is defined as a minimum of five drinks in a two-hour sitting for a man and four drinks for a woman. While a number of college students drink heavily, according to Doughman, he explained that fortunately, for the most part, those at St. Norbert are not drinking and driving. 

A new approach
Delegates benefiting from the St. Norbert experience as a case study learned of a 2011 incident in which St. Norbert students were ticketed for underage drinking at a house party, prompting a new approach to addressing the culture of alcohol on campus. The college had long had rules in place for drinking offenses, but “the procedure part was muddy,” Doughman explained.

As the 2011 conversation continued, rumors spread among students that St. Norbert was going to become a dry campus. “We were not talking about eliminating alcohol use altogether,” said Doughman. “We just wanted to promote responsible behaviors and choices around that.”

The college established an initial Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force. The name was later revised to the Responsible Choices Task Force, with membership comprised of representatives from the faculty as well as from Alumni & Parent Relations, Athletics, Admission and Residential Education & Housing.

An understanding by students of the course of action following an infraction was essential, Doughman told the conference. “We didn’t have a clear line of communication,” he said. “If you did something against the policy [before the new protocols were in place], what would happen was kind of a mystery. 

“We really stressed education, wanted to make sure people were safe, implemented a Good Samaritan policy; if somebody is breaking the rules, but their health is at risk, we forgive them of any kind of probationary sanction or disciplinary action to keep the person safe.”

The process at St. Norbert following any infraction now begins with a Judicial Affairs referral of the student to Counseling & Psychological Services and Health & Wellness. A two-part interview session follows. The first session includes a general assessment and addresses substance abuse history, family history and consequences of use. The second session features an online self-assessment. The need for future sessions is then determined.

MyStudentBody is the self-assessment website used by the college. Other online resources utilized include AlcoholEdu, another survey site; 360 Proof, a tutorial website for athletic coaching staffs and administrators; and BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students) – steps for doing an individual alcohol assessment.

Party.O is a franchise that provides supplies for sober programming. Six Party.O events were held at St. Norbert last year.

“They had attendance of 100 each night,” Doughman told ASACCU attendees. “The second night, the police showed up and were stunned because the kids didn’t run like cockroaches in the night. The police realized they were just noisy!”

Student-affairs leaders at colleges and universities have an advantage, said Doughman. Earlier in his career, when he worked at substance-abuse outpatient treatment facilities, “no news was good news.” His hope was not to see new offenses by patients in the newspaper police reports.

“The neat thing about a college campus, not only do you see a crisis, but you triage and treat,” he explained. “You can see someone blossom and excel.” 

The residential experience
Efforts to maintain St. Norbert as a residential campus have also helped the college promote responsible choices, Doughman told the conference.

Living options, owned and operated by the college, include residence halls, apartments, townhouses and houses. Students are allowed to apply for commuter status if they live with their parents or legal guardians within 35 miles of the college. “In higher education, we have to be a small city,” explained the Rev. Jay Fostner, O.Praem., ’84 after the conference. Fostner, the vice president for mission and student affairs at St. Norbert, said, “This year we had 1,850 of our 2,100 students living in college housing. We’ve been purchasing more houses. We’ve wanted to be a four-year residential campus, but we never had the beds until now.”

Monthly safety checks are performed in all college housing that does not feature a resident assistant. While safety measures, such as fire extinguishers, are primarily checked, St. Norbert personnel also look for signs of excess alcohol use. “We love having our students live in college housing. It is so helpful,” says Fostner. “We can better communicate with our students. We are not trying to come down on them. We just want them to understand the dangers of overusing alcohol.”   

Aug. 2, 2016