University of Florida
Reducing High-Risk Drinking Among College Students
- University of Florida: Enrollment 51,725
- City of Gainesville: 114,375
BackgroundIn 1999, after the University of Florida–University of Tennessee home football game, an alcohol-related fight resulted in the death of two young adults. This event caused an outcry among many for UF to curb high-risk alcohol use. A combination of events led the university to realize a multifaceted, multilevel program was needed to address alcohol abuse among students.
In spring 2000 UF administration formed the Alcohol and Drug Education Policy Committee (ADEPC) to address students’ high-risk drinking and other drug use with the mission to “Create an environment that promotes student wellness and academic success by providing leadership and coordinating multidisciplinary efforts, in an attempt to reduce the prevalence of alcohol and other drug problems.” As a result of this committee’s recommendations a series of policy initiatives were implemented. In fall 2000 a parental notification policy went into effect so that in most cases a parent or legal guardian is notified by a university official if the parent’s or guardian’s under 21 child is transported to the hospital for an alcohol-related incident. That same year UF implemented a policy requiring a one-semester suspension for students convicted of driving under the influence on or off campus. In 2004, UF also banned the distribution of alcohol advertising and other promotional materials on campus, such as flyers from local bars and clubs.
In addition, in 2002 the University Athletic Association, Inc., passed a no-reentry policy during athletic contests and at entertainment events that limits spectator access to alcohol. In 2003 UF implemented a game day survey, which has been administered annually. Researchers identified the student age group that drank the most on game days, and it subsequently formed recommendations for the campus to provide more alcohol-free game day alternatives and designate specific tailgating areas, with a limit on the number of tailgating hours permitted.
“When Bernard Machen became UF’s president in January 2004 he took the issue of alcohol and drug use by students very seriously,” said Maureen Miller, coordinator for alcohol and other drug prevention, GatorWell Health Promotion Services.
“At that time we also held a town hall meeting facilitated by staff from the [U.S. Department of Education’s] Higher Education Center that included several key campus and community stakeholders and led to the formation of three subcommittees that met during the spring and summer 2005 semesters. These subcommittees created and provided a series of recommendations to President Machen. In fall 2005 he then formed the Community Alcohol Coalition. He chairs the coalition, which meets once a semester. Having key administration support especially from the president on down is a huge factor when addressing this issue,” Miller added.
Members of this coalition included community stakeholders who had attended the 2005 Higher Education Center–led town meeting and others from the surrounding community and local government. Also during 2005, President Machen pledged his support to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV,” which advocated eliminating alcohol advertising during National Collegiate Athletic Association sporting events. He also banned alcohol and tobacco sponsorship at the Rascal Flats concert and other venues taking place on the UF campus. In addition, he followed the recommendations for college and university presidents on alcohol and other drug abuse prevention outlined in the report of the Presidents Leadership Group, Be Vocal, Be Visible, Be Visionary: Recommendations for College and University Presidents on Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention.
In addition, in an attempt to create a health promoting environment, UF launched a series of complementary initiatives. For example, interviews and other survey research with students discovered a widespread misconception that all UF students drink to excess. As a result, GatorWell Health Promotion Services began a health information campaign named “8 out of 10 UF Students Find a Drunk Person Less Attractive—Sober is Sexy.” The campaign sought to correct UF students’ perceptions of alcohol consumption, specifically that consuming alcohol or drinking excessively was not the norm.
In 2006, UF was awarded a U.S. Department of Education Grant to Prevent High-Risk Drinking or Violent Behavior Among College Students. The four grant goals included reducing the prevalence of high-risk drinking among first-year students, reducing the number of negative consequences related to alcohol use, decreasing the prevalence of high-risk drinking on game day, and changing the perception that alcohol facilitates sexual opportunities. Also in 2006, all students entering UF, including freshmen and transfer students, were required to complete an online alcohol education program prior to registering for spring semester classes.
As a result of multiple interventions, between 2004 and 2008, the UF high-risk drinking rate decreased by 19.8 percent.
Current Prevention EffortsPrevention efforts at UF are evidence-based and guided by the social ecological model, as part of an overall comprehensive strategy. In 2009 UF was awarded a Models of Exemplary, Effective, and Promising Alcohol or Other Drug Abuse Prevention Programs on College Campuses grant from the U.S. Department of Education to further enhance its individual-, campus-, and community-level prevention efforts through the use of a social norms marketing campaign, a variety of on-campus policy changes, strong administrative leadership and support from the president’s office, and persistent enforcement.
“We work closely with the Alachua County Coalition-Partners in Prevention of Substance Abuse (PIPSA). When we were awarded the models program grant we used some of the funds to help support the town hall meeting that PIPSA holds annually. The PIPSA coalition received some grant funding and used it to help the Gainesville Police Department outfit a trailer as a safety ‘kiosk.’ Officers go out on Wednesday and Saturday nights, the heavy drinking nights, and look for students who may need help to keep them safe and give them assistance,” said Principal Investigator Virginia Dodd, who is an associate professor in the Department of Health Education & Behavior.
One of the successful policy initiatives the ADEPC focused on was a city of Gainesville ordinance prohibiting establishments with a certain number of serving underage patron violations from allowing 18- to 20-year-olds from entering the bar or club.
“If bars are cited a certain number of times for exceeding their capacity limits or for serving people under the age of 21 they lose the ability to admit 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds into their establishment after 9 o’clock at night. It was a very controversial policy. But at that time the ADEPC chairperson was a Gainesville city commissioner, so we worked with her, went to the hearings, sent letters, and did all that we could to support the ordinance,” said Miller. “This ordinance rewards establishments who follow the rules and restricts those who do not.”
“Recently we tried to get ‘ladies night’ drink specials discontinued but because of Florida state law we were not able to act locally. But we were able to use the city of Gainesville’s antidiscrimination ordinance to prevent establishments from offering free or discounted alcohol to someone based on their gender. Maureen met with the director of Gainesville’s Office of Equal Opportunity and presented him with fact sheets we had developed based on the information we learned from our research. As a result, establishments were notified to stop such promotions and it is now being enforced,” said Dodd.
Evaluation“We evaluate our prevention efforts through a number of ways. Of course, we conduct a biennial review in compliance with federal regulations. We work closely with the University Police Department to track the number of on-campus driving under the influence offenses. We receive information from Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution and the Counseling & Wellness Center to track the number of alcohol violations. We also work with Residence Life to track the number of hospital transports for alcohol or drug overdoses. Continuously monitoring these data and other problem indicators enables us to gauge problem levels and determine whether we are meeting our goals and objectives,” said Dodd.
UF also administers the Core Alcohol and Drug Survey to obtain information on student behaviors and problems. In addition, support from the Department of Education has enabled UF to collect qualitative data through focus groups, which has opened up other avenues for program development.
“For example, the College of Journalism and Communications has used the data we collected through focus groups and surveys. Students were assigned to develop a marketing campaign based on information Maureen and I shared. At the end of the semester each group presented their final product, treating us as though we were their clients. This experience provided us with a great deal of insight from the perspective of communication and marketing strategies, which is quite different from that of health education,” said Dodd.
One of UF’s latest campaign efforts is based on an idea formed from journalism and communications students, entitled “When I Drink Too Much.” Messages center on the experiences of students when they drink too much. Experiences include those relating to “texting under the influence,” such as “When I drink too much I send my mom texts meant for my girlfriend. She knows way too much about my relationships now.”
Lessons LearnedAccording to Miller, strong relationships and collaborations not only on campus but within the community and across the state are very important in supporting prevention efforts. “I currently serve as the chair-elect for our statewide coalition, Florida Higher Education Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention. This coalition has provided us with the opportunity to work with the Florida Board of Governors to address alcohol issues within higher education, which is a first,” she said.
Dodd emphasized it is important not to get discouraged if drinking rates go up. “Remember, we are dealing with a new crop of students every year,” she said.
“In addition, you cannot do this kind of work in a silo. To really succeed we need a great deal of assistance from a lot of people. But we also recognize we must be willing to help others succeed in their efforts as well,” Dodd concluded. “This often means involvement in a variety of coalitions and committees external to UF. The question we continually ask ourselves is, “Who wins if we win?” Once we have the answer we try to find ways to help them succeed, and in turn, they help us to succeed. And when we succeed, UF students benefit, which is the ultimate goal of our efforts here at UF.”