Although GW’s alcohol-related hospitalizations dropped slightly this semester, the University may discontinue its three-year-old anti-binge drinking campaign at the end of the spring.
There were 39 alcohol-related hospitalizations since September, down from 44 at this time in 2002, according to Student Judicial Services. Hospitalizations also fell from seven to three over Halloween weekend.
Director of SJS Tara Woolfson said several programs that educate students about drinking have helped curb the number of alcohol-related hospitalizations this year.
One of the Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education’s largest marketing tools is its “social norms” campaign, responsible for the posters around campus that report 68 percent of GW students have zero to four drinks when they party. Statistics are based on a random sample of GW undergraduates polled in 2000.
The University began the social norms campaign in 2000 as part of a four-year grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Education Development Center, the U.S. Department of Education and the Golden Key National Honour Society.
CADE Director Brian Hamluk said GW was one of 16 schools chosen to receive the grant. Researchers will evaluate the campaign’s effects on drinking at GW at the end of the semester.
The University will decide whether to fund the social norms campaign once the grant expires this spring.
“It all depends on the outcome of the study,” said Peter Konwerski, special assistant to the senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services. “And that information will not be available until later this spring.”
The campaign is designed to curb alcohol use by showing students the “reality” of alcohol consumption on campus. According to the posters, most students on campus do not binge drink.
“Students vastly overestimate the amount of drinking that occurs on college campuses,” Hamluk said. “Social norms gives students real facts.”
But some studies have shown social norms campaigns do not deter drinking on college campuses. A Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study released this summer found that social norms marketing might actually increase drinking.
Mark Seibring, who was involved in the Harvard study, said there are several strategies that are effective in reducing “high-risk drinking among college students, including enforcing tougher penalties for alcohol-associated violations, limiting students’ access to alcohol, raising the price of alcohol and controlling the marketing of alcohol in college communities.”
“Of course, these strategies are usually more difficult to implement than a social norms marketing campaign, but there is credible evidence that these strategies work,” Seibring said.
Hamluk criticized the Harvard study for failing to distinguish between levels of campaign intensity within the sampled universities and for ignoring the differences in the amount of time campaigns were conducted.
About 48 percent of four-year colleges and universities conducted social norms campaigns by 2001, including the University of Arizona, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina, according to numbers provided by Seibring.
The University of Virginia began its social norms campaign for first-year students in 2000 by placing “stall seat journals” in bathroom stalls of freshman residence halls displaying statistics about students’ alcohol-related behavior. The university expanded to a campus-wide campaign of posters once the program began showing positive results.
Jennifer Bauerle, UVA’s social norms marketing coordinator, said the program focuses on deterring the negative consequences associated with drinking.
“We want to look at more than just how many drinks per week students are drinking, but further into the negative consequences (associated with drinking),” Bauerle said.
According to a social norms report released in 2003, UVA has seen a decrease in dangerous behavior associated with alcohol among its students.
Although GW’s alcohol-related hospitalizations have decreased, violations have increased slightly from last year. There were 233 alcohol violations so far this year, up 12 from last fall.
Hamluk said he believes the social norms campaign has played a role in the decreasing number of alcohol-related hospitalizations on campus.
But some students and campus leaders criticized the University for using the campaign as a way to simplify alcohol abuse.
“I think (social norms) may be a window dressing trying to show that the University is trying to do something about the alcohol issue,” said Eric Daleo, executive vice president of the Student Association.
CADE also offers programs involving peer educators, including TIMEOUT – an hour-long session for students with minor alcohol violations. Junior Eliot Danner, a TIMEOUT peer educator, said sessions focus on giving students a better understanding of the University’s alcohol policy.
Danner said the sessions are received positively by students, but not everyone takes TIMEOUT seriously.
“There are definitely students who say that after the TIMEOUT session they are going to go get drunk and that’s their business,” Danner said. “Our job is to get them the information.”
-Elizabeth Chernow contributed to this report.