UMass Campus and Community Coalition attempts to reduce high-risk drinking has adverse effect
The other day, I sat down in a booth at the Worcester dining common, and like most days, there was a small paper flier at one end of the table. The flier wasn’t an advertisement for a university sponsored club or an upcoming local event, but a quick public service announcement of sorts for the University of Massachusetts Amherst Campus and Community Coalition (CCC) to reduce high-risk drinking.
The content of the flier was relatively brief. Aside from the contact information of the CCC listed at the bottom, the flier simply said, “Did you know that 72 percent of UMass students support the campus alcohol policies?”
My first reaction to that statement was near certain disbelief that it could possibly be true. Admittedly, I haven’t done any statistical studies or scientific polls of the campus population, but in all fairness, the flier didn’t cite any study either. Let’s crunch the numbers here for a moment. According to the flier, since 72 percent of students apparently “support the campus alcohol policies,” that would mean, by simple subtraction, that no more than 28 percent of students fail to support campus alcohol policies.
The first clause of Section II of the Code of Student Conduct D.10 concerning alcohol policies for residence halls and university approved housing, according to the UMass web site, states that, “No person under 21 years of age may possess, use or be under the influence of alcohol.” There are several other clauses regarding the campus alcohol policies, but this one alone should suffice in making my point. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched of a concept to equate violation of campus alcohol policies with failing to support said policies. If the statement that no more than 28 percent of students fail to support campus alcohol policies was true, this means that less than a third of campus residents violate campus alcohol policies by supporting, allowing or otherwise engaging in the possession or use of alcohol by anyone under 21 years of age. This claim, at least to me, seems incredulous at best.
However, the potential disingenuous nature of the statement was not the only thing that bothered me about it. Let’s put aside questioning the legitimacy of the statistics at hand. Obviously, this flier, like many others seen around campus, is an attempt to limit the dangerous consequences of severe abuse of alcohol. Let me first say that I have absolutely no problem with that.
In fact, I fully support the campus’ and community’s willingness to reach out and try to prevent unnecessary tragedy and damage at the hands of substance abuse. Alcohol, like many available substances, can be enjoyed with reason and in moderation. However, it has numerous potentially hazardous short and long term effects that students should know about.
That being said, I feel they are going about this in entirely the wrong way. This advertisement for the CCC was not the first of its kind that I’ve seen around campus. Every bulletin board, hallway and dorm building is filled with fliers spouting off supposedly persuasive statistical findings regarding alcohol consumption and abuse on campus.
For example, one message, which the CCC deems a “social norms message” according to its website, boldly states, “3 out of 4 UMass students feel comfortable refusing a drink. Are you one of them?” This message is set against a backdrop of four white kids clad in UMass apparel fresh off the racks of the UStore enjoying themselves a little too profusely at what seems to be a university athletic event.
Once again, let’s temporarily disregard the initial skepticism towards the truth-value of the statement. The problem I have with this sort of message is how it’s constructed towards me. I feel like I’m watching a Coca-Cola commercial. They’re basically using statistics – misleading ones at best, no less – to promote responsible drinking by way of crowd mentality. You should “want” to be more like 75 percent of your peers; ergo you shouldn’t drink as much.
Like I said, I agree with the message, but this is not the best context to put it in. It only adds to the alienating tone by shamelessly asking, “Are you one of them?” while showing the four “normal” kids enjoying themselves with no drinks in their hands.
We shouldn’t be getting people to abstain from dangerous activities by convincing them it’s the “cool thing” to do so.
I’ll let the CCC in on a little secret: when it comes to peer pressure, the people “getting” students to drink too much pretty much already have that market cornered.
In this day and age, our generation is hyper-aware, if only subconsciously, of when someone is being genuine with them and when someone is “pitching” them an idea and merely trying to sell them on a certain subject. These campus alcohol policy messages feel more like the latter. That’s how one goes about moving used cars, but it’s not how one should go about educating students about policies and consequences regarding substance abuse.
When organizations such as the CCC, who obviously have the best intentions in mind, structure their public service messages like commercials, they inherently treat the student like a target demographic upon whom they are merely pushing a product.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t personally respond very well to those types of messages, even though I agree with the ideologies. They make the audience feel dictated to and alienated, feelings that can often lead to substance abuse.
I believe these messages to students about the adverse effects of substance abuse should be more conversational in nature. They should focus less on pressure to conform to some sort of social norm and more on addressing the dire effects of substance abuse.
Dave Coffey is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.