My Student Body: Failure of Health Education

By Kristin LaFratta

Courtesy John Loo/flickr
Courtesy John Loo/flickr

Alcohol. Drugs. Sex.

Push play and repeat.

The United States educational system has been fighting an ambitious war against these “evils” for years, hoping to warn the youth of our country of their devastating effects.

The University of Massachusetts, along with other major colleges such as Wake Forest and Louisiana State, uses the website, “My Student Body” to inform students further of such high-risk behavior.

Incoming freshmen are required to take an online health course that the site offers or else, as an email from University Health Services states, “you won’t be able to register for Spring classes.”

There is no arguing the benefits to preventative action in the case of alcohol, drugs and sex, but you can really only bring a horse to water.

The real beverage our generation wants, they drink.

One segment of the online health course asks students to enter a statistic for what they believe to be the percentage of peers that partake in drinking, drug use and sex. It then goes on to report that the number guessed is much higher than what is actually the case.

Are we all so cynical that we think the number of teens drinking and having sex is catastrophically higher than it actually is? Unlikely.

It happens in several high schools or facilities of underage kids: Students are handed an anonymous survey, in which they fill out how often they have used a specific substance.

What does a large portion of America’s paranoid youth do on these surveys?


Why? Despite the completely unambiguous term “anonymous,” they feel someone is going to link them with that little bubble they penciled in saying they smoke marijuana five times a week, and then use that information against them. Such paranoia is simply a repercussion of a very lawful society.

Laws are good. Laws make people lie.

Even if students are telling the truth, several reports show surveys are a very flawed means of producing valid statistics.

Stephen R. Porter, a professor at North Carolina State University, stated in his paper on the validity of college student surveys, “Contrary to popular belief, people have difficulty accurately reporting even simple information about themselves, especially after a short time has passed.”

If memory (especially a drunken, distorted memory) is a poor means of validity, students may be unintentionally lying on these surveys.

However, in comparison to other research, the statistics on My Student Body are shockingly low. It reads that 19 percent of college students smoke marijuana, and 3 percent illegally use prescription stimulants.

When comparing My Student Body’s findings to other research, the figures do not quite add up.

A USA Today article on college drug-use reports that in 2008, 19.6 percent of college students used marijuana. But that was four years ago.

Just two years later the percentage increased to 21.5 percent.

As for illegal use of prescription stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, the research of Professor Alan DeSantis at the University of Kentucky diverges significantly from that of My Student Body.

A CNN article on abuse of ADHD drugs by college students reports DeSantis’s findings: 30 percent use by all students and 50 percent use by solely juniors and seniors. One of the My Student Body website’s articles, “Everyone Drinks at College, Right?” presents a scenario where only four out of 40 party-goers are “extremely drunk.”

It does not take a party-goer to know a situation like this is simply too ideal.

Whether flawed surveys or plain lies, My Student Body is a poor means of accurately informing the incoming freshmen that are required to take the site’s course.

Perhaps by lowering their statistics, the program hopes to reassure students that not partaking in these dangerous activities is OK.

This false reassurance, however, becomes a question of ethics: By exaggerating the amount of students that do not participate in high-risk behaviors, are we not misleading our youth?

Will freshmen arrive to college realistically thinking 81 percent of the campus does not touch marijuana, only to find out how incredibly false that statistic is?

Or, perhaps, the common conception after all of the preaching and push, push, pushing against alcohol, drugs and sex has plateaued to a point where no one can take such information seriously.

Aside from the deafening drum of the prevention organizations and their warnings, the fact of the matter is that the temptation to experience what everyone is talking about can prove overwhelming.

Also, today’s society is one of contradictions: Don’t have sex, but here are free condoms and birth control in case you decide to anyway.

To pretend there is little high-risk activity going on in today’s liberal society is nothing short of ignorant.

Each generation is undoubtedly becoming more highly informed than their predecessors, yet the “problems” of drinking, drug use and sex are as widespread as ever.

If the legislative and health risks are not enough to stop half of our youth from drinking, using drugs and having sex, what will?

How to fix the issue of high-risk behaviors is the question professionals have been tackling for years.

Maybe the words “fix” and “issue” are the problem.

There is likely no definite solution that will end these behaviors. Just maybe if there was less talk about them being “problems,” but actual, realistic facets of our society, younger generations will not be so eager to test them.

Throw out the statistics and lay down the facts. By the time students enter college, they must have the ability to make their own independent, informed decisions. Indeed, curing this rebellious epidemic is an ambitious task; but the false sense of safety offered in student surveys and health education is surely a step in the wrong direction.

Kristin LaFratta is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].