Research reveals that the norms of college drinking behaviors in general
are different from-and better than-the perceptions of drinking behavior.
By Lisa M. Cania M'82
Scene 1: Free cake, ice cream and balloons. Billiards, foosball, electronic
darts and board games. Popcorn. It's a party-a 21st birthday party,
courtesy of St. Lawrence University's Alcohol Initiative. And the guest
of honor has heard the message "It's OK Not to Drink" in the
card she received from her St. Lawrence family. She also learned, through
the birthday card, that a recent national survey of students celebrating
their 21st birthdays revealed that 30% did not drink any alcoholic beverages
and that if she does decide to drink, it's smart to decide in advance
how many drinks she will have.
Scene 2: Dana Dining Center, lunchtime. At each table, in the middle
of the jumble of plates, glasses and utensils, a table tent challenges
students to answer the question "How many times per week does the
average first-year student at St. Lawrence drink?" Flip the table
tent around and the answer is revealed: "65% of SLU first-year
students report they drink only once or twice per week."
Scene 3: Back in the University Center, 2 a.m. Saturday. The Underground
(a lounge area that in past lives has been everything from a bowling
alley to a meeting room) is packed with students. Tonight the students
are celebrating Carnival, the famous pre-Lenten festival of Venetian
fame. In a couple of weeks, they'll have a luau. Free food brings them
in, good company keeps them there.
Clearly these programs acknowledge that students drink, despite the
fact that most are under the legal age of 21. To deny this is to ignore
a reality of adolescent life. Just as clearly, the programs are designed
to educate students about responsible drinking and to provide alternatives
to events that are focused solely on alcohol consumption.
Will they work? According to the best, most contemporary research on
alcohol use and abuse among college students, yes.
"Students overestimate the number of peers who drink heavily,
and they accept that heavy drinking is the norm. We want students to
have the facts, and the facts say that most St. Lawrence students drink
responsibly, if they drink at all."
--Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Sarah Dakin