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Thursday, July 24, 2014

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Alcohol Coalition Committee issues strategic plan on high-risk drinking

After four months of work, Princeton's Alcohol Coalition Committee (ACC) has issued a strategic plan to address high-risk drinking among undergraduates. The report recommends a structure to sustain the ACC’s efforts, identifies ideas in five strategic areas for further review, describes three initiatives that have already been launched and calls for the collection of data that could provide direction for the future.

Made up mostly of students but also including faculty and staff, the committee presented its report to the Healthier Princeton Advisory Board on May 9.

"The Alcohol Coalition Committee had a very challenging task to put together a strategic plan in a short amount of time," said Sanjeev Kulkarni, professor of electrical engineering and master of Butler College, who co-chaired the committee with Agatha Offorjebe, a junior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. "The committee was extremely pleased with the involvement and support from so many parts of the University community, which was crucial to the success of our efforts."

Offorjebe added, "Student participation has been essential to the success of this process. It was nice to see students, faculty, staff and community members coming together to discuss such an important issue. We hope that this same kind of process is one that we will see not only with regards to alcohol policies, but with other campus life issues as well."

The committee was formed in late November and was charged by the Healthier Princeton Advisory Board with taking a comprehensive look at issues related to high-risk alcohol use. Although there was no single incident that compelled the formation of the ACC, there was a strong sense that high-risk drinking was a matter of concern, according to the report. Princeton, like many schools across the country, is considering how best to address the issue.

Beginning in January, ACC leaders held more than 30 stakeholder meetings with student, staff, alumni and community groups. The committee also organized three themed workshops that each were attended by about 100 participants, more than half of whom were students. "The workshops were a terrific way to bring together students, faculty, staff and community partners to participate in a highly productive dialogue," Kulkarni said.

Reports from the workshops and information from the stakeholder meetings were taken into account in the preparation of the strategic plan, as well as three other sources: the work of a planning group that met last fall; data collected about Princeton; and a review of best practices at other colleges and universities.

The committee intended to address high-risk drinking from a strategic, rather than a tactical, standpoint. Instead of proposing a specific list of initiatives, it offers three broad recommendations to provide vision and direction for ongoing efforts:

  • Creation of a standing body much like the ACC to foster continuing discussion about high-risk drinking and coordinate all efforts to address such drinking across the University. The ACC also recommends the creation of ad hoc working groups, comprising students, faculty, staff, community partners as appropriate, and members of the new standing body to study in detail the possible implementation of specific initiatives. Each such working group would be chaired by a member of the office that would be responsible for carrying out the initiative.
  • Further review of ideas and initiatives in several strategic areas that emerged as having significant potential impact on the culture of high-risk drinking. These areas are: education; policies, procedures and discipline; activities, programs and events; structures and environment; and communication and partnerships. In the report, the ACC offers a number of concrete ideas, including expanding educational and mentoring programs, enhancing recreation opportunities, establishing a campus pub, considering steps such as imposing a ban on hard alcohol and removing the ban on kegs, and continuing to build strong relationships between the University and the Princeton community.
  • Continued exploration of data acquisition, management, use and dissemination for assistance in delineating the scope and nature of the issue; creating awareness and engagement; providing direction for decision-making and initiatives; and assessing and quantifying progress through concrete metrics.
At its meeting, the Healthier Princeton Advisory Board endorsed the strategic plan and strongly supported the effort going forward. The new group will report directly to Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life, but will continue to give periodic updates to the advisory board, which she co-chairs.

Dickerson announced that the co-chairs of the new group will be Elizabeth Dilday, a junior majoring in history, and Amy Campbell, recently promoted to the position of director of campus life initiatives in her office. Dilday served on the ACC and was a workshop co-chair. Campbell was the ACC project manager.

Kulkarni informed the board that the ACC already has launched three initiatives: consideration of a party registration system through the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students; re-evaluation of the alcohol education course that is part of Princeton’s new student orientation; and enhancement of the senior exit survey to assess the impact of alcohol use on the Princeton experience of seniors.

In addition, the group counts among its successes to date its ability to create conversation, engagement and awareness.

"The efforts of the ACC led not only to broader awareness across the University community about high-risk drinking, but also to conversations and engagement by a wide range of constituents," the report states. "This developed a sense of ownership for the issue of high-risk drinking and support for sustaining an effort moving forward."

The way in which the group conducted its work reaped many benefits, according to the committee.

"The hallmark of the ACC's approach was the open and transparent dialogue among students, faculty, staff, alumni and the broader community," the report states. "Having conversations in such an open and transparent way involving so many people helped generate a multitude of ideas."

Robert Durkee, vice president and secretary of the University and co-chair of the Healthier Princeton Advisory Board, said, "This group has moved us off the starting line and on our way to creating a successful strategy for dealing with high-risk drinking among students. We're not at the finish line yet, but this is a significant step in the right direction. We look forward to much progress in the coming year."

The new committee will include undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff. Those interested in possibly joining the new committee or commenting on the report are encouraged to e-mail acc@princeton.edu.

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