Health Services officials put rumors regarding increasing alcohol problems and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) on campus to rest this week. In addition, Health Services hopes to put forth new and improved methods of promoting awareness about certain health issues among the student body.
This semester, there have been rumors circulating on campus concerning a possible increase in the number of students taken to the Health Center due to the over-consumption of alcohol. Many feel the strict enforcement of the Party Policy this year has led underage students, who no longer have access to alcoholic beverages at registered parties, to drink in their suites or individual rooms more often than in past years.
It is also believed that this new practice has caused an increase in the consumption of hard alcohol rather than the usual beer at parties, leading more students to seek help at the Health Center.
However, Health Center Director Ruth Harrison and Health Educator Donna Denelli-Hess claim the number of students coming to the Health Center and staying overnight due to alcohol related issues has not increased this year. Rather, the numbers have decreased this semester.
In 1998, before the stricter Party Policy came to pass, a total of 47 students stayed overnight at the Health Center for over-consumption of alcohol during the fall semester. In 1999, the total thus far is 33 students. In October 1998, 22 students were checked in, while October 1999 only saw 12 students who spent the night for alcohol-related reasons.
While it is impossible to judge whether the new Party Policy has in fact caused an increase in hazardous drinking practices on campus, Harrison and Denelli-Hess feel that the Health Center numbers speak for themselves.
Harrison and Denelli-Hess also put rumors regarding an increase in the number of STDs present on campus to rest. Though several students thought there were many cases of herpes and mononucleosis on campus, Health Services claims there have actually been very few findings of any STDs on campus. Though mononucleosis is prevalent at Williams, there has not been an unusually large number of cases found this year as compared to the recent past.
After hearing the many rumors that have been circulating around campus, Denelli-Hess stated, “if the students feel that there is a better way to get messages across, we’d like to know about it.”
Harrison supported this statement, saying, “The Health Center is open to students to work on anything they need to talk about.”
Health Services engages in several projects to help decrease risky behavior with alcohol and sex on campus. Harrison and Denelli-Hess are involved in Junior Advisor (JA) training. As part of the training, they encourage JAs to plan entry activities that are not solely focused on alcohol and drinking.
“When alcohol becomes the event, that’s when it starts to be a problem,” Denelli-Hess said.
In addition, Health Services helps to fund events that are alcohol-free or non-alcohol related. Such events include the Pow Wow at Goodrich Hall and Unity Weekend at the beginning of the semester.
Nurses and other Health Center staff members also talk to students about safe drinking while they are at the Health Center. According to Denelli-Hess, this is the most “teachable moment” and the best way to get through to the students.
The last method Health Services uses to educate students is the Peer Health Group, which gives entry talks about safe sex, puts up informative posters and offers call-ins and walk-ins for those who need it.
In the future, Health Services hopes to establish a new way of educating students about health issues. Next semester, the department will launch a “social norming” campaign, which is based on the notion that students on most campuses have warped perceptions of the number of people around them that engage in high-risk drinking. In the vast majority of cases this number is highly overestimated.
This campaign basically seeks to inform students of the actual situation of their respective campuses. Health Services believes that, by dispensing these facts, it will decrease high-risk drinking since students will feel less pressure to drink excessively at parties.
The campaign is based on advertising tactics. Health Services hopes to inform students via posters throughout campus, advertisements in the Record and other creative measures.
Social norming campaigns have been successfully implemented at such institutions as the Northern Illinois University, University of Arizona, Dartmouth College, University of South Florida, Amherst College and Wesleyan University.
Health Services is currently compiling the data necessary to launch the campaign. Statistics will be based upon student responses to a survey circulated last spring during room draws.
Overall, students seem to support such new, innovative ways of promoting awareness on campus.
“There needs to be a stronger push for concrete, updated information about such problems as drug use, alcoholism, and STDs on campus,” said Tim Menza ’01. “The Health Center needs to keep the public informed about these matters.”