Campus-wide alcohol use survey initiates committee formation

In response to last spring’s survey of student alcohol use, the College is preparing to open conversations regarding alcohol use on campus and its effects on student life. The survey, which was e-mailed to the student body in March, examined students’ experience with and reaction to alcohol on campus. The response rate for all participating institutions was 66 percent, and 71 percent of students at the College – or 1508 of the 2118 then-enrolled students – responded.

A number of questions regarding student health and alcohol use were also part of the National Health Association Survey sent out in the spring of 2011; the Health Center has had the results of that survey since fall 2011 and has been using them to understand the wellness concerns of the student body. The National Health Association Survey also gathered statistics on sexual assault at the College and at peer institutions, which were released in February (“College reports stats on sexual assault,” Feb. 22).

Last spring’s survey arose from concerns among deans of peer institutions regarding alcohol on their campuses. In their comments on the survey, these deans wrote that the survey was meant to capture information regarding “not only drinking habits, but also the health, academic, and social experience of our students and how those may be influenced by their own alcohol use and by the alcohol use of others. The survey also inquired about student perceptions about current alcohol-related policies and practices on our campuses.”

The results from this survey – which was distributed to 20,000 students overall – provide invaluable data specifically regarding small, residential liberal arts colleges that will help these institutions move forward with new strategies and conversations regarding alcohol-related issues.

In response to the survey’s results, the deans’ office is preparing to formulate a working group that will help to address these issues and determine how the student body and the community as a whole would like to continue  fostering discussions around alcohol use on campus.

Bolton said that conversations about alcohol use on campus are already prevalent within certain contexts of student life.

“The conversation that has been ongoing at Williams, that has come up within a lot of groups, is about what’s happening with alcohol on campus, how is it impacting people, how can we make people feel better, what are things that people would like to be different?” Bolton said. “And we’ve seen that conversation at [College Council (CC)], it’s been part of the conversation CC lead last year about [Junior Advisor] roles, and part of the conversation Ben Lamb [assistant director for student involvement] led about the structure of social events on campus.  So there’s a vibrant, ongoing conversation that these data can become a part of.”

While Bolton mentioned that she is discussing how to utilize the data appropriately with deans at peer institutions, the College’s priority in response to the survey will be fostering on-campus discussion

on the topic. “I think the main goal for us this year is to kind of pull together a lot of these different threads into both a campus-wide conversation and also a more focused kind of working group that could look at everything and say, ‘These are different perspectives on what’s working and what’s not working at Williams, are there different things that we’d like to try that may be helpful to the community?’” she said.

The specific student, faculty and staff committee that will be formed to examine the data from the survey and decide on next steps will hopefully be formed by mid-October, according to Bolton.

Given the sensitive nature of the data collected from the survey, Bolton declined to share the results of the survey with the student body at this time, indicating that doing so might jeopardize the progress of the committee.

While the group will be restricted in size for logistical reasons, Bolton and Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass explained the group will follow the lead of the bias incident response team’s model, encompassing a variety of perspectives within the group and will invite guest speakers to ensure a wide spectrum of campus viewpoints are represented.

“One of the things we want to make sure is the group is in good connection with other student-faculty committees that work on student life issues,” Bolton said. She referenced the Committee on Undergraduate Life and Students Against Silence, as well as the Committee on Diversity and Community among other groups, as particularly important opportunities for collaboration and discussion.

“We’re at a moment where … there’s so much interest in this from so many different angles. To over-orchestrate it, I think, might obscure some of those voices for awhile, so I think just taking this chance to get together and to talk about it and to let it breathe for however long it wants to [is important],” Klass said.

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