NESCAC surveys on alcohol use

On Feb. 26, the deans of the NESCAC colleges sent a campus-wide email, informing students that NESCAC will conduct a survey to “understand current students’ alcohol use and the alcohol culture.” The survey was distributed via email to students on March 1 by Dean Bolton. Tufts is administering the survey. All of the NESCAC schools are participating, with the exception of Trinity.

“Whether you are a drinker or non-drinker,” Bolton said in her email , “your contribution is crucial for us so we can obtain an accurate picture of the role of alcohol in the student experience on our campuses. The results of the common survey will enable us to assess the current state on our individual campuses and then be able to compare those results to true peer schools. Our hope is that the results will help reveal best practices and allow us to develop and implement better services, programs, and policies to meet your needs and suggest innovative initiatives for our campuses.”

As of Monday, the College had the second highest response rate among participating colleges, closely following Bowdoin.

The NESCAC conducted an alcohol survey once before in 2012. Bowdoin administered the survey, which had a 66 percent response rate, with 71 percent of students at the College responding.

The data from the survey for the College was not released. Wesleyan and Amherst did not participate in this previous survey.

“It’s best for [the NESCAC schools] if we all participate,” said Bolton.

In response to the previous survey results, the College formed an alcohol-working group in fall 2012, which includes administrators, faculty and leaders of student groups. Initially, the working group set up focus groups, which discussed what students desired in the social culture at the College. Last year, the working group discussed educational initiatives on alcohol. This year, it has discussed how social events are held, and addressing dangerous kinds of drinking, including rapid consumption of hard alcohol. However, the College has not made major policy change in response to the results of the survey.

“We have not done anything that is dramatic,” said Bolton. She already has plans for how the new data will be used.

“We will certainly discuss general findings, but we don’t release numerical results, number by number,” said Bolton. “We’ll talk [the results] through with the alcohol working group and think with them about what is most fruitful to discuss on campus. We don’t release results in ways that would be identifying to individuals or particular groups.”

The survey will be distributed every three years but discussion about alcohol among the deans occurs more frequently.

“The deans talk to each other a couple of times a year on different things they are trying,” said Bolton.

While alcohol is a cause for concern, Bolton has expressed faith in students.

“I never go to bed on a weekend night without worrying that somebody is going to be terribly hurt in one way or another, often in ways that involve alcohol. I wish that I felt safer about how students were doing, particularly on the weekends. I think Williams students are really smart and take really good care of each other and pay really good attention to the well-being of their peers,” said Bolton.

Bolton wants students to know that they should not feel obligated to drink if they choose not to.

“We have worked on making it clear to students that there are a lot of different ways to run your social life. There is not a single social norm around social activity or alcohol that everyone has to cleave to in order to fit in,” Bolton said.