Four Areas to Focus Prevention Efforts | Back to School

As administrators begin to make their final preparations for students to move back onto campus, we suggest reviewing prevention initiatives in these four critical areas:

  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse
  • Inclusivity
  • Mental Wellness
  • Sexual Violence

Each of these areas represents a critical topic that can greatly impact a student’s wellbeing on campus.

It's important for institutions to develop strategic prevention initiatives each academic year and also provide resources, such as prevention education, to help students better understand and prepare for situations that  may arise during their time on campus.

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Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Did you know that those who are enrolled in a full-time college program are twice as likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than those who didn’t attend college? Unfortunately, college and university students make up the largest group of drug abusers throughout the nation and their drug of choice is alcohol.

Alcohol is the most popular as it is often seen as socially-acceptable, so it can be difficult to notice a problem, such as dependency. Binge or high-risk drinking is the most common, costly and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. And, according to a national survey, 60 percent of college students drank alcohol in the past month and 2 out of 3 engaged in binge drinking during the same time-frame.

Research shows that time spent drinking, and the amount of alcohol consumed, will affect a student’s attendance in class, study time, and academic performance– showing a stronger impact on their GPA than time spending doing other non-academic activities, such as social media.

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While alcohol is the most common drug abused on campus, students experiment with many substances, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Adderall (or, “Study Drugs”)
  • Ecstasy

Students experiment with drugs for several reasons, but the Addiction Center attributes the following factors to student substance abuse: stress, course load, curiosity, and peer pressure.

Key Take-Away: Educate students on the risks that are associated with abusing alcohol and drugs and healthy alternatives to drinking. It is also best practice to provide and promote resources that can help with a dependency on alcohol and/or drugs.

You can review more information about Alcohol Abuse and Substance Abuse in our Hot Topics section.

Inclusivity

A campus community comprises people of different cultures, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, religious beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities. Different beliefs and values, and the distinct ways we express our individuality, contribute to a rich campus life.

That said, it’s important that all students, faculty, and staff respect the unique qualities each person brings to a campus. When we do this, the entire campus benefits.

A couple areas to focus efforts on and/or review current efforts to increase inclusiveness on campus:

  • Implicit Bias
  • Sexuality and Gender

 

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias refers to the beliefs and attitudes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious way. It can help us decide who is friend or foe or determine whether a situation is dangerous or just coincidental.

Unlike explicit bias, where individuals are fully aware of their prejudices and are overt in their attitudes about others, implicit bias stems from subtle cognitive processes that are developed through experiences – whether actual or perceived.

Implicit bias can also have negative connotations when we make assumptions about people that help create or maintain stereotypes, like assuming a minority student must be an athlete or was only accepted to college because of affirmative action.

We must recognize and acknowledge our implicit biases or they can hinder our interactions with people from different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations or gender identities, races, or even political affiliations.

By not recognizing our implicit biases, we miss out on opportunities to develop lifelong friendships, networking opportunities, and career advancement options. In other words, we’re not living our lives to the fullest.

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Sexuality and Gender

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (or LGBTQ) students come from all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and religions. Just like all college students, they have diverse interests and varied experiences. Although many LGBTQ students thrive during their college years, bias still exists, and, as a result, these students may face additional challenges that their non-LGBTQ peers don’t.

LGBTQ students are more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to:

  • Hear derogatory remarks about LGBTQ people from others on campus.
  • Experience discrimination from faculty and staff.
  • Experience harassment.

It’s important to note that many other specific identities can fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, such as pansexual, genderqueer, or nonbinary. The commonality is that these students do not fit into traditional heterosexual notions of sexual identity or static, binary notions of sex and gender.

Key Take-Away: Colleges must put the welfare of students above all other concerns. Respect and civility increase students’ ability to learn, be creative, make decisions, engage in teamwork, and build feelings of belonging. Providing all students with a safe environment – where they can be themselves – is critical.

Mental Wellness

Mental Wellness, which is as important as physical wellness, is an often-overlooked topic. Although in the past few years, campuses have been making strong efforts to provide more resources and combat the growing issue of mental illnesses on campus.

Mental Wellness is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The start of the school year can be an exciting time, but also a stressful time for students. Stress, which affects a student’s mental wellness, can be manifested by coursework, new experiences, social pressures, alcohol and drugs, etc.

And, research provided by the American College Health Association underscores the issue that students don’t know how to cope with these stressors:

  • 50% felt things were hopeless.
  • 60% felt very lonely.
  • 80% felt very exhausted, not physically, but overwhelmed by everything to do.
Infographic reading: Equip staff with the tools and training they need to identify when a student is struggling, and how to guide them to the appropriate resources on campus.

In fact, a report by the National Council on Disability found that students feel that better equipping staff and school officials with the tools and training to identify when a student is having a hard time coping, and subsequently guide them to resources available on campus would make a tremendous difference.

College is a time for students to define themselves, not to be bogged down by stress – it’s critical to provide them with the tools to be able to do that.

Above all, reviewing your current mental health resources with the appropriate staff never hurts – and can change your students’ lives.

Key Take-Away: Promote and provide reminders throughout the year of on-campus mental health resources available to students.

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Sexual Violence

Sexual assault and violence remain a significant problem on college campuses, despite the fact that federal law guarantees all students the right to an education free from sexual harassment and sexual violence. And, it’s critical to be extra mindful of sexual assault during this time of the year due to its prevalence.

In fact, according to a report by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 50% of college sexual assaults take place at the beginning of the school year and 70% of victims know the perpetrators.

Campus sexual assault statistics nationwide are alarming:

  • 20% female college students are survivors of sexual assault.
  • 11% of rapes on campus are reported – the most underreported violent crime.
  • 63% of college males admitted to acts that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape, also admitted to repeated offenses.
  • 4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.

Sexual assault is a far-reaching and severe issue across campuses in the United States and is often in the national headlines, whether it’s student-to-student, student-faculty or student-staff. It’s troubling and leaves many campus leaders eager to find solutions to combat it on their own campus.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single and simple solution to end sexual assault on campus, but there are several places to start to reduce sexual assault on your campus. 

Key Take-Away: Educate students on sexual violence, healthy relationships, and affirmative consent while also enforcing a strict no-tolerance policy. And, believe victims and provide them a safe way to report incidents or to seek help.  

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