‘We Are Tufts’ campaign aims to dispel myths about drinking
Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 10, 2013 02:10
Blaring headlines from popular media outlets like The Boston Globe and My Fox Boston of Fox News that came out last spring with scathing titles such as, “Tufts students reprimanded over behavior at Boston hotel” and, “Tufts students accused of trashing hotel,” have served as an impetus for change here at Tufts.
Sophomore Raasika Gaugler said that there was room for improvement in the way Tufts runs its events that are commonly associated with drinking.
“Unless they change the format, I don’t think anything will change,” Gaugler said.
This year has already seen the introduction of Fall Gala following the cancellation of Fall Ball. In addition to restructured school events, the creation of the “We Are Tufts” campaign that features posters around campus has embodied an evolving mentality on campus in regards to alcohol and drugs.
Last year, Health Education and Prevention Specialist Beth Farrow, Director of Alcohol and Health Education Ian Wong and a group of students affiliated with Tufts Community Union Senate started the campaign with the hopes of disproving the commonly held notion that alcohol is an essential part of college culture.
While surveying students, Wong said he noticed an interesting paradox between what students believed and what actually held true based on survey findings.
“We ask students what percentage of students do not drink on campus and they’ll say one percent, but when asked do you drink they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I don’t drink,’” Wong said. “People who don’t drink think they’re the only ones who don’t. That’s what we are trying to change with these campaigns, saying around 20 to 30 percent of students don’t drink at all.”
The campaign posters around campus tote statistics that 93 percent of students do not let alcohol affect their academics, as well as that the majority of Tufts students limit their alcohol intake or choose not to drink. Wong said the data comes from the social norms survey taken by students online every other year — most recently in 2013. The norms survey is sent out to a random selection of about 1,000 students.
According to Wong, the survey uses what the Boston University (BU) School of Public Health presents as the Social Norms Theory — how misconceptions of peers’ thoughts and actions compel one’s own behavior. Social norms campaigns are a prevention strategy implemented to influence interpersonal processes, according to a study entitled, “A Typology for Campus-Based Alcohol Prevention: Moving toward Environmental Management Strategies,” conducted in part by the BU School of Public Health. One of the hypotheses presented therein is that misperceptions guide normative expectations of alcohol use, which in turn drive actual use.
Though the “We Are Tufts” campaign uses gripping facts and powerful posters to act as a prevention strategy for students, its effectiveness is still being determined on campus.
Gaugler, however, is not optimistic about the “We Are Tufts” campaign’s influence, especially for those students who already choose not to drink.
“I don’t think necessarily seeing a poster will change how students feel about drugs and alcohol,” she said. “It depends if they just feel comfortable not drinking. But if you are fine with not drinking, then seeing the poster won’t matter.”
Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS) Director of Training Ayal Pierce, however, believes that the “We Are Tufts” campaign is promising.
“Having facts that make people not feel like outsiders is really important, especially people who just came to college,” Pierce, a junior, said.
Gaugler thought that some students may feel uncomfortable no matter what an ad campaign exposes.
“I don’t know if [the posters] make people feel better,” she said. “Just because you know the facts, it may not make you feel more comfortable if your friends still drink anyway.”
According to Pierce, though, seeing the posters around campus will help students, especially first years, realize that it’s okay and even normal to not drink.
“They’re not one of the one percent,” he said. “There’s around a third of [students] who don’t like drinking, who don’t enjoy it [and] who don’t want to binge drink until they’re throwing up in the bathroom.”
A little over a month into the semester, both students and faculty have looked back on the transformed Fall Ball with mostly positive reactions.
“I really liked [Fall Gala], personally,” Gaugler said. “Fall Ball was usually just a bunch of sweaty people in a room, but Fall Gala was nice because it had good music, fireworks and a photobooth.”
Wong agreed and thought that the event was innovative.
“I think the Fall Gala was a success in many ways,” he said. “If we look at the numbers, there were less transports and alcohol problems at night than the year before ... [and] it seemed more like a welcome back for the whole campus. It had a different feel with the inclusion of the fireworks and the president’s attendance.”
Echoing Wong’s remarks, TEMS Executive Director Paul Pemberton sees the changes around campus as constructive ones.
“As far as total call numbers go, we did better,” Pemberton, a senior, said. “Whether it is actually less people drinking or less people calling us when they end up drinking too much, it’s very difficult to gauge, but I can for sure say that the call numbers at the event itself were significantly lower. We got one call at the event itself; Fall Ball was usually ten plus.”
Pierce added that part of Fall Gala’s changes involved a structural difference.
“It is worth mentioning that Fall Gala started much earlier and ended much earlier,” Pierce said.
With Winter Bash not far off, the Tufts community will be tested again, as the school tries to put last year’s event firmly in the past. Change, however, will not be easily accomplished.