In 2006, 54% of Frostburg State University students engaged in binge drinking, and an alcohol-related student death spurred the university to act to reduce excessive drinking. In the years since, Frostburg State University implemented multiple evidence-based policies and practices at the individual and environmental levels, and its binge drinking rate is now below 40%. Jeff Graham, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, talks to us about how they changed a culture that many thought was unchangeable.
Why is it important to you to address underage and excessive drinking?
Administrators here at Frostburg State University (FSU) care about students and want them to be healthy. We know there are a lot of acute legal, social, personal, and academic harms related to high-risk drinking. Aside from student well-being, we know that excessive drinking has an impact on student attrition. Approximately 24% of attrition is alcohol-related. Student well-being is one of the priorities in FSU’s new ten-year strategic plan.
What are some of the changes you feel have had the greatest impact on reducing excessive alcohol consumption at Frostburg State University?
Presidential leadership was key; it enabled us to use a comprehensive approach in addressing this issue. One of the most important changes we made was creating a system of seamless communication between the Division of Student Affairs and city and campus law enforcement that enables the Division of Student Affairs to address off-campus code of conduct violations and lets students know they can be held accountable for those violations. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that gave campus police joint jurisdiction with city police to enforce off-campus violations was also key. Finally, the coalition that brought together campus and community partners to address this problem facilitated a supportive relationship among the partners that continues to this day.
How did you engage members of the Frostburg community, both on-campus and off-campus, in your efforts?
Our work with community partners took a big leap forward when we received funding from the local health department to lead the local Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) grant project. This project required us to reach out to others in the community such as property managers, schools, and city administrators to build the capacity of the local coalition. We parlayed that into a Drug Free Communities grant that funds a full-time coordinator and saturation patrols in the community.
How have you engaged with alcohol retailers?
With the SPF grant, we:
- Hired a consultant to talk with retailers about how they could build a better business plan based on sales of food and alcohol;
- Did some mock compliance checks and gave feedback to retailers;
- Worked with the Sheriff’s office to conduct compliance checks;
- Provided marketing and branding for the bars with a logo and low-risk messages;
- Offered free TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS) training for retailers;
- Had people become TIPS trainers so they can provide the training to retailers at a significantly reduced cost. As a result, a lot of retailers are now training all their staff.
Due to this concerted work with local retailers, we still have a relationship with them; most of the businesses that wouldn’t participate are now out of business. The number of problem retailers continues to go down every year as some retailers change their business model to focus more on food sales.
What kind of challenges did you encounter and what did you do to overcome them?
The biggest challenge was the lack of trust with retailers. Some retailers attacked me for hurting their business. We stuck to the business model and were transparent about what we were doing: working to keep alcohol away from underage students and prevent over-service. Other challenges included getting faculty interested in what we were doing and the instability of funding to do this work.
What did you do or say to recruit people to your cause?
The SPF grant required us to build capacity, so we reached out to businesses, the faith community, law enforcement, etc. Having monthly coalition meetings is important. Most people agree with our prevention goals, which makes it easier to recruit people to our cause.
Has this effort affected Frostburg’s sense of community?
Yes, this has greatly improved town-gown relationships. I am very protective of our good relationship with the town, particularly through the coalition. The coalition helps build a sense of community, and this is especially helpful when there are complaints from the community about large outdoor parties. Now we can assure the community that we will address the problem; this approach makes our work transparent, which creates trust and there is great value in that.
How does this effort fit within the larger goals of the community, both on- and off-campus?
We have a level of trust now with the city council and other community partners that leads to candid conversations, which are really important. We all want to have a vibrant community. We teach classes at the high school, facilitate the Everfi online educational program, and help address prescription drug abuse at the high school.
How does this work affect students?
The main mission we never lose sight of is higher education. Students have to be healthy and have a sense of well-being to make the most of their educational opportunities here. We are promoting a healthy and safe environment with safety patrols, citations and accountability.
How has Frostburg changed since you implemented the new policies/practices?
Our work is never done; every year there are new students. The Maryland Collaborative has helped us connect to best practices and to see what other institutions are doing. The quantitative longitudinal data provided by the annual College Alcohol Survey is helpful; we can see we’re trending in the right direction and can craft our message around real data.
Additionally, the Maryland Collaborative has shown us the connection between marijuana and alcohol. As we are seeing an increase in marijuana use, that information has been helpful. We’re really glad to see more focus on the harms associated with alcohol use so we can educate students about that. We will never have enough people and resources to completely prevent abuse of alcohol and other drugs, but we are always looking for how we can make an impact.