WCSU Substance Abuse Program CHOICES
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NCAA - Supporter of Winning Choices

Thanks to a grant from the NCAA Student athletes put their muscle behind WestConn’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recently awarded WestConn a $30,000 grant to finance a multi-year “Winning Choices” project that seeks to educate student athletes about the dangers of substance abuse and enlist them as partners in the cause. Men and women athletes representing a wide range of WestConn sports programs have joined other student leaders to plan an ambitious campaign this fall to promote healthy lifestyle decisions.

This summer a core group of athletes underwent training as peer educators at a 2 day training and retreat

Goals of the program include:

  • Athletes spearheading a Peer Education Program
  • Implementing a Social Norms Campaign
  • Planning alcohol free events.
In August athletes used their new skills to promote positive behavior among freshman.

Sharon Guck, Coordinator of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Program with William White at an athlete sponsored event

The enthusiasm of our athletes to join in the Choices program is growing and these athletes are constantly seeking new opportunities to address issues of substance abuse and to promote healthy alternatives among their peers. Guck has challenged the athletes to step up with a simple message “ People look up to you as leaders on this campus and we’re going to help you respond to that new role.” The athletes are open to new ideas and really genuine in their desire to help. No one has ever asked them to partner with a project like this. When given the opportunity, resources and tools our athletes really will make a difference on this campus.

Alternative Activities

Athletes planned two events for the first 3 weeks of school. The goal was to immediately engage the student body in safe/healthy alternatives. A summer Luau was attended by 150 students and a BBQ had over 250 in attendance. The BBQ was also used to reinforce the social norms campaign.

Students joined in the late summer fun by attending an Alcohol-Free Luau party hosted by athletes.

Athletes take on a major role and help launch the “Norm 65” social norms campaign designed by fellow marketing students. They are encouraging other students to join the through their Peer Education Presentations.

Social Norms Campaign

In July student athletes organized and conducted a student forum to explore attitudes, knowledge and interest in prevention efforts. Results from the forum were used in selecting our social norms campaign. Athletes themselves also participated in several focus groups which helped modify that campaign this fall.

Student Athletes hosted a BBQ at the first home game and continued to market our social norms campaign

The Goal of Winning Choices

  • Propel our athletes into the forefront of alcohol abuse prevention efforts.
  • Engage athletes in student-driven initiatives implemented through co-curriculum activities in the classroom, residence halls and athletic events throughout the academic year and during summer orientation programs.
  • Promote their leadership, direct their energy and tap their unique potential and capacity for reaching the general student body.
  • Recruit, train and nurture a team of athletes to educate others, plan and develop alcohol abuse prevention programs and activities, and model the way for Winning Choices to replace poor irresponsible choices that have become an intractable problem on college campuses today.

Background and History of WCSU

Western Connecticut State University began its prevention efforts with the formation of an Alcohol Task Force in 2002. After several years of planning and as a result of the Administrations commitment and Task Force efforts, the Prevention Program at WCSU was formed in 2004. We aspire to build this prevention program in partnership with our athletes, and have been recognized as 2004 Organization of the Year for "aggressively trying to confront and combat the growing problems of underage binge drinking"

Literature Review

As a University, we our committed to a comprehensive, integrated approach utilizing the successful environmental management strategies outlined in the prevention literature.

Winning Choices Program Components


1. Peer Education Program

Athletes are recruited as "peer educators" and specially trained to deliver alcohol information to the student body. Research illustrates that peer educators are effective. What sets them apart is:

  • Their presence at countless teachable moments that occur on an informal basis where they interact with roommates, teammates and classmates.
  • Peer educators are not bystanders; they are activists in confronting incorrect information or unhealthy attitudes.
  • Successful peer education programs promote the healthy choices of "the most" and reach out to the "some".
  • Capable of functioning in several roles including; referral agent, skill builder, motivator and environmental activist.
  • Workshops are integrated into the classroom, co-curriculum activities, residence halls and at athletic events.

2. Social Norms Campaign

The most current research available demonstrates that " a student's perception of the norm is much more influential in determining his or her drinking behavior than is the amount actually being consumed by most peers on campus...at over 90% of schools prevention program information is not associated with reducing misperceptions. Many schools actually inflate misperceptions. At schools where misperceptions of peer norms are lowered by exposure to prevention information, high risk behavior and negative consequences are reduced by as much as one third. (Wesley Perkins , Michael Haines)

WCSU athletes are leaders in designing our social norm campaign. While a social norms campaign is not a new idea, WINNING CHOICES is unique in that athletes use several new methods for delivering the campaign, including a wellness message, to the general study body.

3. Alternate Programming Activities

Education alone is not enough to reduce dangerous drinking on college campus. Adopting a more comprehensive approach that includes alternate programming activities helps create positive changes in the social fabric and supports health promoting norms. Athletes will sponsor and promote social, recreational and extracurricular activities that promote alcohol free activities and encourage a model of wellness across the campus.

Working with the SAAC, the Wellness task Force, Student Center/Student Life and Residence Hall staff, the drama and theater departments and intercollegiate athletics departments in this effort.

These activities will include "Sports Nights during Monday night football, March Madness, the World Series and Superbowl week. Activities will also be coordinated with the alcohol task force during alcohol awareness week in October.

Bridging Science into Practice

Western Connecticut State University is the recipient of a federally funded demonstration grant. As such we are one of three sites across the nation charged with implementing evidenced-based alcohol prevention program and developing campus and community initiatives to combat the alcohol abuse problems on college campuses. The federal grant guidelines, however, mainly focus resources on coalition development among campus and community stakeholders.

Our focus on athletes as major proponents for change is a unique strategy for our site. Teaming with the NCAA and adding athletes as a major focus in our program development can be a win/win for the students. We strongly believe the CHOICES program

  • will increase protective factors and reduce risk behaviors at a greater rate than other research sites.
  • focus on athletes as major contributors to changing the culture of drinking on college campuses and our efforts to build programs that empower our athletes will produce greater results than the other colleges being studied.
  • successful prevention interventions will be highlighted in SAMHSA literature and like programs will be rolled-out on other campuses across the nation.
This is a new and exciting opportunity. We will not be duplicating the federal grant, but rather complementing the logic model by emphasizing and studying the role athletes can and will play in boosting prevention efforts... they only need the chance and resources to prove what they can do!

Our programs are subject to rigorous research and evaluation protocol and our goal is to provide a blueprint for progress that other colleges and universities can follow. Including athletes in this strategy is paramount to the eventual success of our prevention efforts. In order to bridge science and prevention efforts the model uses a 3-in-one framework which focuses on implementing best practices that affect sustainable changes at the (1) individual level (2) the campus level and (3) within the broader community. This model recognizes and strongly supports environmental management strategies within the broader public health model that have been proven successful in decreasing excessive and underage drinking practices on college campuses.

WCSU is in the unique position to highlight the substantial contributions athletes can make towards this effort. We will focus specifically on the athlete's unique ability to reach the greater student body, use their status as athletes to change the broadly accepted "culture of drinking" on our college campus. From a conceptual viewpoint we seek to further define the logic model and include athletes as a major impetus for affecting positive changes utilizing environmental management techniques.

Athletes as a group seem to get a lot of attention in analysis of the problem and/or as a major group contributing to the problem. Yet their efforts at combating excessive drinking and providing leadership for students to make "winning choices" does not seem to get the same play. Our own research (Core survey '03, '04) indicates that the general student body consistently overestimates the numbers of athletes who drink and the amounts they consume. At WCSU our athlete's efforts with the entire student body, their involvement with our campus task force and Alcohol Prevention program demonstrates that they are poised and ready to take on a more active role in education and prevention efforts. This grant provides them with platform and resources to accomplish this.

Developing The Winning Choice Program at WCSU

Goal #1 Athletes & Peer Education


1. Objectives: Peer Educators Winning Choices Program

Recruit and train 15-20 athletes at the area 10 BACCHUS/GAMMA Peer Educators certification conference in Bridgewater MA in April '05.

Strategies: The Student Athletes Advisory Council (SAAC) will work with prevention staff and the University Assistant to develop promotional materials. The Program Developer (SL-G) will attend SAAC meetings to explain program objectives, level of responsibility, and training and leadership opportunities to athletes. Coaches will promote and schedule Program Developer and SAAC reps to speak to their teams during this recruitment phase.

Time line: April- May, 2005

2. Work with current Peer Educators and new recruits to develop and further refine specific workshops for Athletes Peer Educators to provide to the student body.

Strategies: Our Second Annual Student Forum (funded through the SIG_E grant) and scheduled for late April "05 will include this new initiative as its main area of focus. An estimated 100 students will provide direction for content development of these specific workshops. Two separate 45 minute workshops will be produced based on their input.

Time line: April- May 2005

3. These two workshops will be highlighted in promotional materials and developed into the Athletes Peer Education Manual and printed for distribution.

Strategies: University publications will work with Program Developer and University Assistant to design promotional brochures for the Winning Choices Athlete Peer Educators and training manuals which could be replicated and used at other colleges and universities.

Time line: June- August 2005

4. Schedule Athlete Peer Educators to team with current Peer Educators to provide workshops to general student body in collaboration with Residence Life Staff.

Strategies: Throughout summer recess the Program Developer will convene meeting with the Director of Student Life, Resident Area Directors, Orientation Leaders and Freshman Seminar Faculty to further integrate the Winning Choices Program initiative into their fall '05 calendars.

Time line: June- August 2005

5. Design and execute a public relations component for the Winning Choices Program throughout the campus community .

Strategies: A full page advertisement will be designed and printed to promote the athletes Winning Choices Program goals in the ECHO student newspaper in September '05 and to provide visibility for the new initiative and to advertise a campus wide kick-off ceremony and BBQ. A welcome back ceremony will be hosted by coaches, Student Affairs and the University President to launch the Athletes first Year of the Winning Choices Program. A BBQ for all students will end the afternoon's activities and provide alternative alcohol free programming opportunities for new students with Athletes as the hosts.

Time line: September 2005, during first 4 weeks of school

6. Reconvene Athlete Peer Educators for refresher training and review of new materials developed over the summer. Continue with on going training and support meetings

Strategies:Schedule on going meetings for Peer Educators to sharpen their presentation skills and practice workshops using new interactive media equipment including a computerized Jeopardy game board. Some Peer Educators, while committed to the PE model, lack public speaking skills. This interactive game will be "programmed" with appropriate content information and be "hosted" by the Athletes. The game can also be used as a second follow-up presentation to students where teams compete to win based on their knowledge of alcohol issues.

Time-line: September 2005-May 2006

The target audience for the Winning Choices Athlete Peer Education Program Initiative includes undergraduate students at WCSU living in residence halls. Our Core data illustrates that the resident population at WCSU consumes significantly more alcohol than their commuting counterparts. Therefore our Peer Education efforts in year one will concentrate on reaching this population.

Goal # 2 Athletes & Communication

1. Our Athletes will collaborate with University Publications, the Club, The Alcohol Prevention Program and the newly established Wellness Initiative on campus to design and implement a Social Norms Marketing Campaign to correct students misperceptions around targeted alcohol messages.

Problem Identification : National research illustrates that students' normative beliefs about drinking habits on their campus are the most powerful predictors of amounts personally consumed (Berkowitz December 2004) The Report on Social Norms: Presentations on Social Norms Annual Meeting: 2004) Moreover, a consistently large percentage of our student population erroneously view normative drinking practices on campus to be much higher than what is actually consumed (WCSU Core data 2003,2004) The general populations' perception is that athletes drink more than they actually do. (70% of students perceive that alcohol is a central part of social life of athletes. (Core 2004) We must plan and execute a social norms campaign at WCSU to correct these misperceptions, increase protective factors and reduce risk related health factors. New research indicates that even initially successful campaigns can get stale after several years in existence. ( Kim Dude Campus Wellness Center , University of Missouri , Columbia ) Therefore, we will create our campaign with an eye towards building in the recommended shift in emphasis away from sheer numbers of drinks consumed to incorporate other healthy choices students are making related and design overall messages for general wellness. Our Social Norms campaign will employ new media techniques coupled with infusion into co-curriculum and academics (see strategies 3 &4).

2. Winning Choices Social Norms Media and Video Campaign

Our athletes will collaborate with university publication staff, marketing students and task Force members including staff and faculty to develop a social norms campaign to correct the current misperceptions around alcohol. The campaign will be delivered through marketing techniques such as printed posters, table tents, the student newspaper, and radio spots and in novelty items for the entire student population.

Goal #3: Athletes & Winning Choices... Get in the Game

1. Athletes will collaborate with Alcohol Task Force sub committee and Marketing club and faculty members to develop a social norms marketing campaign to correct misperceptions.

Strategies. Throughout the summer 2005 the members of the Alcohol Task Force and Wellness Initiative at WCSU will meet to collaborate on the campaign. They will examine our research data and work up several campaign strategies to pilot to students returning in fall 05. In September Athletes will work with the Marketing Club, Program Developer and University Assistant to hold several campus focus groups test the concepts. Feedback and evaluations will be incorporated into the campaign.

Time line: October- November 2005

2. The Social Norms Campaign will be turned over to University Publications for production during the winter inter- session.

Strategies : WCSU publications staff will work with the athletes and marketing students approved concepts and develop them into a campaign media production series including (1) posters, (2) table tents, (3) novelty items for student wide distribution and (4) links to health services, student affairs and the athletics and wellness web sites.

Time-line: December 2005-January 2006)

3. The Social Marketing Campaign will place special emphasis on athletic sponsored events and athletic events both at the campus and within the surrounding community.

Strategies: Posters and informational brochures highlighting the Athletes new "Winning Choices" initiatives at WCSU will be produced for disseminated at various athletic and community events. The SAAC will work with WCSU coaches and the Danbury High School Director of Athletics to develop a schedule for attendance and promotion of our social norms campaign and Peer Education efforts to local high school games. SAAC members have already identified team's availability schedules and will work with the Program Developer to coordinate transportation to the events. Novelty items for High School aged athletes and students will be developed and made available at these promotional events.

Time-line: January 2006-May 2006

4. Athletes will work with video production department, the Drama department and the Program Developer to produce video(s) for use in both the Athletes Peer Education Winning Choices Program, throughout the Social Norms Marketing campaign and for freshman orientation and the Freshman Seminar Experience.

Strategies: The video will be developed in conjunction with the Program Developer who has a background in screenplay writing, a PhD in psychology and will collaborate in the writing and producing of a series of videos to be used by athletes to engage the audience in healthy choices and winning decisions around alcohol including: sex and alcohol. This tool can be used by the Athlete Peer Educators in year two of their programs. It is also the intent to use these videos in the Freshman Seminar Classes, throughout Freshman Orientation and Parents Orientation. The opportunity for curriculum infusion into marketing and drama and psychology classes will be evaluated by the Program Developers for each of the three goals of this grant proposal.


Development of screenplay content
July 2005 - November 2005

Collaboration with drama and video production departments.
Fall 2005

Production of videos
Spring 2006

Use in Athletes Peer Education Program
Fall 2006, Orientation 2006

The CHOICES campaign will be integrated into:

  • Athletic events
  • Peer Education Programs presented in residence halls
  • Freshman seminar experience orientation
  • Orientation for Parents
  • Athletes regular orientation programs held throughout the year

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