New Alcohol Education Program Launched, Emphasizes Safety, Responsible Drinking

Oberlin will implement an online alcohol education tool called AlcoholEdu in the coming weeks. The program is designed to educate students on alcohol consumption and reduce harmful behavior associated with alcohol.

In the future, AlcoholEdu will be a pre-matriculation requirement. For the current academic year, first and second-year students will be required to complete the course by Jan. 15. AlcoholEdu takes one to three hours and can be completed in multiple sittings. It is an interactive program that covers information including key definitions, what constitutes a standard drink, and the consequences of mixing alcohol with other substances.

Although AlcoholEdu is not being implemented in response to a singular incident, Thom Julian, the director of student conduct and community standards at Oberlin, noted that his office saw a small increase in conduct violations related to drug use and possession of drug paraphernalia between 2017 and 2018. Additionally, there was a slight increase in alcohol use on Oberlin’s campus from 2015 to 2017.

“One of the things that I know is what the biannual review tells me — that’s a report that I am supposed to create and provide to the Department of Education that summarizes our prevention efforts and the outcomes,” said Director of Health Promotion for Students Edward Gisemba.

“What we see is that the number of incidents surrounding cannabis and alcohol are going up. So it’s important for us to, at the very least, provide baseline education so that we can get those numbers to start to trend downwards.”

Despite these trends, Director of Campus Safety Mike Martinsen — who has worked in public safety and law enforcement for 32 years — believes Oberlin students are generally responsible.

“Our students do look after each other, and their decisions seem to be more informed when it comes to looking after each other and themselves and not drinking so excessively,” Martinsen said.

All institutions of higher education receiving federal funds must implement a program to reduce the illegal use of alcohol and drugs on campus, as stipulated in the Drug Free Schools and Campuses Act of 1989. Previously, Oberlin College mandated the eCHECKUP To Go program for pre-matriculation.

However, eCHUG has since been reserved solely for sanctions in response to substance misuse on campus, rather than being a proactive educational tool.

Gisemba began looking into AlcoholEdu as a pre-matriculation alternative to eCHUG in Oct. 2017, the same year he was hired.

“With AlcoholEdu, they acknowledge that roughly one in two college students are what are referred to as current drinkers, and of that a very small fraction are high-risk drinkers,” Gisemba said. “So eCHUG approaches it from an ‘everyone drinks, we just need to get them to drink less,’ sort of standpoint, versus AlcoholEdu that acknowledges that some students either don’t drink or don’t want to drink, and it supports them if they made that decision for themselves. It really empowers them to make an autonomous decision regarding what they want their relationship with alcohol to be.”

AlcoholEdu is not the only step toward comprehensive substance education on campus. Students from Oberlin Bystander Intervention developed and piloted educational sessions titled Substance Safety 101 and 102 in previous semesters.

Each session operates on a peer-to-peer level, with OBI members educating students on topics such as misinformation surrounding alcohol use and the effects of mixing cannabis and alcohol. One hundred percent of the students who participated in the pilot indicated that they prefer peer-to-peer education rather than instruction from Oberlin staff or an equal authority figure.

“[Associate Dean of Students] Matthew Hayden and [Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith] Raimondo have both been very big fans of OBI,” said Rebecca Kades, chair of OBI.

The alcohol educational programs are intended to work in conjunction with existing campus structures, such as PRSM workshops and Community 101 sessions.

Even though AlcoholEdu will be mandated for students, Julian is hopeful that students will see the educational benefits of the program in tandem with peer-to-peer trainings.

“I hope that students get a few things out of it,” Julian said. “One, that we are dedicated to their health and safety … and I think the second thing is giving them the tools to make responsible decisions. I also hope that preemptively they understand why we have the mandate and the value of the tool inherently.”