Federal Funding for WSU Alcohol Abuse Program

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University has received a $283,000, two-year grant from the
U.S. Department of Education to support a pilot program to reduce student alcohol abuse.
The program, “Project Culture Change,” has as its main goal correcting misperceptions of alcohol and
other drug use norms among students, according to John Miller of the university’s Health and Wellness
WSU’s immediate objective is to reduce the incidence of alcohol abuse among students, he said. “More
broadly, we hope to determine the type of intervention methods which can be adopted by others to
address this very serious issue for universities and their communities.”
The funds will support the selection and training of student consultants who will conduct small group
interventions with students in the Greek system, Miller explained. Surveys to determine actual alcohol use
and perceptions of use will be underwritten by the grant.
The project will focus on the application of what Miller describes as “new prevention programs
designed to provide social norms challenging and correction.” There is clear evidence from national research,
as well as data collected at WSU during earlier experiments with the process, that strategies such as the
norms challenging model can be effective if designed and implemented correctly, he said.
Miller said the perception of drinking norms among students living in the Greek environment plays a
distinct role in drinking behavior, and a correlation exists between the amount subjects drink and beliefs that
other members of their fraternity or sorority houses drink more than they actually do.
“Students significantly overestimate the attitudes and behavior norms of their peers with regard to
alcohol use and abuse,” Miller said. “When presented with actual norms data, students will lower their own
expectations and consumption to conform more closely to that of their peers.”
Results of a pilot program conducted at WSU in 1995-96, using the norms challenging model for
interventions, showed a 12 percent reduction in binge drinking when compared with levels of 1991, he
Miller said when students realize that healthy choices and responsible behavior are the actual norm,
they will feel empowered to act from their own values and be less susceptible to any peer pressure that
goes against those values.
During the next few weeks, students will be selected and trained to conduct the interventions, which
will begin early in the spring semester. Jeanne Far, project coordinator, will direct that portion of the
Miller said Project Culture Change is founded on a campus-community partnership that includes
WSU students, staff, faculty, administrators and key members of the local community, who will take part
the execution and assessment of the program.
Nationally, alcohol abuse in college populations is a significant problem to the extent that 20-25
percent of students experienced academic, social, legal and health-related problems. Binge drinking is
especially problematic, he said. In 1994, 31 percent of college women and 52 percent of college men were
binge drinking, with fraternity and sorority members more likely to abuse alcohol. Similar drinking habits
exist within the WSU student populations.