With apologies to Jane Austen

Tonight is our first home football game. We are playing Utah State at 8 pm and I hope that if you can’t be at the game, you are watching it on the ACC Network wherever you live. Football games are a lot of fun (as are all our sports). There will be some students in the Screamin Demons section who are wearing WFU shirts and are dressed more casually, other groups of students who are dressed more preppily (sundresses, khakis, etc.), and everything in between. No rights or wrongs in terms of how your student dresses – just what is right for them.

Figuring out the cultural landscape is one of the challenges that might be particularly keenly felt among our new students. They also need to figure out how to share their space with a roommate (aside: info about room change is available here), when/where do they study or do homework most effectively, and what social life looks like for them, especially in regard to alcohol. I believe it was Jane Austen who once wrote “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a college student in possession of newfound independence, must be in want of a beer.

I kid, I kid. And apologies to all our Pride and Predjudice fans out there.

In all seriousness, our first-year students are [naturally and understandably] playing a giant game of compare-and-contrast with their hallmates and classmates. And they are seeing a whole spectrum of backgrounds, habits, beliefs, and behaviors. One of the things our new students may be thinking (or expressing to you) is “everybody drinks way more than I do.”

This is where I need to rely on my outstanding colleague, Peter Rives (’98), Assistant Director of Wellbeing – Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention, for some real data:

Social Norms Theory tells us two things: 1) that we all overestimate the degree to which people around us are engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as the percentage of students who are drinking alcohol, and 2) if we correct those misperceived social norms with actual data, people are less likely to engage in those behaviors.

A poster campaign (which won a national design award) is currently in first-year residence halls. These posters use what we know from Social Norms Theory by presenting students with actual WFU first-year student data to correct their misperceptions about the prevalence of drinking on campus.

It is normal for students to perceive that everyone else is drinking – after all, people who are drinking have a tendency to draw attention to themselves. But we know from data that among incoming first-year students, 52% of them choose not to drink alcohol. While that number does change over time, even when we look at the full undergraduate population,¬† there are over 1,100 Deacons at any given time who are non-drinkers.¬†That’s a lot of “not everybody”s.

So if your Deac – of any year – does not want to drink, they can find others in the same boat. Where to look? If they are a first-year student, encourage them to attend some of the programs their Faculty Fellows offer in their residence hall. Students of all years can go to the Student Involvement Fair on September 3rd and find some clubs and organizations to join. We also have a sober tailgate program which will provide food, non-alcoholic drinks, activities, and swag prizes in a tailgate setting at each of the home football games. Choices abound.

Now, let’s win this game tonight! GO DEACS!

— by Betsy Chapman ’92, MA ’94

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