Case by case

Alcohol class seeks to change campus culture of alcohol use on individual basis.

More than 200 students have gone through the South Dakota State alcohol referral program, the Choices, Chances and Changes class, this school year.

This referral program works as an intervention program to educate students and change their behaviors, said Doug Wermedal, interim vice president of student affairs. The class shows students how high-risk drinking behaviors can affect school performance as well as “erode their experience and reduce quality” because of high-risk drinking habits, he said.

According to Darci Nichols, assistant Wellness Center director of counseling services and first-year teacher of the Choices, Chances and Changes class, the program allows students to make informed decisions.

“Education is what can instigate change. Early intervention in a student’s college career is key to reduce high-risk binge drinking behaviors,” Nichols said.

Attendance for the two-hour class spikes after Hobo Day celebrations in the fall and Pub Crawl in the spring, Nichols said.

Don Challis, vice president of safety and security, works with the University Police Department and sees the referrals for alcohol violations that go through the department. According to Challis, the program is effective.

“They don’t see a lot of students more than once, which means this intervention is being successful,” Challis said.

The importance of changing behaviors resonates with Challis because most of the crimes on campus are because of alcohol, he said. Nichols and Wermedal agree that if students aren’t referred a second time because of alcohol use, the class is a success.

Students have been exposed to alcohol since grade school and so don’t need abstinence messages, Wermedal said. The Choices, Chances and Changes class offers necessary messages about high-risk drinking behaviors.

“If we’re able to help one student … that’s worthwhile,” Wermedal said.

Nichols said one of the things leading to so many students taking the class or engaging in activities that violate alcohol policies is the perception that “everyone parties and binge drinks.” But according to the American College Health Assessment, 22 percent of respondents reported never drinking alcohol, which doesn’t support students’ ideas of alcohol use on campus.

Participation in the class help educate students on how alcohol affects different parts of the body and help to reduce the practice of high-risk drinking. Nichols also points to other efforts on campus for helping to reduce such risky behaviors.

Nichols cited the Safe Ride program for reducing the number of DUI arrests on campus and the Choices and Prevention Committee for taking further steps in alcohol prevention and safety on campus. Nichols also cited different organizations on campus to help curb high-risk drinking behaviors.

“I think students have and may continue to have an expectation that drinking alcohol increases their social capital,” Nichols said. “ As students become more engaged in campus activities and events they begin to realize that you don’t need to drink to have a good time.”