The people behind Dartmouth's norms campaign

by Jen Tutak | 5/15/02 5:00am

Among the flyers for events and club meetings, a different kind of poster decorates the campus, a horse shaded 76 percent red and 24 percent white. It is the latest in a series of sometimes puzzling images promoting Dartmouth's social norms campaign.

Where do such images come from? And who is behind the data and flashy posters?

To offer a peak beyond the glossy, finished products of the College's social norms campaign, The Dartmouth interviewed the people most closely involved with the project to talk about their interest in the technique and how they became involved.

John Pryor

In many ways, the campaign begins with John Pryor '84, the director of undergraduate evaluation and research and an assistant professor of community and family medicine at Dartmouth Medical School.

Though the Dean of the college implemented the campaign three years ago, the Offices of Evaluation and Research and of Health Resources have been the driving forces of social norms at Dartmouth for the past four years.

Pryor, working in his position as the College's main statistician, collects data on alcohol consumption on campus and reports the findings to the health resources office.

Pryor's research is conducted primarily through surveys, focus groups, observational studies and institutional data. The results are then analyzed to determine the discrepancy between how students think other students relate to alcohol and what their drinking behavior actually is.

The social norms campaign requires much of Pryor's time, but he is also working on other projects, including research about the Student Life Initiative and academic integrity.

Pryor has studied the relationship between alcohol and college behavior for over 10 years at both Dartmouth and the University of Virginia. He has spoken about social norms at numerous national conferences, and in so doing, has kept up with trends on other campuses.

Jessica Sharkness '03

Pryor is assisted by Jessica Sharkness '03, a psychology major and an intern to the Office of Research and Evaluation. Since the fall of 2001, Sharkness has analyzed the data produced from their surveys, including those related to the social norms campaign.

"I think that informing the student body is important," she said in regards to the purpose of the campaign to correct misconceptions about alcohol usage. "We won't want to make anyone's decisions, we just want to get the truth out there."

Interested in applied statistics, Sharkness has taken a number of courses in the field, which prepared her to assess data for her various projects with the Office of Research and Evaluation. She also spent her leave-term last winter working full-time for the department.

Once the research on social norms has been compiled and reviewed, the results are sent upstairs to the Health Resources Center where the heart of the campaign is masterminded.

The program originally began under the guidance and enthusiasm of Margaret Smith, the former coordinator of alcohol and other drug education. When she learned about social norms campaigns, Smith hoped that Dartmouth could start its own program to reduce the negative effects of drinking on campus.

Laura Rubinstein

The current coordinator of health programs Laura Rubinstein arrived last November to orchestrate the project. "We get the data, and we try to make messages that accurately reflect what the data is. We do focus groups with students to see what it means to them," she said.

Before Dartmouth, Rubinstein was a health educator at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. She worked on a social norms campaign there involving both alcohol and tobacco.

Rubinstein said Dartmouth's campaign focused on alcohol because it is a leading health issue on campus.

"It's where I see a lot of potential for getting hurt, or making choices that can hurt later in life," she said.

"I hope it gets more creative, I want students more involved in the process of design," she said. "We just want people to have accurate information when they make choices--that's the goal."

Molly St. Sauveur

Also working toward this goal is Molly St. Sauveur, the administrative assistant to the coordinator of health education programs. She has been with the social norms campaign since its inception four years ago.

St. Sauveur oversees the budget for the campaign, and even helped design some of the original posters advertising the data results. She started work on the program with Smith, who had encouraged her to become involved with it.

"I think we got off to a rough start," St. Sauveur said of the campaign, "but with Laura here and her guidance, I'm excited for where it can go in the next couple of years."

Eli Diament '02

Finally, in one of the last phases of the social norms campaign, the actual posters must be created and distributed around campus. Using the messages drafted by Rubinstein, Sauveur, and Engle, Eli Diament '02 goes to work designing an eye-catching way to convey the social norms information to students.

"I'm given the slogan, and then told to run free with it," said Diament. "My goal is to get somebody to notice and look at the poster."

According to Diament, it can take him just a few minutes or up to several days to render a poster idea and try to make it look right. He will draft a mock-up and then test it to see how people react to it.

Diament began designing posters his sophomore year as part of his duties as president of the Dartmouth Outing Club. By his junior winter, he was designing them professionally.

Right now it is a hobby for Diament, a double major in engineering modified with environmental sciences and earth sciences, though he said he might like to continue designing work in some capacity after getting his masters in engineering management from the Thayer School.