Wellness Center report shows decrease in high-risk drinking

by Berit Svenson | 7/5/19 2:00am

The Student Wellness Center has recently released the second report of a series addressing the reduction of high-risk drinking and related harms at the College. The report, entitled, “Expanding the Healthy Majority,” focuses on how to increase the number of Dartmouth students who do not report high-risk drinking in the two weeks before polling. 

According to the report, this portion of the student body is already a majority at 59 percent, “contrary to common assumptions.”

According to the Student Wellness Center’s website, each report will use collected data and information to make recommendations to the Dartmouth community. The response rate to the survey on which this report was based was 26 percent.

“High-risk drinking at colleges has been an entrenched public health issue for at least 40 years,” Wellness Center director Caitlin Barthelmes said. “Dartmouth is no different.”

The most recent report recommends “providing consistent alcohol-free and low-risk social options for students, particularly during traditional drinking times.” These social options include events already offered by the College and sponsored by Collis After Dark, house communities, the Hopkins Center for Performing Arts and the Outdoor Programs Office.

Chris Lyke ’21 said that some sections of campus may be reluctant to try these new initiatives.

“I feel like there is a large population on campus that won’t be affected by alternative spaces,” Lyke said. “I think they’ll be very hard to persuade.”

Since College President Phil Hanlon announced the Moving Dartmouth Forward plan over four years ago, Barthelmes noted that the Student Wellness Center has continued to accumulate more data from campus partners so that the College can better inform the public.

“We needed to give time to the community and [Moving Dartmouth Forward’s] programs and projects so that they could take root and flourish,” Barthelmes said.

Barthelmes added that Moving Dartmouth Forward prompted several of the initiatives and events that are currently in place, adding to the campus-wide prevention plan.

According to Student Wellness Center assessment and program evaluation coordinator Dawn Gillis, the Student Wellness Center is using gathered data from campus partners to increase communication across the separate initiatives.

“This process has allowed people working on these initiatives to come together in a more structured way,” Gillis said. “We want to learn more deeply from each other and see if there are ways we can work together to further improve what we are working on.”

While the College has taken steps to reduce high-risk drinking on campus, Barthelmes said that there are misperceptions about Dartmouth’s drinking statistics.

“Research shows that misperceptions can influence people’s behaviors,” Barthelmes said. “I’m hoping that this series is one step in supporting the correct narrative that the majority of students are choosing to drink in low-risk ways or not at all.”

Gillis added that the Student Wellness Center hopes to focus more on the current campus climate in order to improve the well-being of more students.

According to the Student Wellness Center’s website, members of the Dartmouth community “must be informed and involved in making positive change” to combat public health issues.

The five reports seeking to do this will be released by the start of fall term, Barthelmes said. Ideally, she added, the reports will deepen the discussion surrounding high-risk drinking behavior and engage the Dartmouth community in this conversation.