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New Campaign Dispels Myths Of What's 'Normal'

Ysabel and James
SHSU senior Ysabel Sarabia and freshman James Felts helped the ADAI kick off its "Social Norms Campaign" by creating a poster showing students that the norm on campus is to not use drugs.

In the Core Alcohol and Drug Survey conducted on the Sam Houston State University campus this past May, 94.3 percent of students believed that the average SHSU student uses alcohol once a week or more.

In actuality, only approximately 25 percent of students reported having used alcohol once a week or more.

Clarifying these kinds of false perceptions is the goal of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Initiative’s new “Social Norms Campaign,” according to Rosanne Keathley, associate professor of health education and ADAI chair.

“Social norms marketing is where you are encouraging the positive while discouraging the negative,” Keathley said. “It has to be based on statistics or reliable data, and you have to actually target getting students to realize that normal behavior at Sam Houston State University does not involve all these different risks, like binge drinking, riding with a driver who’s drunk, staying out all night, having unprotected sex while you’re drinking.

“Those bad things that we hear about are often activities that only a few students actually participate in,” she said.

The campaign, which kicked off during National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week Oct. 15-19, will have student groups, departments and programs “accentuate the positive” about themselves through a poster presentation based on statistics about that particular group.

“Contrary to belief whenever you start talking about social norms, students have the tendency to think that whenever they go to college it is a rite of passage to drink; that in order to be with the ‘in crowd’, you’re supposed to drink,” Keathley said during the “A Kat Named Norm” program, part of the NCAAW, on Tuesday (Oct. 16).

“What happens is, you readjust your behavior, and you typically readjust it at a higher level than what the actual percentage is,” she said.

Even though that may sound “a little bit bizarre,” research has found that perceptions of social norms predict what the target population will say and do and acknowledges the importance of peer culture in shaping behavior.

With this in mind, three-fourths of students overestimate the amount of alcohol consumed among peers, as demonstrated with the SHSU survey, according to Keathley.

Keathley and students
Rosanne Keathley, ADAI chair, goes over some of the Core Survey statistics as part of the campaign. Students then chose a statistic to "accentuate the positive" of SHSU for a poster.

Through the “Social Norms Campaign,” members and student members of the ADAI will present information similar to the “A Kat Named Norm” program to various members of the SHSU community, from athletics to the Greeks to Residence Life and even the Agricultural Ambassadors, for example, to show them what normal alcohol and drug activities are within the campus population.

The presentations are based on reliable data, a component of the campaign model, from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Survey and then the SHSU Core Survey.

The groups will develop their own posters, based on information collected through departmental or organizational surveys, showcasing their statistics.

Posters will be displayed around campus throughout the year at tents or tables set up by the ADAI, as well as on the ADAI Web site. There will also be poster contests, displayed with the help of the art department, and tables will be set up during the “finals frenzies” for students to create their own posters.

“A social norms marketing campaign is evidence-based,” Keathley said. “If we do a social norms campaign on campus, the level of drinking that we have, especially underage drinking and binge drinking, has been proven to decrease by 20 percent (according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).

“Twenty percent is statistically significant,” she said. “The whole social norms concept teaches that it’s OK to not follow the leader, or what is the perceived leader.”

Proof that SHSU students are not participating in these kinds of activities can be found in the Core survey, which reported that 76.1 percent of students do not use alcohol three or more times a week, 82 percent of students do not use tobacco three or more times a week, and 92.8 percent do not use marijuana three or more times a week.

In addition, 65 percent of students do not ride with a student who has been drinking and 97.1 percent have not been arrested for Driving While Intoxicated or Driving Under the Influence.

“We’ve gone two years now without the death of a student that was a result of alcohol poisoning or an alcohol-related fatality (where a drunk student was at fault; this excludes students who were hit by a drunk driver, which ‘could happen to anyone’),” Keathley said. “That’s a phenomenal statistic.”

ADAI members and peer educators will begin speaking to student groups in November. Anyone who would like the ADAI to give the presentation to his/her organization should contact Keathley at 936.294.1171 or




SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Oct. 18, 2007
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Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
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