The Gordie Center staff, like those of you on high school and college campuses, are spending our summer months planning for the upcoming academic year. We all share a desire for our prevention and safety campaigns to make a positive impact on student behaviors. Below are the guiding principles that inform our educational efforts at the University of Virginia and for our national Gordie's Call campaign. Check them out, and let us know your feedback and how you incorporate these and other ideas!
Prevention Best Practices

As you plan educational events and campaigns on your campus and in your community, consider how the strategies described below can help you reach your target audiences with messages that makes a difference. An evidence-informed, comprehensive, and coordinated approach is more likely to result in positive change. 
  1. Prevention programs should meet the needs of one of the three prevention populations: universal (general population), targeted (groups with high-risk behaviors), and indicated (individuals with problem behaviors). For example, ALL students need to know the symptoms of an alcohol overdose, even if they don't drink (universal messaging). Sorority members (targeted) should receive information on how women metabolize alcohol differently. Students with substance use disorders (indicated) need non-judgmental screening and referral to treatment. Do you have at least one program that targets each population?
  2. Students must be engaged in prevention efforts. Students are the experts on their culture, so it is essential to include them in developing, marketing, delivering, and evaluating educational programs. If you don't have a formal peer education group, explore ways to engage students through paid or academic credit-bearing internships. Consider running focus groups to hear how students in your target population react to your messages and materials.
  3. Use Positive, Inclusive, and Empowering (PIE) messaging. The Montana Institute's Science of the Positive focuses on growing the healthy, positive, protective factors that already exist in our communities. Research suggests that a positive message is more likely to have a long-lasting effect and foster healthy change when compared with a negative message. Social Norms Marketing campaigns use data on healthy behaviors in which most people engage to correct misperceptions and grow a healthier population. Check out examples from Virginia Commonwealth University and the Gordie Center's student-athlete-designed campaign for team locker rooms.
  4. Model Healthy Behaviors in Your Programming. Playing mock drinking games (e.g., water pong) may seem like a way to engage a target population, but the result is more likely to normalize competitive drinking or tacitly endorse drinking games. Instead, consider carnival games that reward students for knowing alcohol safety trivia. Aim for programming that is engaging while not enabling.
  5. Include Community Partners. Community task forces and coalitions offer a wealth of knowledge, support for your efforts, and possible funding. Reach out to others in your area doing similar work - school counselors, community services board prevention specialists, police departments, substance use disorder counselors, and other offices within your institution. Consider joining CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America) and learning more about the coalition partnership opportunities in your area.
  6. Evaluate Your Efforts. Even if you are using evidence-based programs, evaluation is not an optional program component. A short post-program survey (pen and paper or clickers/phone app) can help you know what new information students learned and how you can improve the program. For more extensive program evaluation, consider partnering with academic departments (e.g., public health, marketing, sociology, psychology) to create and implement random-sample surveys and analyze data.
Until next month,
Susie Bruce,  Director, Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
Jill Maurer, National Development & Program Coordinator

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