Event-Specific Prevention with Tavis Glassman, Ph.D., MS.Ed., MPH, CHES

Tavis Glassman, Ph.D., serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Toledo where he teaches courses in drug awareness and human sexuality. He is a Certified Health Education Specialist with a doctorate in Health Education and Behavior from the University of Florida (UF). Dr. Glassman also holds a Master of Public Health degree from Ohio State University and Master of Science and Education degree from the University of Toledo. He has over a decade of experience working in the health education field and currently serves on campus, community, and state coalitions that address alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use. Dr. Glassman has extensive experience with campus event-related health issues, having worked at four different Division I higher education institutions (such institutions have large collegiate athletic programs and budgets, and therefore more sports-related event activities). He also has community health experience working at the American Red Cross where he served as an instructor and trainer for various health and safety courses for over five years. His research focuses on these areas of interest:  alcohol consumption on game day; 21st birthday celebrations among college students; and the design, implementation, and evaluation of social marketing messages. Prior to his current position, Dr. Glassman served as UF’s Coordinator of Alcohol & Other Drug Prevention. In this capacity he was successful in reducing the campus high-risk drinking rate by 19% over a four-year period through a combination of social marketing and environmental management strategies. In this Administrative Eye Interview, Dr. Glassman shares insights about effective event-specific prevention efforts.

What is event-specific prevention, and how does it fit in to a college’s alcohol prevention focus? 

At times, there are events that come up where people drink more than they would ordinarily. The best real-life example is a wedding. Because the drinking is done in a different context, it requires a different intervention. I think all the prevention work – like enforcing minimum drinking age laws and other efforts - help in any event. Having strong environmental management strategies work for you all the time, but if there is a big event, a university needs to become strategic in addressing these issues.

What is “pre-gaming,” and how does that concept fit into event-specific prevention? 

Pre-gaming is a little bit of a confusing term. Pre-gaming is where people drink before the event. Just because students are pre-gaming doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to a game or athletic event. It’s different from tailgating. I like the term pre-party because it suggests that people drink before they go out to the bars or to a house party. Pre-partying happens more often at the student’s place where they live and with a small group of friends who have a few drinks before they go out.

The reasons people pre-game can include:

  • They’re underage and they can’t get alcohol where they’re going
  • It might be cheaper to drink beforehand
  • People have social anxiety where they don’t want to interact with people when they’re not intoxicated

Describe your campus environment and how event-specific prevention comes into play.   

The two major things we worry about are football game days and 21st birthdays. On game days, we’ve done some social marketing efforts. We’ve conducted research and found that even the heaviest drinkers don’t want to drink so much that they miss the game or they can’t comprehend what’s going on. For example, at the University of Florida (UF) we had a little campaign with a slogan, “less is more.” We also have the UF Gators football coach Urban Meyer on a poster and some radio ads.

Some essential tactics to reduce game-day drinking:

  • Don’t sell alcohol in the stadium
  • Don’t allow alcohol advertising in the stadium
  • Institute a no re-entry policy, meaning you can’t leave the stadium and come back in. That’s critical. Some people leave and try to slam a few drinks and then come back in

We’re exploring [the idea of] providing an area where there is no alcohol, like an alcohol-free alternative tailgating area. I think what schools should do is regulate the tailgating hours and designate where an open container would be permissible and where one would not. It’s important that alcohol is served in a very highly regulated area, not a free-for-all. We’ve tried to increase our enforcement of underage drinking. If people are belligerent or visibly intoxicated, they will be asked to leave the game. We’re not allowing kegs on campus in the tailgating areas. Things that are very blatant, we’re trying to address.

How do you decide which events warrant event-specific prevention planning? 

There are lots of events to tend to, and there are only so many resources. So, you have to prioritize what are the biggest risks and go for those. We also looked at research surrounding 21st birthdays. We instituted a pretty unique intervention for 21st birthdays at UF. It’s all set up electronically. About a week before their birthday, students receive an email that congratulates them and contains safety information. Then, on the night of their birthday, they receive [coupons for] free pizza, ice cream, and a movie from our community partners. They can only redeem them between the hours of 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. on their birthday. The goal is to lock up that prime-time drinking window.

Our 21st birthday intervention is free because we have community partners, and it’s all done electronically. We’ve had it in place for a number of years, but this is the first time we’re looking at its effects in different cohorts.

What personnel, departments, or campus groups can be partners in event-specific prevention? 

It’s imperative that the efforts are multi-departmental. This should be a result of your campus task force. We work with our police department, the university athletic association, and community partners. On game day our law enforcement teams up with school, city, and county police departments --and they are very collaborative. We don’t get into a lot of turf issues because we need every resource we have. It’s a big campus in a small city.

Are there any opportunities for student involvement in the planning or execution of these activities? 

Students are always involved in campus task force. Students help us design our messages and we use students to message test all of our materials.

What kind of resistance should college administrators be prepared for, and does it differ depending on the event? 

It definitely differs depending on the event. People love game day. People love to tailgate. The concern is that alumni, visitors, and potential donors might become upset with some of the proposed policies. That’s not the only consideration, and that doesn’t make or break a policy, but it is a legitimate concern.

Do you think that these principles can be applied to smaller campuses? 

For sure on the 21st birthday campaign, I think all schools should implement that. With this campaign, we’ve had a lot of students say it shows how much the university cares. This is important because a lot of alcohol policies are perceived as authoritarian at a time when students are trying to be independent and get away from authoritarian environments. It shows that the university and community care, that there’s a partnership and that it’s a collective responsibility. It creates a win-win situation.

Not all events are going to be that easy. I know some schools schedule spring break around St. Patrick’s Day. That’s a pretty good strategy. Also, when students first get to campus in the beginning of the semester, occupying their time is really important. That whole transition of beginning the academic year is an event, even though it’s not deemed as such. If they have a week where they have nothing to do, that’s going to be problematic.

Are there any books, articles, or online resources that you would recommend for someone who would like to learn more? 

Here are four important articles on event and context-specific drinking:

Glassman T, Werch C, Jobli E, Bian H. (2007). Alcohol-related fan behavior on college football game day. Journal of American College Health, 56, 255-260.

Haun J, Glassman T, Dodd V, Young G. (2007). Game-day survey results: Looking at football fan alcohol-related behaviors. American Journal of Health Education, 32, 91-96.

Neighbors C, Oster-Aaland L, Bergstrom RL. (2006). Event-and context-specific normative misperceptions and high-risk drinking: 21st birthday celebrations and football tailgating. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 282-289.

Neal JN, Fromme K. (2007). Hook’em horns and heavy drinking: Alcohol use and collegiate sports. Addictive Behaviors, 32, 2681-2693.

Do you have any final tips for schools hoping to incorporate these ideas into their own plans? 

I think it’s an emerging issue that is just now getting the attention that it deserves. In the past we’ve neglected these issues, but I do think they require customized intervention efforts. If you’re in the prevention field, you have to be in it for the long haul. It takes time. It takes courage and perseverance. You sometimes have to stick your neck out and you have to be in it for the long haul.

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