Pushing Prevention: The Skills You Need

Campus drug and alcohol abuse and violence prevention requires a broad range of skills that may be acquired from several disciplines within the university. A recent survey of administrators involved with MyStudentBody found that 26% of MyStudentBody administrators work in Health Services, 20% work in a designated Alcohol and Other Drugs department, and 20% work in Student Affairs or Student Services.

Research confirms that reducing high-risk student behavior requires a combination of education, alternative activities, restricting access to alcohol, and other strategies. Prevention efforts have come to depend on individuals with skills in three major areas: interpersonal, program development, and communication.

Interpersonal Skills

It’s easy to have tunnel vision when your primary focus is on alcohol and drugs, but you’ll get more cooperation if you try to see everyone’s perspective and find ways to make your work relevant to theirs. You‘re likely to get better participation and more ideas to work with as well.  Building cooperation and collaboration among groups, finding common ground with constituencies that may feel threatened by prevention efforts, and working with committees and senior officials call for diplomacy, flexibility, tact, and social awareness. Among the interpersonal tasks a prevention professional will face are the following:

  • Networking
  • Negotiation and advocacy
  • Building coalitions
  • Facilitating meetings
  • Collaboration with diverse groups

Program Development Skills

Campus prevention professionals are called upon to develop, implement, and evaluate programming at many levels -- from strategic policy to individual events. When your assessment, goals, and strategies are well-defined and clear, they’re easier to communicate so that people outside of prevention understand what you are doing and why. Among the skills required for program development:

  • Strategic planning
  • Data collection, analysis, and evaluation
  • Survey design, methodology, and implementation
  • Policy assessment and development
  • Implementation of strategies
  • Counseling (basic skills may be required for brief interventions like BASICS or ASTP)
  • Program evaluation and continuous improvement

Communication Skills

Prevention also requires a strong communications component. Not only will you need to get the word out to students and staff, but to parents, alumni, funding organizations, and the greater community. And it’s not just a matter of telling your story, but of telling it persuasively, keeping in mind that you are hoping to reach people who may not have the same level of knowledge or understanding of the issues that you do. You run the risk of losing your audience when you use insider jargon or assume everyone is aware of the background issues. So, choose a simple message and stick to it. Some communication tasks for prevention professionals include:

  • Communicating with the college about the need for prevention activities
  • Soliciting input on proposed policy changes
  • Informing the community about policy changes
  • Adapting your messages to available websites and social media, and developing your own
  • Writing proposals and other fundraising materials

Borrowing and Building Your Skills

The skills required for these tasks are rarely to be found in a single person. But, that doesn’t mean your prevention program must do without them. Use your interpersonal and communications skills to build teams and task forces that bring other expertise to the table. Take advantage of existing communication tools; for instance, MyStudentBody provides samples and templates for some of the messages you need to share with students. Use available survey information from the Core Institute (a national AOD database available at: http://www.core.siuc.edu/) and National College Health Assessment. MyStudentBody also provides assessment and satisfaction surveys and data reports from your own students that can support and supplement your efforts.

  • Be creative, and draw upon the resources of your college or university.
  • Make use of undergraduate and graduate volunteers and interns in disciplines related to your work.
  • Faculty in applied math, statistics, economics, and social sciences may be interested in designing class projects that can help you gather and interpret information about your students and what strategies are effective for their issues.
  • Staff who must deal with the effects of student drinking, drug use, and violence—such as health services and residence life staff—also have incentives to contribute time, effort, and skills to finding and implementing solutions.
  • Bringing people from many disciplines into your prevention efforts has the added benefit of involving the whole campus in addressing the issues, which increases awareness and buy-in.
  • Professional colleagues can help you develop your own new skills.  Many colleges give staff a discount on work-related courses. There are also knowledge communities and publications available through Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) and other organizations that can help you increase your expertise in less familiar areas.

References

DeJong W, Langford L. (2002). A typology for campus-based alcohol prevention: Moving toward environmental management strategies. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 14, 140-147.

Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. (1998). Social Marketing Strategies for Campus Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems. Retrieved December 13, 2011, from http://www.higheredcenter.org/files/product/soc-marketing-strat.pdf 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2001). Community How To Guide On...Coalition Building. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/alcohol/Community%20Guides%20HTML/Book1_CoalitionBldg.html 

Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA). Publications. http://www.naspa.org/pubs/default.cfm 

Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA). Knowledge communities. http://www.naspa.org/kc/saaer/default.cfm 

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