NESCAC Schools Survey Alcohol Use

By Ethan Brady

On March 1, the College notified all students that it will conduct a survey about alcohol use and drinking culture at the College in conjunction with other NESCAC institutions. The confidential NESCAC alcohol survey was first administered in Spring 2012 and was coordinated by Bowdin’s Dean of the College. This year marks the second time the survey will be administered and will now be coordinated by the Dean of the College at Tufts.

The common survey aims to assess the current state of the College campus individually and in the context of its peer schools. According to an e-mail sent to all the College’s students, the deans at the eleven NESCAC schools hope that the survey will allow them to develop and implement better services, programs and policies to meet their students’ needs.

In Fall 2010, the College created a small task force headed by Gus Jordan, director of the Parton Center for Health and Wellness. The task force devised a Middlebury-only alcohol survey to try to identify trends and pinpoint problematic drinking behaviors in the hope of creating a healthier environment regarding drinking culture. The survey garnered a high rate of participation among students.

 According to Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of the College Katy Smith Abbott, administrators at other NESCAC schools quickly became interested in this survey. The NESCAC deans, who meet regularly several times a year, decided it would be beneficial to look at the same questions across all NESCAC institutions in order to compare data among a group of peer schools. The College survey in Fall 2010 was a basis for the first NESCAC survey, which was administered in Spring 2012. The deans agreed to conduct the common survey every three years.

After the survey is concluded, each school can view only the data pertaining to its own students and the NESCAC averages for all schools. All data will be presented in aggregate form only. This summer, the NESCAC deans of the colleges plan to discuss what they have learned about their own institutions vis-a-vis the results of the 2012 survey.

Depending on what the data reveal, Dean Abbott suggested that she and her fellow deans may entertain a conversation about NESCAC-wide policies or other initiatives to affect positive change across all institutions. 

“If, for example, all eleven schools should report high levels of underage drinking among first-year students, we might ask ourselves what we want to shift,” said Abbott. “Is there something not working in the way we bring first-years in, or supporting them, or making social life options available to them?”

But unsurprisingly, NESCAC-wide changes may be hard to institute.

“It is complicated in part because the culture of each institution is distinct,” Abbott said. “The way each of us does orientation, or first-year programming, or even how we organize residential life differs among our peer schools. These all play into whether an action will be feasible or impact positive change in the context of a particular campus culture and practices,” she concluded.

The College also draws data from national surveys, including a survey in the Fall by the National College Health Association in which the College participated. In 2010, the task force concluded that drinking at the College occurs on campus, but at most larger institutions, drinking happens off campus, in town or at fraternities and sororities. 

“When we look at national statistics, which encompass larger colleges and universities, we have to keep in mind what the culture is like specific to Middlebury,” Abbott said.

“I am excited to gauge what students are saying on the survey vis-a-vis what we are feeling in terms of student voices on campus. From social life frustrations to concerns about the relationship between students and Public Safety, we are curious to see how these compare to the actual data that we retrieve from the survey,” she continued.

 Abbott indicated that she is looking forward to receiving new information to work with. 

“We implemented many of the recommendations from the task force in 2010—not all, but many of the 40 that were offered. Some of those have worked, and some haven’t. I keep thinking what new information we might get, and how we might respond with changes and enhancements to social life that would actually make a positive difference to students,” Abbott concluded.