Valparaiso uses NIU as model for anti-drug grant

By Kevin Lyons

Valparaiso University may be using some NIU tricks in spending a $100,000 anti-drug grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Higher Education last week.

The bulk of the grant at Valparaiso will be used to establish an office of alcohol and drug education on campus, like NIU’s. NIU has used two similar grants in the past.

Judy Nagel, project coordinator of the new office, said she has been impressed with some new concepts in substance abuse education established at NIU. Mainly, the way information is presented to the public.

Nagel said she was very interested in some of the ideas expressed by Michael Haines, coordinator of Health Enhancement Services at NIU, at a seminar in Washington, D.C. last year.

Haines said the new method involves giving students the real picture of alcohol abuse and not an exaggerated misrepresentation, which he believes does more harm than good.

“The theory says students are influenced by what they think is the norm,” Haines said. He said studies show that most people think that the average college student abuses alcohol, while statistics prove otherwise.

Haines said the media indirectly adds to the misconception because when alcohol is mentioned in news stories it almost always involves abuse and violence or arrest.

According to research, Haines said two-thirds of NIU students drink 5 or fewer drinks in a night of “partying.” Nationally about 50 percent have five or fewer drinks. Studies also have shown that students surveyed think that two-thirds of students abuse alcohol.

“Most drug education programs use police and focus on the negative aspects which make the situation worse,” Haines said. “They carry the misconception with good intentions.”

Haines said that method creates a distortion of the norm which students tend to gravitate toward.

“If campuses can just get the message across of what that norm really is, we can get some positive changes,” Haines said.

“It’s somewhat radical, but it has been very well received. This is one time when common sense and science come together in agreement,” he said.

Haines will be speaking again in Washington late in October. Nagel said she would like to discuss some of the ideas with Haines in greater detail.

“I’m very interested in Northern’s ideas,” Nagel said. “I liked the things he (Haines) had to say.”