Conferences: Top 5 Takeaways from NASPA AOD 2010

Last week members of the MyStudentBody team traveled to New Orleans for the NASPA AOD Prevention & Intervention Conference. According to the NASPA website, the conference aimed to bring together senior-level administrators, prevention and education staff and researchers from the alcohol and other drug arena to focus on advancing knowledge and information sharing about alcohol and other drug use on colleges and universities. Round-table discussions, educational workshops, and speaker sessions provided a forum for institutional teams to either begin or continue their work on alcohol abuse prevention for their college and university campuses. We definitely learned a lot at the conference and here are the top five takeaways:

1. Significant changes can only be made by garnering support from top administrators. We all know how hard it is to get vice presidents and presidents to see the value of prevention and intervention education, and it seems like we might need to take a different approach. Peter Lake, professor of law, Charles A. Dana chair and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law, discussed in Saturday morning’s plenary panel that the presidents and leaders of higher education institutes are most interested in how issues affect academics and retention. In order to get attention from these key people, we need to find a way to communicate how AOD, mental health, and wellness issues relate to student success.

2. Involve faculty members in providing support for student AOD and mental health issues. In the opening plenary session, a panelist mentioned that past ACHA surveys showed students find faculty very credible sources of health and wellness information. Most faculty, however, don’t know what to say or where to direct students. Student affairs departments, student health services, and counseling services should all begin to create partnerships with the faculty to let them know how to identify students that may need help and how to refer students to the proper department on campus. Even a simple note in the syllabus about available resources could help.

3. Parents are the key to helping us find solutions. General Arthur T. Dean, chairman and CEO of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America emphasized the importance of parents in our efforts. Parents are a huge influence on students, but unfortunately parents often don’t know what to say or, even worse, perpetrate false social norms. General Dean reinforced the need to work closely with parents and families of students as we look to the future of mental health and alcohol and other drug issues on campus. By providing information to parents during orientation or within welcome packets sent to students over the summer, we can help them facilitate discussions and promote safe and healthy lifestyles.

4. Broad engagement provides the most lasting impact. Whether it’s community coalitions using a round table approach or engaging agents of change on your own campus, programs and policies that work the best and last through staff turnover are those that have been created and defined using input from many stakeholders. Take a look at the Bloomington Normal Community Campus Committee or the collaboration at Bradley University to see the results of much hard work.

5. Messages need to be relevant to the audience. We tend to quote research and results in a way that are most meaningful to us. If we want our message to be heard, and acted on, we must consider the needs of the stakeholders with whom we’re communicating. What information is going to move them the most? For presidents, it may be retention numbers; for abstainers, it may be the second-hand effects of drinking; or for local police, it may be how EUDL grants could provide overtime for their workforce. Whatever the case may be, in order to for us to be effective and persuasive as AOD and mental health professionals, we need to make sure our message is being heard. Be creative!

For more information about what we learned at the NASPA conference, contact anyone on the MyStudentBody Team. Our contact information can be found here.

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