Saturday, August 13, 2011

Drunk support is a new twist on bystander intervention for alcohol prevention

party lifeguard at a college drinking party

I just finished reading the article "Drunk Support" on Inside Higher Ed, and I was intrigued by this new term and its implications for tweaking our existing alcohol prevention programs. The term "drunk support" was coined by Thomas Vander Ven, an Ohio University associate professor of sociology, and refers to the social aspect of the college drinking scene in which students might coerce each other to drink more in one instance, and later offer help or assistance in the form of water, an escort home, or even emergency assistance.

I haven't read Mr. Vander Ven's book, but from the description in the article it sounds like this is a silver lining to drinking circles with strong social influences. On one hand, they might be egging each other on, and on the other they are more willing or likely to assist during a crisis.

I might have to pick up a copy of the book so I don't continue putting words in his mouth, but I'll continue this post for the sake of finishing my thoughts.

The article continues by describing a variety of bystander intervention programs that seem to be quite effective beyond the traditional social norming or educational poster campaigns that are more commonplace. The programs listed include the Red Watch Band program, the Quaker Bouncers, and the Green Team.

The Haverford Quaker Bouncers, in addition to being trained in bystander intervention techniques, are actually paid $10.25 an hour to monitor parties in teams of two. Likewise, Dartmouth's Green Team members are paid $44.00 per night to monitor parties.

This is a fairly bold move, and hey if you've got the funding why not give it a try! My only concern would be intentionally placing students at parties they wouldn't otherwise attend. Maybe I'm just being overly cautious, but training students to be more safety-consious in their everyday life is one thing. But having them attend raucous parties as paid lifeguards seems risky somehow. I suppose since they're the sober ones, they have less to worry about.

The quotes in the article were very positive, and anecdotes in the comments were also very telling. It sounds like students understand that these party monitors are not paid snitches, and are there for their benefit.

Jeff Millman, the creator of both the Quaker Bouncers and Green Team, is now president of his own start-up company SOTEER that "creates and supports a professionally-trained, non-threatening peer monitoring system for parties and acts as a liaison between students and college administrators" (source).