Alumni are an important constituency to consider in the effort to promote safe and healthy college campuses, as alumni can help convey messages to support prevention efforts. When alumni are not enlisted to support prevention, they can in fact harm attempts to promote a healthy campus.
How alumni can help – or harm – prevention efforts
Many alumni return to campus for games and reunions, and on such occasions, may seek to relive the “glory days” of their college experience. These alums may return to their fraternities or sororities, hoping to relive if not retell the stories from their own college days. Minimally, this behavior can contribute to negative messages for current students, as in many cases, in the intervening years since these alums have graduated, policies and programs have been instituted to help to curtail offensive, irresponsible, and high-risk student behavior. In more serious situations, alumni can endanger their own safety and that of others, perhaps buying alcohol for underage students or engaging in high-risk behavior that can lead to injury, or, as in the case of a University of Pennsylvania alumnus who fell drunk behind a fraternity, may result in death.
More commonly, however, are the messages sent by alumni who talk of their college experiences to high-school students who may consider matriculating or applying to their institution. Much research has helped demonstrate that students drink more in accordance with what they think are the accepted norms on their campus. In casual conversations alumni have with young students, therefore, it is important that they be aware not to promote messages relating to what is – or was – acceptable behavior at their alma mater. These messages can develop expectations – perhaps false – on the part of prospective students that can contribute to their own high-risk behavior.
Reaching out to alumni
Some alumni may be reluctant to support campus efforts to promote health and safety and in some instances, represent a very vocal constituency against attempts to curb high-risk student behavior. “Let the students have their fun” can be the attitude many take. For these people, it may be necessary to demonstrate that high-risk behavior among students is not at the level and extent that it was in their college days. Alumni may be surprised by statistics of hospital transports and other data demonstrating the level of abusive and high-risk behavior among current students. Once alumni have come to understand the seriousness of the situation on a campus, they may be much more inclined to support administrators’ attempts to curtail this behavior.
These messages may resonate for some alumni, particularly when reinforced by the point that an institution’s party image can undermine the reputation of their alma mater and by default, the value of their diploma. Some alumni may be particularly sensitive and responsive to attempts to help promote healthier student behavior, such as in the case of alumni in recovery for drug and alcohol addiction.
In reaching out to alumni, the following action steps may be encouraged:
- Protect your alma mater’s reputation—insist on strong leadership from top school officials, and ask that they address the problem with candor and courage.
- Don’t glorify your drinking behavior when talking to prospective students. Discuss the alcohol-free options for recreation and growth, and focus on the academic experience of the institution and how it places students at an advantage in the workplace.
- Support fraternity and sorority reform, and review and reform of campus AOD policies.
In short, alumni are too numerous and valuable to prevention efforts to leave out of the conversation. They can be a very supportive and effective voice for campus health and safety when given accurate information regarding the extent of campus problems and their own role and value in helping to promote positive, healthy campus norms. If left to decide on their own what messages they convey, they may in fact hinder campus attempts to promote healthier decisions by students.