As institutions of higher education, colleges and universities have a legal obligation to reduce foreseeable risk. Such obligation motivates campuses’ interest in and need for an environmental management approach to preventing alcohol and other drug use. However, this legal obligation also necessitates that schools mitigate negative consequences if students make irresponsible decisions about their safety and health.
A successful environmental management approach creates an environment that discourages poor decision-making about alcohol and other drug use while providing safety nets for students, including safe rides and designated driver programs, in the event they do make negative choices. Rather than enabling or supporting poor decision-making, mitigating negative consequences can create an environment that fosters healthy decisions when integrated into a comprehensive environmental approach that includes stricter policy and enforcement.
Campuses should aim to achieve reasonable compromises within their prevention approach that do not deter students from seeking assistance for themselves or others. Students should feel comfortable approaching campus officials if, for example, a friend is in a life-threatening situation resulting from high-risk alcohol or other drug use.
Campus prevention efforts should also look to research-based effective strategies for discouraging high-risk consumption and ameliorating negative consequences. Incorporating science-based strategies into the environmental management approach increases the vitality and effectiveness of the school’s prevention effort.
With the threat of litigation, colleges and universities must take responsibility to create a healthy environment for their students. In many cases, this may require assisting with potentially dangerous situations, while simultaneously addressing other environmental factors such as availability and access to alcohol, marketing and promotion of alcohol beverages, and the development and consistent enforcement of well-founded policies and laws.