Health center prepares to implement Greek alcohol safety program

Lauderdale Center for Student Health & Counseling is currently preparing to implement a new program: Training on Greeks and Alcohol. This program—abbreviated TOGA—will change Greek peer education with the goal of teaching risk management and alcohol safety to organization leaders.

Alcohol and Other Drug Program Coordinator Sarah Covell ’81 first brought this program to campus when she replied to an email sent out by the project’s principle investigator Toben Nelson of University of Minnesota.

In the past, Nelson created an Alcohol Risk Management program for retailers that sell alcohol in college towns such as restaurants and bars.

“We’ve been doing a lot of formative research trying to identify ways in which the policy that we have for commercial settings … and see what might be feasible for those procedures to happen in fraternity party settings, and what else is unique about fraternity party settings that we can help reduce risk and reduce liability,” Nelson said.

Geneseo is one of four schools selected for the program’s testing. The other three are SUNY Plattsburgh, the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida. Nelson chose Geneseo because he wanted to look at a state school heavily influenced by Greek life and, according to Covell, Geneseo has the highest percent of Greek students out of all the SUNY schools.

“From my perspective, you’ve got staff there who are national leaders, Sarah [Covell] in particular, on working with alcohol issues on campus, working with fraternity members in particular, and also my understanding is that some of the policies that we are recommending have already been implemented on your campus,” Nelson said.

The implementation phase begins in the spring semester, but Nelson and other researchers have remained in contact with Covell in the meantime. Covell recently met with Nelson and his assistant, who visited campus Friday Oct. 2.

“It’s a really unique opportunity we have to be on the ground floor of a program that can benefit students across the nation,” Covell said.

The program is developed as an Alcohol Risk Management program, which Nelson specializes in. Two years ago, he was the lead researcher on a Harvard University study on college alcohol use and developed an ARM program for college retailers such as bars and convenience stores that provide alcohol.

“Afterwards, he wanted to develop one for Greek programs as well,” Covell said. Nelson applied for funding and received it from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. He began by sending out letters to colleges around the world, to which Covell immediately replied.

“We would be developing a risk management program that could be used by any Greek students and colleges in this country,” Covell said.

In the spring, coordinator of Greek affairs Wendi Kinney will be meeting with the Inter-Greek Council and working with fraternities and sororities to train members in TOGA policies and practices. They will begin by only working with a couple fraternities and sororities to test out the program.

“We are moving into the second phase of the work, which is to put it into practice and see where the policies work and where they don’t work,” Nelson said.

Geneseo will be expected to provide a randomized list of 200 fraternity and sorority members, followed by a list of 300 random students, and have them fill out survey questions in November. Then, TOGA will meet with individual fraternity members in small groups to discuss risk management techniques beginning in the spring.

“It’s all about harm reduction,” Covell said. “It’s all about recognizing and preventing problems.”