Sex, alcohol, and Opening Days at Willamette University


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This story was originally published in The Willamette Collegian on September 30, 2014. It was written by Willamette reporter Alyssa Milstead and is printed here through the Northwest News Network, a collaborative project between many northwest collegiate newspapers.

Brendan Dwyer admits that there are a lot of challenges that come with educating first-year students about alcohol.

“You have such a varied audience,” Dwyer said. “And frankly, people don’t like being told what to do. People learn through their own experiences.”

The senior biochemistry major and Opening Days coordinator wanted to change the programs that were being used to educate first-year students about drugs, alcohol and sex. In previous years, there was a required lecture or performance on alcohol and drug use that first-year students were required to attend with their Opening Days groups.

“I thought it was pretty mediocre, and most staff members agree with me,” Dwyer said

In the spring of 2014, administrators and students from Bishop Wellness Center, Opening Days, Multicultural Affairs, Community Education, Residence Life and other facets of campus life discussed the alcohol and sexual violence prevention programs that first-year students attend.

The new committee eliminated all previous alcohol programs along with “Sex Signals,” a lecture program that used humor to educate students on sexual violence. Now, first-year students must complete an online module and attend a presentation titled “Living the Motto.”

“Think About It,” the online portion of the training, focuses on alcohol, drugs and sexual violence prevention. Freshmen are required to complete the module during the first week of classes.

“It’s kind of like an online magazine, where they click through, and read things, and take quizzes,” Director of Bishop Wellness Center Margaret Trout said. “It takes a while to do it, but it’s full of information.”

The new “Living the Motto” program compiles information for students about healthy drinking habits and appropriate sexual conduct. Trout said she no longer wanted drinking and sexual violence to be addressed in separate programs.

“We really wanted to move away from having these separate venues,” Trout said. “We address a lot of topics, but encourage students to watch out for their friends, whether they’re drinking too much or if there is violence happening.”

At “Living the Motto,” students watch a 25-minute video that highlighted the issues, solutions and resources available to students on campus, which Trout said she thought accurately portrayed the drinking behaviors of Willamette students.

Trout thinks that students hold the dangerous perception that the average Willamette student drinks more than they actually do.

“The video was Willamette-specific, and it was normalizing reality, which is that students aren’t really [binge drinking],” Trout said.

This year, students also watched a 30-minute theatre performance that was co-written by senior English majors Anna Fredendall and Rachael Decker, focusing on bystander intervention.

“Our whole concept with ‘Living the Motto’ is that we all have a responsibility to take care of each other and make sure that we’re all safe,” Decker said.

Freshmen students met with their residence halls and community mentors before and  after the “Living the Motto” presentation. This is a change from previous years, when students would attend all alcohol and sexual violence prevention programs with their Opening Days groups.

“I think this really integrates [Living the Motto] more into what their community is going to look like after Opening Days,” Decker said.

Dwyer was pleased with the feedback from the “Living the Motto” program, but said he is more uncertain about the success of the online module “Think About It.”

“It’s good for accountability and fundamental knowledge. And it is the best module we found for engagement and content,” Dwyer said. “But college students are less engaged with online modules.”

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