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March 2, 2016

MSU, Anheuser-Busch look to change misperceptions and behaviors on campus

Michigan State University, with the support of Anheuser-Busch, will lead a nationwide effort focused on changing behaviors and cultural misperceptions on issues related to alcohol and drug use on college campuses.

The Anheuser-Busch Foundation has awarded more than $262,000 of start-up funding to MSU to bring the National Social Norms Center to East Lansing.

“MSU is recognized as a leader when it comes to changing the culture of alcohol use on campus,” said Dennis Martell, health promotion director at Olin Student Health Center and an expert on student health issues. “Anheuser-Busch’s support will help us broaden the success of our programs and allow us to work with other universities.”

The University of Virginia previously led the initiative, known as the National Social Norms Institute, which acts as an advisory source to universities looking to reduce high-risk drinking and other harmful behaviors on campus.

“As the leading American brewer, we’re committed to promoting the responsible enjoyment of our products,” said Katja Zastrow, vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility-Better World, Anheuser-Busch. “Our vision is to foster a culture of smart drinking globally to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.”

Anheuser-Busch has invested more than $11.5 million to support social norms programs at universities across the country since 1999. Collectively since 1982, Anheuser-Busch and its wholesalers have invested more than $1 billion in national advertising campaigns and community-based programs to prevent underage drinking and drunk driving.

Martell will serve as the center’s executive director and will be assisted by other MSU staff and faculty. Together they will lead the effort using a well-recognized strategy known as the Social Norms Approach, a method involving research and education that addresses exaggerated beliefs held by students about the “normal” habits of their peers.

The team will also oversee an additional $200,000 worth of grants from Anheuser-Busch that will fund other universities’ social norms programs.

The grantee universities, along with MSU, will work toward maximizing the use and outcomes of the Social Norms Approach and share expertise and best practices with other universities, communities and organizations.

“MSU has 15 years’ worth of evidence showing a reduced environment of high-risk drinking and changed perceptions and culture related to other at-risk behaviors here on campus,” he said. “The general misperception is that college-aged students are partiers and make questionable decisions especially when it comes to drinking. Our information for many years has indicated that this is not the norm.”

Every two years, MSU has collected survey data among its student population that has often shown a decrease in unhealthy behaviors or choices. For example, drinking and driving has continued to decline since 2000.

Based on this information, the university has implemented programs to help students continue to make better health decisions and provide support when needed to achieve academic success. Now the goal will be to share these programs, trend data and MSU’s expertise with others.

“Our vision is to help universities standardize the process of the social norm application on their campuses and use the survey and analysis strategies that we’ve used that are proven successful,” Martell said. “Increasing the use of these approaches not only can make a difference in alcohol-related behaviors that take place on campus, but can address additional health concerns as well.”

By: Dennis Martell

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