Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Record Update first

New undergrads must take course on alcohol abuse and sexual assault

Students going away to college experience substantially more stress and responsibility resulting from increased independence and accountability. New social and physical surroundings, the influence of popular media and the change in their support systems create vulnerable transition periods for incoming students.

The university is taking steps to better prepare new students for their transition to college life by requiring an online class before they arrive in the fall. The course covers alcohol abuse and sexual assault.

The first few months at college are when students are at greatest risk, according to national studies. Two in five undergraduates report they engage in heavy drinking, and the negative consequences of that activity can result in personal injury, physical illness, high-risk sexual behavior, assault and community disruption. 

Statistics from the U-M Sexual Assault and Prevention Center (SAPAC) show that staff respond to three times more clients in the first eight weeks of Fall Term than throughout the rest of the year combined, and disclose that alcohol is involved in 80 percent to 90 percent of the reported assaults.

To help students reduce risks for personal harm incoming undergraduates this fall will be required to complete online courses called AlcoholEdu and SexualAssaultEdu before they arrive on campus.

“Alcohol abuse and sexual assault are recognized as two significant issues that can impact the lives of students and their communities, in college and beyond. We intend to educate incoming students so they can make informed choices about their decisions related to alcohol use and provide information about sexual assault prevention. By adopting this course requirement, we utilize a universal prevention measure that creates a shared understanding of the issues and develops common language for students joining our community while sending a strong institutional message regarding the importance of these issues and the potential negative impact to their academic and personal success,” says E. Royster Harper, Vice President for Student Affairs.

The university will provide AlcoholEdu and SexualAssaultEdu as a single online course called CommunityMatters that has been customized to introduce students to U-M specific information early in their academic careers.

“This is a thoughtful program designed specifically for college-age adults. The course is science-based, non-judgmental and non-opinionated, and it relies on proven prevention theories and educational strategies to help students understand the many aspects of sexual assault and alcohol issues,” Harper says. She believes the personalized approach will provide an experience that impacts both individual behavior and campus culture.

Mary Jo Desprez, administrator of the Alcohol Policy and Community Initiatives Program, says AlcoholEdu adds a new component to the comprehensive approach already in place to help students make healthy choices about alcohol use.

“It complements other educational programs used by the University of Michigan like the Choose to Be Safe and Legal Campaign, the Stay in the Blue Program, BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students), e-CHUG (Electronic Check-up to Go) and Sober Monitor Training Program.”

SexualAssaultEdu augments SAPAC’s existing programs during New Student Orientation and the first three weeks of school.

“It is a compliance-based program based on proven prevention theories and educational strategies that will help students understand the many aspects of the sexual assault issue that we believe will promote a nonviolent campus community by providing students with important prevention skills and strategies,” says Aimee Nimeh, assistant director for education and training at SAPAC.

She is confident that it also will further the university’s commitment to raising awareness and educating the community about sexual violence and related issues because “the course will heighten awareness that sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, and relationship violence are not isolated incidents, but rather the individual behavioral expressions of a pervasive cultural attitude that tolerates violence, specifically sexual violence.”

For more information about the CommunityMatters course, go to www.studentaffairs.umich.edu/communitymatters.