The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Student involvement critical to recommendations’ success

The 30 recommendations offered by the president’s Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention are a step in the right direction to change the culture on campus, according to university officials.

Without an ongoing and open line of communication with students, however, the recommendations will never reach their potential.

“The opportunity for feedback with students is not over,” Dr. Dee Siscoe, dean of student life at SMU and co-chair of the task force, said. “We would like to hear from them on what ideas they have about how we can make these things a reality.”

The reality facing SMU administrators is how to respond to an academic year in which the school lost three students to drug- and alcohol-related overdoses.

To prevent similar situations from happening on campus in the future, university officials stress the importance of getting students involved in the process of culture change on campus.

“Our students are the most valuable resource we have,” John Sanger, director of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention said, “and getting students to develop a deeper sense of community is critical to the success of these ventures.”

The implementation of each of the recommendations will not only help to educate students to make better decisions and to know what to say to friends who may be showing signs of substance abuse, but also to know exactly how to help those who most need it, according to Sanger.

From the time that incoming first years step on campus during summer orientation, they are given informational handouts that warn of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. One goal of the task force recommendations is to increase the education of students early in their SMU career to make better decisions.

“It’s difficult to play Monday-morning quarterback with matters of life and death,” SMU parent liaison Deanie Kepler said. Kepler noted that greater education and awareness on the students’ behalf could only benefit the situation.

“We want to do everything we can to prevent these types of things from happening in the future,” Kepler said, “but it can only work if the students buy into it.”

In some instances, students are already buying into the idea of helping one another. Wellness I courses, required for first-year students, have older student volunteers come and speak to the class on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

This peer education program “makes SMU safer by helping younger students develop skill sets necessary for adjusting to college life – including avoiding risky behavior and knowing what to do if a friend could be in trouble,” Sanger said.

The difficulty, according to Sanger, is increasing student involvement in looking for ways to know how to spot risky behavior.

“It is impossible to say that had all of these recommendations been in place last year, that they would’ve necessarily saved these students’ lives,” Sanger said.

The prevention center implemented a new program, Because I Care, last fall – one semester before the task force recommendations went public in late January. Because I Care and Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS) are two programs designed to help students take an active role in reducing drug and alcohol abuse on campus and to help intervene in difficult situations with their peers.

While education is important for students who wish to change the culture on campus, these types of programs have little value if students do not take advantage of them.

Senior Daniel Liu, who sits on the task force as a member of the student action committee and SMU board of trustees, said that any single recommendation would not have made a difference in saving students’ lives.

“The purpose of the report is to get information from as many people as possible,” Liu said. “In order for a cultural change to take place on campus, participation by students is vital. Education and awareness are integral to students’ healthy decision-making.”

For Liu, the establishment of a committee to keep tabs on these issues is just the first of many steps in helping students make healthy decisions.

Although the university’s policies are internally reviewed each year, the last comprehensive review by an off-campus consultant – before the formation of the task force last fall – took place in 1996.

“There is no indication that SMU is not 100 percent behind being on the cutting edge in terms of providing students with whatever means necessary to make the right decisions,” Kepler said.

The 29 remaining recommendations awaiting approval from President Turner, who has already affirmed the establishment of an ongoing commission, are to be submitted by the first of April. The president will then review the information and is expected to come to a decision on each recommendation sometime before the end of the academic year.

Dr. Siscoe is encouraging students to come forward and make their voices heard between now and April 1, whether by e-mail, telephone or one-on-one conversations with administrators.

“I’ve seen a lot of dialogue and discussion that wasn’t happening before. I’d like to see more of that,” Siscoe said. Her office also has a blog on the “Live Responsibly” homepage that deals with substance abuse prevention.

While the development of a dialogue with students is important, discussion will only take the recommendations so far.

The larger issue of the task force recommendations, according to Liu, comes down to “treating fellow students with the same respect that you wish to be treated. We are a family and students need to act like it.”

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