BASICS alcohol program instated

Despite student concerns about the increased requirements for undergraduate advisors to report rule-breaking, the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students that was extended to all first-year Dartmouth students this term has been met with approval by administrators and students.

The BASICS program consists of a 20-minute online survey about alcohol and drug use followed by a one-on-one interview with one of six trained BASICS providers. Varsity athletes, Good Sam recipients and students who get reported by their UGAs for violation of alcohol policy will also have to go through the BASICS program, according to Special Assistant to the President for Student Health Aurora Matzkin. A new policy requiring UGAs to report certain high-risk behavior was also instituted this year.

BASICS is not intended as a punishment or a judicial process, but rather a “health intervention” for College students about the alcohol decisions they make, according to Director of Residential Education Michael Wooten.

“We’ve got to change the conversation at Dartmouth about what it means to get in trouble,” Wooten said. “There’s this notion here that if you have to talk to an administrator or a staff member, you’re in trouble.”

The program’s non-punitive nature makes it effective, UGA Anneliese Sendax ’13.

“At least in the beginning, it operates separately from the judicial system at the College,” she said. “At its base it’s an educational tool.”

One of the key advantages of BASICS is that it works for students regardless of their level of alcohol consumption, Matzkin said.

“BASICS is very much an intervention that’s about meeting a student wherever they are,” she said. “It recognizes that behavior change happens when people are ready to make a behavior change and only then.”

Nicholas Parillo ’15, a UGA who volunteered to go through the BASICS program so that he could “speak through personal experience” to his residents about it, said the one-on-one aspect of the program is effective because it is non-judgmental and personal.

“Very few people are going to change their behavior just because some survey tells them to,” he said. “BASICS was very discussion based. There was really no judgment.”

Jessica Zischke ’16 also said that the program’s interview process has the potential to be more effective than an online survey, such as those taken by freshmen upon acceptance to Dartmouth.

“I think it’s good to have some kind of follow-up because with a survey it would be easier to fabricate stuff,” she said. “It’s always good to go over that stuff with an actual person rather than just clicking buttons.”

Danielle Midulla ’16 said that an in-person interview could compel students to be more honest about their practices.

“If you’re talking it out with a person, you’re much more likely to not just try and get out of it,” she said. “You’re going to feel inclined to maybe talk it through with them and answer their questions.”

The fact that the program does not pretend to seek a complete end to alcohol consumption on campus also makes it more realistic, Parillo said.

“I think harm reduction is key,” he said. “They know they’re not going to make the campus dry.”

Some of the students who will have to participate in BASICS will be those who are reported for alcohol policy violation as a result of a new policy that requires UGAs to report all dangerous behaviors through an online system, according to Wooten.

The new reporting policy which was piloted last spring in Russell Sage Hall helps provide necessary clarification for UGAs as to what constitutes a high-risk situation and how to respond to it, Matzkin said.

“What this process has done this year is clarified all of that for UGAs and put them in a position where it doesn’t have to be a judgment call,” she said. “This is just part of their job.”

Another advantage of the new reporting policy is that it allows important information about students to be shared among relevant College employees on campus so that those involved can receive help, sometimes in the form of BASICS, Wooten said.

“We need to be more purposeful and intentional about how we’re appropriately sharing information so that students can flourish at Dartmouth,” he said.

Wooten said that he was confident in the ability of UGAs to effectively report incidents despite the difficulty in also maintaining strong relationships with their residents.

“They’re in a really hard job, and we want to acknowledge that it is really hard to be both building authentic relationships with your peers and also saying, Wow, that seems unhealthy,'” he said.

UGA Joyce Pan ’15 said that the reporting process and a referral to BASICS has the potential to be uncomfortable and “destroys the comfort of a residence hall.”

“It kind of feels like someone is spying on you 24/7,” Pan said. “It may strain the UGA and resident relationship.”

Despite these concerns, the BASICS program itself may be beneficial to students, Pan said.

“It’s meant to promote a healthier environment, and it’s not at all supposed to get the students in trouble,” she said. “It might make students less comfortable talking to their UGAs, but it’s promoting safety, which is what we should focus on in the first place.”

The BASICS program was first launched in Sept. 2011 for alcohol policy violators, and as a result of its success in initial trials is now operating throughout campus, Matzkin said.

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