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Monday, August 31, 2015

All in: Optimal Buzz and B'low Optimal at Trinity University

Optimal Swag
After a two-year pilot program, Trinity has fully rolled out its B'low Optimal alcohol program this fall. The program offers on-campus students an incentive to drink according to Optimal Buzz program guidelines, created several years ago by Dr. Richard Reams Associate Director of Counseling Services.

For years Trinity University worked with students, faculty, and staff, through the Trinity Alcohol Coalition to develop cohesive messages and programs that fit to these three tenets: we acknowledge students will drink; we care deeply about student health and safety; and we will follow our alcohol policy as proscribed by law.

Our Responsible Friend policy acknowledges students will drink and shows we care about them by letting students off the hook if someone calls for help because they see another student in crisis related to alcohol. No one gets in trouble. Lawful alcohol at tailgates is now part of policy and complies with these tenets. Beer and wine are served in the Skyline Room for various events. There are many examples.

We have been reflecting this approach through a brief and practical video/slide show we send to new students and publish on our alcohol web page:

Dr. Reams used to talk about the Optimal Buzz with first year residence hall students, but we were only hitting about half of each class. We produced a video this year that was shown at New Student Orientation to all new students, with much greater reach. It acknowledges that students will drink and teaches them how to drink like (most) adults - to be safe and drink in moderation:

The B'low Optimal program takes the Optimal Buzz a step further. If students are caught drinking, but say "I wanna blow," the Residential Life staff allows them to opt-in for a breathalyzer reading. If they are within the Optimal Buzz range up to .06 BAC, then they only receive a pre-warning. This acknowledges students will drink, shows we care about their health and safety, and still complies with policy (just with an adjusted sanction - the pre-warning).

This is self-sustaining, financially, as we have used student fine money from alcohol and drug cases to fund the videos, new breathalyzers, and some of the items pictured above: shirts for new students; cups, with serving-size markers for sophomores; and bottle openers for juniors and seniors. Next year seniors will receive shot glasses that state: "This is ONE drink - Go Optimal."  The staff is doing an accompanying poster campaign as well.

Let's face it. Many alcohol education programs miss the mark. We will be assessing this approach to see if it is effective in reducing excessive drinking. Early reviews in the pilot program were promising, though we learned many lessons that have been addressed in the new full program.