THE WALL STREET JOURNAL 11/2/00 On many
campuses, big brewers play a role in new alcohol policies Colleges resort
to emphasizing moderation over abstinence By Shailagh Murray and Bryan
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Nov. 2--Last fall, two years after a drunken honor student tumbled down a stairway to her death, the University of Virginia launched a novel effort to curb alcohol abuse on campus. Posters in U.Va. blue and orange started cropping up in freshman dormitories, celebrating student drinking--in moderation. "Most U.Va. 1st years have 0 to 4 drinks per week," one poster declared.
SUDDENLY, A UNIVERSITY that had taken a hard line against alcohol at fraternity functions and tailgate parties seemed to be saying it was OK to drink--it just wasn't cool to drink too much. The campaign was equally remarkable for the source of much of its funding: Anheuser-Busch Cos. of St. Louis, the nation's biggest brewer. Having given up on convincing students that drinking can be dangerous, a growing number of colleges across the nation have resorted to a new approach that emphasizes moderation over abstinence. Anheuser-Busch, known for its Budweiser and Bud Light beers, is pouring money and other support into these programs and playing a role in their proliferation.
POSITIVE MESSAGES The new concept, called "social-norms marketing," involves placing upbeat ads about student-drinking behavior in campus newspapers and displaying similar messages on posters, T-shirts, coffee mugs and screen savers. The aim is to dispel students' image of academe as "Animal House" by stressing that the campus norm is to drink sensibly---that is, no more than four or five drinks a week. So far, Anheuser has pledged a total of nearly $400,000 to U.Va. and six other schools for social-norms campaigns. The company is talking with other schools, and last month it sponsored ads praising moderation in more than 50 campus newspapers, in partnership with the National Association of State and Land-Grant Colleges. Other brewers are testing similar approaches. Miller Brewing Co., a unit of Philip Morris Cos., has given $25,000 to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to help develop a social-norms program there. And Adolph Coors Co., Golden, Colo., gave the University of Wyoming $8,000 to help pay for placards advertising that A students average no more than three drinks when they party, while C students consume as many as five.
TRAVEL GRANTS Though many of these programs are in their infancy, the promising results achieved by some schools have captured the interest of other campus health officials. Last week, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a liquor-industry trade group, attracted representatives of 34 colleges to Washington for a conference on student drinking by offering travel grants and funding for alcohol-abuse programs.
Participants heard about social-norms marketing during a panel discussion
and in the keynote address by Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania
State University. All of this puts colleges in the position of deciding
whether their partners in the war on campus alcohol abuse should be the
companies that make and market the beer and liquor young people use to
get drunk. The federal government says 10% of the 105 million Americans
who drink are underage. And a larger number of 21-year-olds drink than
any other age group. On campus, such drinking has frequently been linked
to fatalities, rapes, drunk-driving incidents and vandalism. James Turner,
director of U.Va.'s Student Health Department, says he initially wondered
whether the university should accept Anheuser's $150,000 pledge.
"One always becomes a little concerned if there seem to be strings attached,
but there were none," Dr. Turner says. "I likened it to General Motors
asking a university to help them come up with new air-bag or seat-belt
technology. Of course we'd say yes." Richard Keeling thinks U.Va. and other
schools should say no. Dr. Keeling, the editor of the Journal of American
College Health and a former student-health director at both U.Va. and the
University of Wisconsin, says social-norms marketing attacks the wrong
end of the problem, and he calls industry support for it "amazing, but
very predictable." Public support for such measures as banning kegs on
campuses and cracking down on violators intensified in the
1990s amid media coverage of a rash of alcohol-related student deaths. It was also fueled by Harvard School of Public Health surveys that classified more than 40% of college students as "binge" drinkers, defined as women who consume at least four drinks in a sitting or men who consume at least five drinks. But Dr. Keeling says social-norms programs, by shifting the spotlight to the consumer and away from the product, ease pressure to restrict the supply of alcohol available to students. "I don't think the industry is prepared to reduce consumption, which is what is necessary," he says. Alcoholic-beverage makers defend their support for social-norms marketing as part of their long-running efforts to help colleges reduce drunk driving, discourage underage drinking and encourage college students of legal age to drink responsibly, if they drink at all. "Drinking on campus has been around as long as there have been students, alcohol and college campuses," says Francine Katz, the Anheuser vice president who heads the brewer's social-norms effort. "Thomas Jefferson complained about it at U.Va." The social-norms theory, Ms. Katz says, accepts these facts while promoting healthy behavior. "To me, behavior is dictated by what you see as the norm in society. It can be, put your napkin on your lap, don't talk with your mouth full," she adds. U.Va.'s journey to its partnership with Anheuser began on a balmy afternoon in November 1997. With the university's football team, the Cavaliers, playing the season's final home game, tradition called for fourth-year students to quaff a fifth of liquor---the so-called Fourth-Year Fifth. It isn't clear whether Leslie Baltz, who was in her fourth year, wanted to drink that much. The 21-year-old honor student, who had a double major in art history and studio art, liked to paint and sketch. Once, at the age of 11, she wrote 31 poems for her mother, one for each day of the month, about love, dreams and impermanence. At a party that Saturday, Ms. Baltz drank enough booze-spiked punch that she decided to lie down at a friend's house while her buddies went out. When they returned that night after U.Va.'s 34-20 upset of Virginia Tech, they found her unconscious at the foot of a stairway. Ms. Baltz's blood-alcohol level was 0.27%, more than triple the state's legal limit for drivers but probably survivable if not for her fall. Her parents drove two hours from their home in suburban Washington, D.C., and waited at the university hospital, where their daughter had been put on life support, as doctors extracted her organs for donation. She was declared dead of head injuries. Thus, Ms. Baltz became the fifth Virginia college student to die of alcohol-related causes that autumn, and the
18th at U.Va. since 1990. "The death placed the issue front and center in the public dialogue," says U.Va. President John Casteen III. In February 1998, he convened a task force of students, faculty and administrators to look for ways to prevent similar tragedies.
A DRINKING CULTURE The group had its work cut out for it. Despite official
efforts to discourage it, U.Va.'s drinking culture is as old and rooted
as the ginkgo trees Jefferson planted after founding the university in
1819. At his urging, the school banned alcohol, smoking and gambling in
the 1820s in response to student riots and what he called other "vicious
irregularities." In 1842, U.Va. adopted a student honor code to ease campus
tensions that arose after a drunken student fatally shot a professor. For
years, college students from New England to North Carolina descended on
Charlottesville for weekend benders called "Easters." U.Va. halted those
gatherings in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the school persuaded fraternities,
where drinking tended to be more intense than elsewhere on campus, to ban
hard liquor from their parties and all alcohol from their annual "rush,"
or recruitment season. Despite these steps, alcohol-fueled revelry rolls
on at the frat and sorority houses along Rugby Road, and in the bars along
"the Corner" on the edge of campus. Writing recently in the Declaration,
a campus news magazine, fourth-year senior biology major Mark Grabowski
listed "Drinking leads to friends" as one of the truths of college life.
The Cavalier Daily, the campus newspaper, welcomed new students this semester
with what it called a "bar-by-bar guide to Corner debauchery." The newspaper
added a disclaimer: "Our goal here is not to promote irresponsible drinking,
but to provide you with a resource to aid your quest for responsible fun."
On a recent evening, a banner at the Greenskeeper tavern advertises "Buckets
of Beer" as "a great deal for one, two, three, four or five people" at
$6.99 for five bottles. A short stroll away, the campus bookstore sells
whiskey flasks, shot glasses and beer mugs embossed with U.Va. logos. Over
pitchers of Bud Light at the nearby Biltmore Grill, fraternity brothers
Sam Bellas and Justin Felt recall attempting the "Corner Crawl"---drinking
21 shots of hard liquor on their 21st birthdays. "I made it," Mr. Felt
says. Mr. Bellas concedes that he could swallow only 15 shots. "We
drank 12 beers before we went out, and I just couldn't fit anything else
in my stomach," he explains. Dr. Turner, the student-health department
director and a member of Mr. Casteen's task force, hates stories like those.
For years he was frustrated with the university's alcohol-abuse programs.
None seemed to stanch the flow of students into the emergency room. And
a survey showed the number of U.Va. undergraduates who qualified as "binge"
drinkers had risen to 51% by 1997 from 41% in
1992. "I was never convinced any of it was doing any good, except for making parents and faculty and staff feel better," he says. In the wake of Ms. Baltz's death, the U.Va. task force came up with some fresh strategies to discourage student drinking, including printing students' birth dates on their campus IDs, creating more alcohol-free entertainment venues and restricting alcohol consumption at tailgate parties to certain designated areas. Separately, the university moved fraternity rush to the spring semester from the fall so freshmen wouldn't be exposed as quickly to fraternity drinking habits. Dr. Turner also introduced the task force to social-norms marketing. He had studied research conducted in the late 1980s at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., where two professors had discerned a gap between how much students said they drank and how much they thought their peers drank. The professors thought students might be consuming more booze than they wanted in their desire to fit in. If they knew the actual campus norm, the professors reckoned, maybe they wouldn't feel compelled to drink so much. Michael Haines tested the theory at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where surveys showed that while most students drank no more than five drinks at a time, still a potentially dangerous quantity, they thought their peers were drinking six or more. In 1989, Mr. Haines, the university's director of health-enhancement services, started running campus newspaper ads saying "most students drink five or fewer when they party," and awarded $5 to students who hung social-norms posters in their rooms. During the
1990s, "binge" drinking dropped 44% at the school, more than triple the average decline nationally over the same period. Several other schools mimicked Northern Illinois's methods and achieved similar results. Dr. Turner hoped for the same success at U.Va., where he suspected many students also felt pressured to drink more than they really wanted. With the support of the campus task force, he won a small budget to launch a social-norms program. Around the same time, U.Va. alumnus John Nau III heard Dr. Turner talk about the concept at a briefing for university fund-raisers. The 1968 U.Va. graduate owns an Anheuser distributorship in Houston. His business supports alcohol education efforts, but the social-norms theory was new to him. "As soon as I heard they were looking to use education, rather than a traditional punitive approach, it struck a chord," says Mr. Nau, the father of two U.Va. graduates. He was especially impressed by the program's premise that young people are more responsive to each other than to adults, something that had proved true in his own experience. Mr. Nau called Anheuser's Ms. Katz: Could Anheuser help his alma mater? Ms. Katz, a securities and banking lawyer who joined Anheuser's legal department in 1988, had been involved in the brewer's alcohol-education programs since 1990, when she moved to the company's consumer affairs department. As a mother of two children and the stepmother of two more, including a 22-year-old stepson now in college, Ms. Katz, 42, says her interest is personal as well as professional. "I've been talking to my kids about drinking since they were tiny," she says. In February 1999, Mr. Nau and Ms. Katz flew to Charlottesville. Over dinner at a local country club, Dr. Turner made a pitch for financial help, describing U.Va.'s desire "to tell our first-year students the truth"---that many drink in moderation. "I committed on the spot," Ms. Katz says. At a follow-up meeting at Anheuser headquarters, Dr. Turner presented surveys showing that first-year U.Va. students overestimated how much their peers drank by three drinks a week, on average. The surveys also showed that 59% drank four or fewer drinks a week, and 36% abstained entirely. U.Va.'s social-norms program was a natural for Anheuser, Ms. Katz says. Since its early days, the company has peppered its marketing blitzes with calls for responsible drinking. One of its ads from around the turn of the 20th century, for example, pictured the Statue of Liberty next to a bottle of Bud with this caption: "Of all human blessings, personal liberty is prized the highest. Budweiser means moderation." In the 1980s, when states were toughening drunk-driving laws and raising the legal drinking age to 21, Anheuser started running its "Know When to Say When" ad campaign and calling for "designated drivers." As attention shifted to college campuses in the 1990s, the brewer offered parental guidebooks, guest speakers for frat houses and state-by-state driver's license guides to help bars check identification.
AVOIDING SCRUTINY Ms. Katz and a staff of more than 20 people work full time on these kinds of initiatives. The company's 700 wholesalers are required to contribute a penny from each case of beer they sell to alcohol-education efforts. All told, the company has spent more than $300 million on such efforts since 1982, she says. "No one else comes close to having the portfolio we have, or the manpower we've devoted." The work done by Ms. Katz and her colleagues has helped Anheuser avoid the legal and public-image woes of the tobacco industry, which has been pilloried for marketing cigarettes to children. Two years ago, Mike Moore, the Mississippi attorney general who helped lead the government's legal assault on cigarette makers, invited alcoholic-beverage makers to a meeting of state attorneys general in Washington. One of the group's concerns was how many beer and liquor ads seemed to be, as Mr. Moore puts it, "similar to what we saw with tobacco." Since then, Ms. Katz has developed a working relationship with Mr. Moore. The two speak regularly and have agreed to combine forces to stamp out widespread sales of alcohol to minors in Mississippi. Ms. Katz also visited the state last month to talk with college officials there about social-norms marketing. Mr. Moore says he likes what he has heard about the programs, but he isn't sold yet. "I sure don't want to sponsor a message that says [to minors], 'go out and drink a little bit,' " he says. Anheuser prefers reinforcing positive behavior to imposing restrictions on moderate drinkers' access to alcohol. Pressuring college bars to stop selling cheap drinks, for example, is a hollow gesture, Ms. Katz says. "Whether beer costs $1 or $4, it's about personal responsibility," she adds. The same theme surfaced in recent remarks by Anheuser Chairman August Busch III. At a wholesalers convention, he suggested reconsidering the minimum drinking age because it "results in the very behavior that we are trying to fight ... Instead of pretending that Prohibition on college campuses is realistic, we should be investing in helping those young people learn to make healthy and responsible choices." Ms. Katz says Mr. Busch wasn't endorsing a lower drinking age but made his comments as part of the college-drinking debate. "Part of what people are talking about is that we've driven this behavior underground," she says. Ms. Katz and her staff keep tabs on these issues through journals and conferences and paid close attention to early social-norms programs. So Northern Illinois University's Mr. Haines was a familiar figure to her when he called her last fall to applaud the responsible-drinking message he had seen in a company ad during a Monday night football game. He suggested collaborating. "I was thrilled," Ms. Katz says. Mr. Haines says he had long regarded industry funding as "the kiss of death." But he thought that social-norms marketing by then had established its viability without the help of alcoholic-beverage makers. "There's no chance that anyone is going to mistake this as the industry's approach," he says. In July, he opened the National Social Norms Research Center at Northern Illinois with $105,000 from Anheuser. He says the center compiles research and advice for colleges and high schools, and Anheuser has no say in its operation. Anheuser offered U.Va. $30,000 a year for five years to subsidize its social-norms program. While there was little internal debate about taking the money, "I think all of us recognized there could be some controversy," Dr. Turner says. "But [with] the added revenues we could get, [it] just seemed to make sense having the industry involved." U.Va., which has about 12,500 undergraduates, has accepted money from other corporations for research and, indeed, Anheuser at around the same time gave the school $1.2 million for an environmental-research center. Ms. Katz says the company has made "zero contributions" to shaping U.Va.'s social-norms campaign, and university officials confirm that.
FEELING 'CONFLICTED' Penny Rue became the university's dean of students around the time Anheuser's first check arrived. Today, she says she feels "conflicted" about the money. "By the same token, we all have a need to stretch budgets," she adds. "We could have a very interesting conversation about what [Anheuser's] motives are. But I guess I'm a pragmatist." Others share her ambivalence. Dennis Martell, health-education instructor at Michigan State University in East Lansing, says he was asked to join five academics preparing a booklet funded by Anheuser for parents of college students. The co-authors, who controlled the content, all support social-norms marketing, including Mr. Martell, who started a campaign at MSU this year without industry help. Even though he wasn't going to be paid to work on the booklet, Mr. Martell says he had to think hard about it. "Three or four years ago, I was one of those people who was dead set against" industry collaboration, he says. He consulted his wife and Northern Illinois's Mr. Haines before agreeing to help. The 20-page booklet, "College Talk," was distributed as part of National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week last month It includes a two-page "true norms" section that says, "It is important that you, as parents, don't buy into the misperception that more students are drinking and are at risk than actually are." Although MSU hasn't taken industry money, the school's president, M. Peter McPherson, sits on the board of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, and he supported the group's work with Anheuser on the awareness-week campaign, which included pro-moderation ads. Mr. McPherson is also a director of Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal and WSJ.com. The ads are a striking departure from those the association of 212 schools ran in national newspapers last year about a fictitious product called Binge Beer. "Who says falling off a balcony is such a bad thing? And what's an occasional riot?" the ads asked sardonically. They were funded with $350,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a Princeton, N.J., health philanthropy that has supported projects aimed at making it harder for students to obtain alcohol, such as discouraging bars near campuses from offering dirt-cheap drinks. Anheuser developed this year's Alcohol Awareness Week ads and had its wholesalers place them in student newspapers. The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges had final approval of the ads, which displayed Anheuser's corporate logo and stressed that, on average, two-thirds of students drink less than one alcoholic beverage a day. At Florida State University, Dan Skiles, the director of health enhancement, is skeptical of Anheuser's recent offer to help with the school's new social-norms program. "My personal feeling is that, in the long run, we'd be better off without taking alcohol industry money," he says. "In the end, you end up working for Budweiser and giving them publicity." The Tallahassee school has been a regular on the Princeton Review's annual list of the nation's top party schools, thanks to local student rituals like the "Waltz" pub crawl along Tennessee Street. Now, with the help of $700,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, FSU is getting tough. A coalition of college and community activists has targeted low-priced specials at local bars, persuading one restaurant to stop offering nickel beers on St. Patrick's Day. FSU also has secured $225,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to start a social-norms program. The grant caught the eyes of Ms. Katz and Susie Busch-Transou, daughter of Anheuser's chairman and an executive with the local Anheuser wholesaler in Tallahassee. The two women arranged an Oct. 11 meeting with Mr. Skiles and other FSU officials. At the meeting, Ms. Katz delivered a presentation titled, "What Is Anheuser-Busch Prepared To Do?" Mr. Skiles complains that it was only after FSU took its tougher approach "that Budweiser shows up and wants to fund another program." Ms. Katz says Anheuser has no desire to interfere with steps FSU is pursuing with its Robert Wood Johnson funding, but the social-norms campaign could be "a really good addendum." FSU and Anheuser officials say they are in discussions about a potential collaboration. Officials at the University of Montana at Missoula discussed a partnership with the local Anheuser wholesaler under which the campus would have received as much as $20,000 a year in cash and alcohol-education materials in exchange for displaying the brewer's responsible-drinking messages, along with its logo, inside the school's Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Montana State University had agreed to a similar arrangement subsidized by Anheuser and its wholesalers in the state. Sarah Mart, student health coordinator at the University of Montana, thought such a deal might conflict with the school's new social-norms program. She posted an Internet query to others in her field: "What's the difference between a social-norms campaign promoting responsible drinking and an advertising campaign sponsored by Budweiser promoting responsible drinking?" Not much, the school concluded. "It's just further advertising of their products," Ms. Mart says. The wholesaler never formally proposed the arrangement, partly because the university decided it couldn't live with alcoholic-beverage company logos in the football stadium. "We're all resource-hungry, but there are limits," Ms. Mart says.
CAPTIVE AUDIENCE U.Va. announced its "unrestricted gift" from Anheuser
in April 1999. Anheuser's annual contribution augments the health department's
$45,000 social-norms budget and helps pay for graphics software, printing
and student focus groups. The company's logo doesn't appear on any materials.
Pro-moderation posters went up in the fall of 1999 in bathroom stalls at
the school's first-year dorms, where officials figured they would have
a captive audience. The posters interspersed photographs of smiling students
with affirmative messages. "Only a minority of 1st years think that drinking
to get drunk is acceptable," one read. Another said, "87% of 1st years
have not performed poorly on a test or important project due to drinking."
The statistics were based on a spring 1999 survey of 1,121 students, to
888 responded. The campaign has focused on first-year students, partly because U.Va. wanted to start small and partly because first years are required to live on campus and so are relatively easy to reach. Nearly all of them also happen to be below the legal drinking age. None of the school's social-norms materials mentions the law. Campaign coordinator Cindy Miller says U.Va. doesn't condone underage drinking. But she says most students are well aware of the law, and reminders could turn them off. In focus groups, students gave the posters mixed reviews. Some thought the survey results had eased pressure to drink. One frowned at the assertion that 89% of first-year students don't drive drunk, because it implied that
11% do. Another student asked: "Are you saying that four drinks a week is a healthy choice? I mean, maybe it is, maybe it isn't. It's definitely illegal for the first-years." Changes in drinking behavior were just as varied. Surveys of first-year students last spring, after one semester of the campaign, showed that women had reduced consumption to an average of 4.7 drinks per week from 5.3 drinks, and sorority women, who tend to drink more, cut back to 8.9 drinks from 10.8. But men said they had increased consumption to 10 drinks a week from eight, and frat men taken alone had upped their intake to nearly 22 drinks from 17.4. Another survey showed that vomiting, unprotected sex, emergency-room visits and other negative consequences of drinking declined among women, but rose among men. It's too early to link these shifts directly to the social-norms campaign. U.Va. employs a variety of other alcohol-abuse programs. Experts say social-norms efforts take a few years to work. This fall's posters left out drinking statistics in favor of messages about stress relief and other health matters because officials think first-year students may be too busy to pay close attention. Drinking data will return to the posters in January. For all of U.Va.'s efforts, tragedies continue. On Saturday night, a first-year student fell out of a second-story dorm window and suffered head injuries. The 18-year-old was in serious condition Wednesday at the university's hospital, and a U.Va. spokeswoman says there is evidence that he had been drinking. Copyright © 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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