Lehigh joins a national effort to promote students' health

One year into an unprecedented group initiative to address high-risk drinking on college campuses, Lehigh has conducted a series of approaches to find effective ways to deal with the nationally pervasive issue.

Lehigh’s National College Health Improvement Project (NCHIP) team has focused its efforts on educating first-year students, measuring evolving attitudes about alcohol, and developing programs and policies that will help achieve the group’s long-range goals.

A major project that emerged as a result of more than a year’s effort in the NCHIP program is the development and implementation of a late-night program that will offer students more social and recreational options on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The new “Lehigh After Dark” program began with the fall semester.

Lehigh After Dark is offering programming for the hours between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights – a time period that has historically seen higher drinking rates, dangerously high blood alcohol levels in inebriated students, and a high number of transports to local emergency rooms for treatment, according to John Smeaton, vice provost for Student Affairs and a leader of Lehigh’s NCHIP team.

“The health and safety of our students is our paramount focus. Fundamental to that priority is a campus environment in which attractive, enjoyable social options are available and consequences for dangerous behavior are clear and consistent,” Smeaton said. “Student response about the late night programming initiative and for the potential for students to shape this program has been extremely positive.”

An encouraging increase in cooperation

More than 900 students attended the inaugural Lehigh After Dark event at SteelStacks in late August, Smeaton said, and plans are underway for more programs throughout the fall semester.

In addition to Smeaton, the group is led by Gina Baral Abrams, assessment specialist in student affairs. Other team members are Maddy Eadline, director of special projects and assistant to the vice provost for student affairs; Patti Manz, associate professor of education and human services; Meg Munley, research analyst for institutional research; Tom Novak, associate director of the Health and Wellness Center; and Linda Harbrecht, director of communications.

Abrams said she is encouraged by the team’s progress and the level of cooperation across the campus community.

“It’s great to see everyone working together to identify new approaches to reduce high-risk drinking and to advance the Lehigh After Dark initiatives,” she said. “Over the coming year, we’ll be monitoring these efforts and evaluating their effectiveness. We will also continue to survey first-year students to better understand their alcohol use patterns during the academic year and gain their valuable feedback throughout their time at Lehigh.”

Sharing strategies in the nation’s capital

Recently, the Lehigh team traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with groups representing more than 30 institutions from across the country to compare effective strategies. The mid-July session was the third face-to-face meeting of this learning collaborative, which is led by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice at Dartmouth College.

Strategy-sharing sessions involved sharing approaches to pre-gaming, off-campus parties, and other high-risk behaviors that the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates kill as many as 1,800 college students a year and contribute to hundreds of thousands injuries, sexual assaults and academic failures each year.

NCHIP was created in 2010 by Jim Yong Kim, then-president of Dartmouth and now president of the World Bank. He attended the group’s recent event in Washington to reaffirm his commitment to the effort, as did current Dartmouth President Carol Folt.

Other institutions participating include Yale, Stanford, Boston, Cornell, Duke, Princeton, Brown, Purdue, Wesleyan, Bucknell and Northwestern University.