Assessing High-Risk Behaviors

Effective assessment of high-risk behaviors involves collecting data to quantify substance misuse, risky sexual behavior, crime, or violent behavior among students, along with the related primary and secondary harms caused by those behaviors to students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community.

Assessment also can identify the environmental influences that may be directly or indirectly affecting student risky behavior, such as existing policies, enforcement practices, access to substances, or the promotion of high-risk practices or rituals. High-risk behaviors by students and the related harms to the campus community can negatively affect the learning environment in a variety of ways.  

Look for key patterns of high-risk behavior, especially among groups.

A variety of valid and reliable student surveys can measure risky behaviors. Effective assessment requires analyzing the data from several perspectives and searching for trends within subpopulations, such as academic colleges, residence halls, athletic teams and clubs, student organizations, and fraternities and sororities.    

Look for connections to key aspects of the campus and community environment.

Looking beyond the behaviors themselves can help assess the environmental influences that may be enabling behaviors, such as high-risk promotions, rituals, and practices; ineffective policies, enforcement, or adjudication; apathy or encouragement from college faculty or staff; lack of intervention by fellow student bystanders; or spaces and places across campus where unsafe behaviors can occur. Connecting these environmental elements to behavior data enables the campus to change behavior by changing these elements.

Assess current attitudes and beliefs along with behaviors.

Research has found a direct relationship between the perceptions students have about what is considered normal behavior by fellow students and the adoption of high-risk behaviors. Many student surveys include measurement of normative perceptions, attitudes toward high-risk behavior, and perceptions of campus policies and messages. These data can be used to correct misperceptions and change prevailing beliefs and attitudes that contribute to an unsafe environment.

References

Engs, R. C., Diebold, B. A., & Hansen, D. J. (1996). The drinking patterns and problems of a national sample of college students, 1994. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 41(3), 13–33.

Hingson, R. W., Zha, W., & Weitzman, E. R. (2009). Magnitude of and trends in alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18–24, 1998–2005. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Suppl. 16, 12–20.

 

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