Voices from the Field

Voices from the Field is a place for administrators, teachers, school support staff, community, and family members to learn what experts -- researchers, practitioners, family -- from across the country think by reading a short post that includes the latest promising practices on a range of school climate topics, along with references and related resources.

How does your campus create a supportive, safe environment for first-year students?

The first few weeks on campus are charged with excitement and promise for first-year students.  However, with the loss of familiarity come gains in autonomy. The transition from high school to college can be tumultuous for many students, with the first 4 to 6 weeks being the most critical (Schulenberg & Maggs, 2002).

Many new students engage in high-risk behavior in those first weeks.  In fact, recent studies confirm that more than 60% of college students under the age of 21 consume alcohol (Core Institute, 2013).  High-risk drinking peaks around late adolescence and early adulthood and is even more prevalent among young adults who attend college (Johnston et al., 2013).  Risky drinking can negatively affect students’ academics, health, and social lives (Ross & DeJong, 2008). Even students who are not heavy drinkers or abstain from drinking altogether suffer secondhand effects like interrupted study or sleep, unwanted sexual assault or advances, or property damage (Wechsler & Nelson, 2008). As many as one-third of first-year students do not re-enroll for their sophomore year, in part due to their own or others’ high-risk alcohol use  (ACT, 2013; Upcraft, 2002).

Campuses can help support first-year students as they adjust to their new environments.  First-year students report that many people, including parents, friends, college professors, advisors, residence assistants, and counselors help facilitate their transition to college (Scott-Sheldon et al., 2014; Smith & Zhang, 2008). Availability of substance-free dorms, limiting the availability of alcohol at on-campus events, and providing students with alcohol-free social activities, particularly during freshmen orientation, can help ease the perceived norm that you must drink to fit in (Ross & DeJong, 2008; Zimmerman & DeJong, 2003). Limiting the marketing of alcohol on campus and strengthening enforcement of underage drinking laws can also reduce drinking rates (Saltz et al., 2010; Ross & DeJong, 2008). So while there is no one-size-fits-all solution to preventing high-risk alcohol use or promoting a smooth transition, a multifaceted, proactive approach by campus staff can help to ensure that students feel supported and safe (Hingson & White, 2014; NIH, 2007). 


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