Posters Report College Social Norms
BY LINDLEY ESTES
The colorful posters are a fixture on-campus, so common that students often walk by them without a second glance. Lying on tables in Seacobeck and tacked to bulletin boards in residence halls, each one reminds students “That’s Still How We Are.”
Created in 2003, the Wellness Committee is in charge of determining how student wellness might be improved at UMW. The committee is formed by faculty from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Health Center, Campus Recreation and Dr. Raymond Tuttle, director of judicial affairs and community responsibility.
The primary focus of the committee has been to measure student wellness on-campus. To reach this objective, the committee has employed the National College Health Assessment.
The NCHA, a product of the American College Health Association, is administered to the entire undergraduate student body every two years via e-mail. Universities around the country use the results of their assessments to identify risks, design health-based programs and start social norm marketing campaigns.
The committee also gathers data from the judicial attitudes survey, which is administered only to new students upon orientation.
The poster topics range from alcohol consumption to smoking habits to sexual practices to drunk driving. With phrases like, “Between the Sheets, One is Fun,” the posters are meant to command the attention of passersby.
“All of these students are wondering where these stats came from,” junior Terrell Taylor said. “The one about UMW students stopping after having between one and four drinks is a lie. What’s the point of [the posters] anyway?”
The Wellness Committee has used past statistics to help CAPS identify training and counseling priorities and launch the social norm marketing campaign. This year, the posters, which are the heart of the campaign, were titled, “That’s Still How We Are,” showing that the campus has not seen a decline in its healthy atmosphere.
“I feel that UMW is a safe place in which to live and study, and one that is largely healthy,” Tuttle said. “Still, we know that our students grapple with many of the same issues that students all over the country face – academic stress, choices related to alcohol, anxiety, and so on – so we always need to make sure that we are providing our students with wellness-related resources and education.”
Resident Assistants receive the informative posters from Residence Life and are encouraged to hang them as part of their information boards.
When asked what statistics she would like to see in the future, Chris Porter, director of Residence Life, said, “I find surveys of things like alcohol and drug use, safe sex practices, eating and sleeping habits are helpful.”
While some students find the statistics accurately represent their life on campus, others think they misrepresent the student body.
Referencing the social norms poster titled “UMW Students Smoke Zero Packs a Day,” junior Amanda Keller said, “College is where people start smoking. Plus, have you ever just stood outside of Combs? They smoke constantly there.”
Some students have found the hidden potential of the social norms posters and turned them into collector’s items.
Sophomores Helen Alston and Erin Berry have a growing collection of ‘That’s Still How We Are’ posters in their Marshall Hall dorm room.
“We steal them every week,” Berry said. “It’s more mocking than anything.”
Alston and Berry, along with others of the student body, wonder if the statistics on the posters are valid.
“The statistics are ridiculous,” Alston said. “We need stats that actually polled more than a few hundred people on campus.”
Tuttle said, despite students’ perceptions, the survey is valid.
“Each time we administered the NCHA…not all students participated, but enough students participated to make it statistically likely that their responses reflect the attitudes and behaviors of the entire UMW student body,” Tuttle said.
The Wellness Committee hopes to repeat the NCHA in 2011 to determine if students’ behaviors and attitudes are unchanged and if “that’s still how we are”.