Subliminal Sorbiety?

Vanessa Persico

Let me say a little something about the “Social Norming” campaigns that Project Wellness generated last year — and is about to re-initiate. For the most part, the campaigns feature well-assembled posters with characters, color schemes, fonts, and buzzwords from popular culture — Grey’s Anatomy, Entourage, Anchorman, etc. — with statistics thrown in from the CORE survey. These statistics always point to one conclusion: your friends and classmates don’t drink as much as you think they do, so you don’t need to drink to “fit in.”

To be fair, this seems like a really good idea on paper. Once it goes 3-D, though, it falls apart.

There’s really one huge problem: the statistics that Colgate students see on these posters directly contradict the attitudes that they encounter in reality. The walking, talking, norm-setting people in our peer groups value drinking. They’re talking about last weekend, planning for this weekend, making Facebook groups about it, celebrating it, setting up “trophies” on their shelves, chalking IDs and making friends with 21-year-olds. You can’t knock over the drinking culture of a school like Colgate with statistics.

First of all, I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I would like to know a bit about the methodology behind the CORE survey. How is the sample chosen? If it’s on a volunteer basis, I don’t think you can get a representative sample. Who will care to take a survey being given by Project Wellness? People who care about Project Wellness. And who cares about Project Wellness? The sort of people who would “strongly agree” with the more moderation-oriented statements on the survey. This could account for the disconnect between the survey results, trumpeted so loudly on Project Wellness’s posters, and what you see on the average weekend.

Second of all, the selection of the questions really just borders on absurd: nobody thinks that beer is a magical potion that actually turns the imbiber into a pretty pretty princess or a babe magnet. People just believe that it makes them and those around them think that they are pretty pretty princesses and babe magnets. They believe this because, well, it’s true. Also, who can deny that having more than five drinks in a sitting is risky? We’ve almost all taken AlcoholEdu, and many of us have even seen the sorry state to which binge drinking can reduce a friend, a roommate, or oneself. We hear the sirens on Saturday nights, and we’re not stupid. Also, the reason that 67 percent of Colgate students drink fewer than 10 drinks per week is that we drink fewer than 10 drinks in the average week. Also, we lose count, but that’s not the point. The point is, Project Wellness is using straw men, and I’m not buying it.

Third of all, to the members of Project Wellness: please stop patronizing us. Do you really think that, because you throw Jack Bauer on a poster that says that 94 percent of Colgate students think having more than five drinks in a sitting is risky, we are going to re-think our binge drinking behaviors? It’s like a college version of Elmo telling us that reading is good for you. Little Joe Colgate might have listened to Elmo back then, but all of his not-so-red-and-fuzzy friends were outside playing football, so he read, but learned how to punt and pass, too. Now, Joe’s all grown up, and his friends are clustering around the keg. No matter how badass Jack Bauer is, Jack Bauer isn’t the one calling Joe a faggot if he can’t hold his own at a party — his friends are. And no matter how gorgeous Derek Shepherd is, he’s not the one putting the moves on Jane Colgate after she’s had more rum & cokes than she can count — real guys are.

Long story short, when the social norming posters tell a Colgate kid something that doesn’t seem to square with his or her personal experience, he or she is smart enough, experienced enough and post-modern enough to trust what he or she has deduced from reality over something contradictory coming from above.