Best Responsible Consumption Program (TIE)
Training Resident Assistants
By Melissa Niksic
College campuses are a focal point for all states combating drinking and promoting responsible drinking initiatives. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) decided to enhance its outreach efforts in this area by focusing on forging connections with students, which led to the development of the Resident Assistant Training Program in 2014. The concept of the program is to empower student resident assistants (RAs), giving them information about alcohol use and abuse that can assist them as they work to maintain the health and safety of their fellow students in campus residence halls.
“At nearly all universities, freshmen usually need to stay on campus in dorms with an RA,” says Jerry Waters, Director of Regulatory Affairs with the PLCB. “We saw an opportunity to reach out directly to the RAs, instead of just the people who work with students. This helps ensure that we’re giving students the tools they need to handle drinking-related situations.”
Under the direction of Bethany Gardner, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol Education, the PLCB created a one-hour interactive training program designed to be an add-on to the training already provided by colleges to students who are hired to be RAs. PLCB staff members conduct the training sessions and customize the program for each institution they visit, based on the college’s drinking incident statistics and individual priorities.
All presentations contain information about alcohol’s impact on adolescent brain development, the consequences of high-risk drinking, variations in the amount of alcohol used in different types of drinks and laws pertaining to drinking violations. One law in particular is strongly impressed upon RAs: Pennsylvania’s Medical Amnesty Law, which provides legal amnesty to underage individuals who seek emergency medical attention to help someone facing a life-threatening situation related to alcohol consumption.
“So many people aren’t even aware that this law exists, and that information could impact how a student responds in an alcohol-related crisis,” Gardner says.
In addition to the information obtained while attending the presentation, student RAs are also given various publications to use as resources. Materials are specifically targeted toward college-age populations. One brochure, titled “Your Degree Doesn’t Matter,” details the many alcohol-related convictions that can appear on an employee background checks during a job-search. It also highlights various occupations that generally require state licenses or certificates, and notes that those licensures/certifications may be denied or revoked as a result of misdemeanor or felony alcohol statute convictions.
The RA Training Program was piloted at six Pennsylvania schools in 2014 before being offered to more than 200 institutions later that year. Since then, 634 attendees have participated in the training program. Pre- and post-training testing shows that participants are retaining the information presented to them. When tested on the information they’ve learned, RAs scored an average of 4.3 on a 5-point scale.
At Seton Hill University, a private Catholic institution located in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, all RAs receive the PLCB’s training in addition to supplemental training provided by the university. Alyssa Iannamorelli-Eddy, Professional Counselor/Coordinator of ATOD Services at Seton Hill, says the PLCB’s RA Training Program provides an excellent foundation of information that the university can then continue to build upon.
“It’s very helpful for the students as the training helps prepare them for how to deal with situations that they definitely will experience on campus,” Iannamorelli-Eddy says. “They learn everything they need to know in order to prepare them for this job and help them lead their peers.”
The PLCB continues to offer the program, reaching out to colleges and universities by way of letters under Waters’ signature, e-mail communications and regular reminders on its Facebook page. Plans are in place to grow the program and minimize the agency resources needed to maintain it. Currently, three PLCB staff members are responsible for conducting training sessions and the costs associated with the program are drawn from the Bureau of Alcohol Education’s operating budget. By 2016, the PLCB hopes to implement a “train the trainer” program, whereby the agency will provide the resources and materials necessary for colleges and universities to lead training sessions on their own.
How will the PLCB measure the effectiveness of the program? The agency is constantly in communication with participating colleges to see what effect the training has had on campuses. Referrals from participating colleges to other institutions will also illustrate the value of the program. And over time, data on campus alcohol-related incidents provided to the state by all Pennsylvania institutions will help determine whether the RA Training Program is having the ultimate desired effect: reducing (and hopefully eliminating) emergencies on college campuses involving alcohol.
“We know a one-hour training session isn’t going to be the be-all, end-all for this issue,” Gardner says. “However, it’s adding another layer to the reinforcements, and we have data that proves when the message is repeated, it sinks in. It’s a really good program.”
Melissa Niksic is a freelance writer and marketing communications strategist from Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in Chicago’s Daily Herald newspaper, Time Out Chicago, Suburban Life newspapers, and various magazines. She is also the author of several children’s books. Follow her @MelissaNiksic.