In the aftermath of a series of conversations between NESCAC student affairs deans, Bowdoin will join eight other colleges in the conference in conducting comprehensive surveys on student alcohol consumption.
The plan for the spring survey was crystallized last week at the NESCAC deans' annual meeting in Boston. The goal is to look at the alcohol culture on different campuses and to gain "an accurate picture of the role of alcohol in student's lives," according to Tim Foster, Bowdoin's dean of student affairs.
"We've never compared the Bowdoin culture and behavior to that of other NESCAC schools," he said. "We want to assess the current state and be able to make comparisons...and to reveal the best practices and develop and implement better policies."
Other than Wesleyan University and Amherst College, all other NESCAC schools have signed on.
Wesleyan has already been participating in a similar program under the auspices of Dartmouth College, which requires monthly rather than yearly assessments. Wesleyan administrators were concerned that their students were being "bludgeoned with surveys" according to Foster, and have yet to commit to participating in this one. However, Wesleyan and the affiliated Dartmouth program are interested in collaborating with the NESCAC plan.
Due to recent changes in its Dean of Student's office, Amherst has not yet signed on and is still considering the proposal, but Foster was cautiously optimistic about the prospect.
Although Bowdoin has previously collected data on student alcohol use, this was included in a broader survey on student health and wellness.
This survey will focus exclusively on alcohol use, in the hope that more detailed information on the subject can help NESCAC administrations better understand the issue.
The survey will be administered to all undergraduate students at each participating campus in early March, and the results of the survey will be compiled by May. Administrators will receive the data sets for all the schools, with data from other schools remaining anonymous.
The survey questions are uniform for schools, but Foster said the study will still account for the different social realities among the NESCAC schools: urban versus rural, and fraternities versus non-Greeks being prominent among them. There is also space for each college to include its own specific questions.
The survey will be confidential, and the questions range from asking students about their experience with alcohol before coming to college, to where and when "dangerous" drinking is occurring on campus.
The test will be administered every four years, designed to have what Foster called a a "longitudinal aspect," allowing administrations to track the changes that occur over time.
"I don't believe in doing surveys to do surveys," said Foster. "We've tried to ask questions where depending upon what we learn, we can act upon the information."