In the fall of 2017, Anne Velliquette, a marketing clinical assistant professor at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, watched her son view a series of online videos about alcohol and substance abuse, a requirement for all incoming freshmen. She questioned what he retained and how seriously he viewed the content.
“I wondered whether it was at all effective in educating our freshmen on the reality of what they were about to embark on as a college student with new freedoms and plenty of opportunities to consume alcohol in an unhealthy way,” Velliquette said.
Ironically, soon after, she was contacted by Sarah Stokowski, a recreation and sport management assistant professor in the College of Education and Health Professions, who was seeking assistance from a marketing professor for a collaborative grant application regarding alcohol abuse prevention on campus.
The timing was perfect.
In collaboration with several university departments and programs, Stokowski submitted a successful grant application and the University of Arkansas was awarded the NCAA CHOICES grant for $30,000 over a three-year period. The grant provides funding to reduce alcohol abuse on campus through a partnership with athletics and other campus groups.
The grant led to the development of ROAR –Razorbacks Offering Accountability Resources – a new registered student organization on campus open to all students at the university. Its mission is to encourage students to drink responsibly and to look after others who may be drinking.
Of the 15 universities receiving CHOICES funding, the University of Arkansas program is unique. Instead of driving the program through athletics, administrators, professors or student affairs – a restrictive delivery – the ROAR program encourages healthy behavior through peer-to-peer interaction.
“We feel like if we approach from a student-led side, with the goal of having fun and prioritizing SAFE drinking, NOT abstinence, it will give us a great shot of being successful,” said Ridge Stringer, ROAR co-president and senior majoring in marketing at Walton College.
ROAR educates students about alcohol use in fun, approachable ways. In February 2019, ROAR arranged a tour of the Black Apple Cidery in Springdale to learn about how cider is made and learn about safe consumption.
“Another project is our Got Water? campaign,” Stringer said. “This campaign allows us to use those big red Solo cups (trash cans painted red) to put water in, and have those at various events on campus to make sure students stay hydrated. This campaign is organized and ready to go. We plan on using it at events like IFC Row Week, Razorback baseball games in the Hog Pen, and at the student entry before football games.”
Stringer hopes that students will be receptive to free bottles of water and will incorporate water into their party plans. With this in mind, ROAR has partnered with the risk management chairpersons at fraternities and sororities.
“We plan on those RMCs being ROAR ambassadors in their respective houses, in order to spread the word on ROAR, and push our initiatives to them,” Stringer added.
In its inaugural year, ROAR has 80 members who have implemented numerous projects and has collaborated with several campus-wide organizations. One such collaboration is with Emery Gower, a wellness specialist for substance use who works in the Department of Wellness and Health Promotion at the university.
Gower teaches students on campus wellness skills to counteract drug and alcohol abuse, overeating, poor spending habits, negative relationships or other risky behaviors.
“My goal is to shift from an often preachy way of talking to students and what they are doing wrong to one that is more driven by what they are doing right and how they can do more of that,” Gower said. “ROAR fits with these goals because they are inspiring a group of students to help normalize the fact that you can drink responsibly and still have a good time.”
ROAR also partners with University of Arkansas Police Department, Greek Life, College of Education and Health Professions, University Housing, Counseling and Psychological Services, Department of Athletics and Walton College.
Working with campus-wide partners, ROAR has four main goals.
- Develop and deliver bystander intervention training.
- Create and disseminate marketing materials to educate students about alcohol use and abuse.
- Create awareness about resources available to students regarding alcohol education and abuse prevention.
- Decrease risky behavior involving alcohol.
The program targets all students at the university, but especially freshmen, student-athletes and members of Greek life. One way ROAR tries to educate students is through social media campaigns.
“There’s approximately 27,000 students at the U of A, and it’s hard for a brand new RSO to establish great awareness fast. This is why we participate in almost every outreach event we can, including creating our own,” Stringer said. “Social media is big for us. We recently had a social media giveaway where prizes included Uber gift cards and other cool stuff. That alone netted us nearly 400 more followers, and over 1,500 comments on the post.”
Working with University Housing, resident advisers in all dorms will receive bystander training, as will fraternity and sorority leaders, ROAR officers and other ambassadors. In fall 2018, ROAR held workshops during Freshman Business Connections classes, which are required of all freshman enrolled in Walton College. ROAR won the SOOIE Event of the Month Award for their involvement in these workshops.
“One of our student officers shared his own freshman testimony/story about his poor choices with alcohol and how this impacted him,” Velliquette said. “He had such a powerful impact being a senior in a fraternity – someone younger students could relate to.”
The group has also participated in Walton College’s Block Party event, held the first week of fall classes, to create awareness and recruit new members. In addition, they’ve hosted T-shirt giveaways in front of the Arkansas Union and held meet-ups at local stores such as Bearded Goat Apparel.
While ROAR focuses on peer behavior, Stokowski has utilized the grant for research opportunities.
“Countless studies have demonstrated that student-athletes, first year students and students involved in Greek life are at risk of alcohol abuse. Combined, these populations make up 40 percent of our campus. The CHOICES grant has allowed us to begin several studies looking at the campus culture regarding alcohol,” Stokowski said. “We have several surveys out right now inquiring about students’ drinking behaviors, attitudes towards drinking, as well as mental health. So, when all of the data is finally collected, it will be very cool to see the impact ROAR has had. We do know that alcohol related educational sanctions are down nearly 20 percent from last year to this year when we started ROAR.”
Just as Stokowski’s research relates to the ROAR grant, Velliquette pulls it into the classroom.
“We jointly discussed how we could use my classes to help come up with the name, logo and event ideas. We also discussed the idea of a peer-to-peer program with a registered student organization,” Velliquette said. “Starting ROAR the RSO has been much like starting a new business and it has been amazing to watch the students running it learn and grow!”
“It is so encouraging to see so many students want to be involved in efforts to help their peers understand the negative consequences of alcohol abuse, and the importance of having a life-long healthy relationship with alcohol,” Velliquette said. “I hope ROAR can help change the alcohol culture on campus and impact lives. I know it is a tall order, but even if it makes a dent in reducing alcohol abuse it is worth it.”