They’re not all the Same: Using Small Group Social Norms to Engage Fraternities and Sororities

by Stacy Andes

Villanova University's campus (photo courtesy of Stacy Andes).

Villanova University’s campus (photo courtesy of Stacy Andes).

For much of my time in college health over the last 15 years, most efforts targeting Greek-affiliated students have involved campus-wide programs and events that did not necessarily take into the account the particular needs and concerns of our students involved with fraternities and sororities. The small group social norms approach allows campuses to move beyond “blanket” mandated programming that treats every fraternity man and sorority woman  the same [way]. Through the collection of National College Health Assessment survey data every three years and the creation of Chapter-level reports, every Chapter has contributed to the creation of a specific action plan that meets the needs of their members. It has served as a very meaningful touch point for our fraternity and sorority leaders in examining their Chapter cultures and identifying areas of concern, as well as ways in which they are leading the way to a healthier Greek community and, ultimately, a healthier campus community.

Recent data shows that fraternity and sorority men and women are at greater risk for high-risk drinking and non-medical prescription stimulant use. (Photo courtesy of Stacy Andes.)

Recent data shows that fraternity and sorority men and women are at greater risk for high-risk drinking and non-medical prescription stimulant use. (Photo courtesy of Stacy Andes.)

With the latest data collection effort, we continued to mirror national trends of substance use and [misuse]. We continued to identify high-risk alcohol use as a particular risk for our Greek men and women. However, alongside high-risk alcohol use, we found that fraternity men and sorority women are also at much greater risk for non-medical prescription stimulant use. This is something that the research literature has been telling us for some time, but our Chapter reports were finally bearing the same fruit. With the ability to speak much more specifically (and confidentially, I might add) to the level of risk within each fraternity and sorority Chapter, our leadership has seen the research translated into their reality. This has been a very powerful vehicle for sharing what we know with what they are actually experiencing. Using aggregate campus data would never have painted this picture, certainly not with the level of detail that we are now able to provide to our Chapters through the small group social norms process. Rather than compare themselves against the average student, this process allows them to compare themselves to one another (e.g., fraternity Chapter with other fraternity men and to themselves over time) which is a much more believable comparison point for our Greek-affiliated students.

As an influential sub-population on campus, fraternities and sororities have the social capital and connection to exert positive change related to a number of health issues (e.g., alcohol and other substance use, sexual violence), and this small group social norms approach has allowed each Chapter to take ownership over that influence. Rather than feeling like targets or like “we’re all the same,” our fraternity and sorority leadership is beginning to embrace their social capital for positive change. Rather than considering various health issues separately, the small group social norms approach and the creation of Chapter-level reports and action plans has helped staff and students make connections between their reported attitudes, perceptions and behaviors around a variety of issues. It is the only approach that has also allowed us to successfully navigate conversations about substance use (alcohol and prescription stimulants, most notably) with our Greek-affiliated students in a way that has heightened awareness and commitment to positive change.

Andes_4Stacy Andes has worked in the field of health promotion for more than 14 years and has served as the Director of Health Promotion at Villanova University since 2006. In 2010, she completed her dissertation on non-medical prescription drug use (NMPDU) among college students and created a toolkit for health promotion professionals to begin to assess, address and prevent NMPDU on college campuses.

The Ohio College Initiative

by Cindy Clouner

ohio college initiativeThe landscape of higher education has changed in many ways in the past two decades, but one thing that continues is the challenge that colleges and universities face in addressing high-risk drinking.  The potential negative consequences of high-risk drinking are endless and can be compounded when mixed with other drugs, including prescription drugs.  Recognizing this need, Drug Free Action Alliance created the Ohio College Initiative, the nation’s first statewide initiative to address high-risk drinking, in 1996 and has continued to drive this unique collaboration.

A member of the Ohio College Initiative, The Higher Education Center, is located in Stillman Hall at The Ohio State University. (Photo courtesy of

The Ohio College Initiative focuses on decreasing high-risk alcohol use by utilizing environmental prevention strategies, specifically reducing access and availability; reducing marketing and promotion of substances; increasing consistent enforcement of laws and policies; increasing social, recreational, and academic options; and creating a health promoting environment.  These strategies echoed the prevention philosophy of the former Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, considered the nation’s primary resource for college and university prevention programming.   The Higher Education Center was an important ally in the work of the Ohio College Initiative and provided technical assistance and support.  With limited resources, it was imperative that campuses not only relied on each other, but also on the communities in which they were located.  In the first year, 19 institutions created campus-community coalitions to address high-risk drinking.

Almost twenty years later and with 53 member institutions, this pioneering initiative is still in existence. Although high-risk drinking prevention will always be at the heart of the Ohio College Initiative, in recent years many institutions have seen an increase in the number of students using marijuana and misusing prescription drugs.  The need to address these issues in an effective way is evident and with the rebirth of the Higher Education Center in our backyard, there is no better time than now to refocus the collaborative efforts of Ohio’s college campuses.  With a formal partnership between the Higher Education Center and Drug Free Action Alliance, colleges and universities across the state will have access to support, education, technical assistance, and opportunities for networking that will assist them in building strong prevention programs to address not only high-risk drinking, but also the increase in marijuana use and prescription drug misuse among their students.  Members of the Ohio College Initiative will be meeting in May to celebrate this new chapter in its history and learn more about the opportunities it brings.


The Ohio College Initiative is supported by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.  To learn more about the Ohio College Initiative, please visit

Cindy ClounerCindy Clouner is the Program Manager for the Ohio College Initiative through Drug Free Action Alliance.