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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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Students enjoy mocktails and appetizers during the GAMMA kick-off event at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center. Students enjoy mocktails and appetizers during the GAMMA kick-off event at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center.

Greeks Kick Off Alcohol Awareness Program

Greeks Advocating the Mature Management of Alcohol helps train peer educators to encourage healthy drinking habits.
By Diane Slagle

Who knew that the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center could turn into a popular dance club on campus?  

On a recent autumn evening, more than 60 students, faculty and staff members turned out dressed to impress to enjoy some high-energy music in a club-like atmosphere.

Multicolored disco lights danced across the ceiling as students chatted with mocktails in hand, and enjoyed the make-your-own quesadilla bar and mini burgers (aka “sliders”).

Wait: Students drinking mocktails?

Changing attitudes

Yes, mocktails. This was SDSU’s 2010 kick-off event to promote student involvement in GAMMA: Greeks Advocating Mature Management of Alcohol. A nationwide program, GAMMA works to train peer educators within fraternities and sororities to encourage responsible drinking habits.

“We’re trying to change attitudes,” said Lori Bednarchik, a health educator in the Health Promotion Department of Student Health Services, and an advisor for GAMMA. “We want to say, ‘It’s cool not to drink, but if you do drink, do it responsibly.’ And students are starting to hear this message.”

SDSU’s Greek renaissance

GAMMA has had a presence on campus since 1992, but in recent years the program has been less active. Now, Bednarchik and others are working to get GAMMA going again at SDSU.

Historically, problem drinking has been an issue in Greek organizations, and SDSU’s Greek population is large, with a fraternity and sorority community consisting of around 2,400 undergraduates representing nearly 50 organizations.

Each year, SDSU’s Aztec Parents Association raises money to fund programs of benefit to students, particularly in the areas of health and safety.

“We’re grateful to the Aztec Parents Fund,” Bednarchik said. “It’s thanks to their generous contribution that we’re able to revive GAMMA at SDSU, and improve the image and safety of the Greek community here.”

Caitlyn Zang, assistant coordinator of fraternity and sorority life, works with Bednarchik as GAMMA co-advisor. She sees real changes this year in how fraternities and sororities are perceived on campus.

“These students want to make a significant and positive impact on problem behaviors. It is great to have a Greek community that sees a need and addresses it and involves the entire community—not just the leaders,” Zang said.

Tim Quinnan, SDSU’s associate vice president for Campus Life, has noticed promising changes.

"By any measure you choose to apply, our Greek system is experiencing a renaissance,” Quinnan said.  

“Attitudes and behaviors have dramatically changed since the lows of 2008. SDSU fraternities and sororities now actively partner with the administration to provide those academic, leadership, philanthropic and positive social experiences that their core values promised to members. It's wonderful to see, and I'm very pleased with the chapter leaders who have chosen this new path with us."
Peer educators and positive lifestyles

About 50 fraternity and sorority students—many with an interest in risk management issues for their organization—attended the mocktail party. At the end of the evening there was a “call to action” and students were encouraged to turn in cards communicating their commitment to the GAMMA program.

A number also expressed interest in training to become peer educators who work to spread the word about healthy drinking habits and uphold the GAMMA mission to promote “positive lifestyles and decision-making skills.”  Bednarchik said that peers can be effective health and safety educators.

“The recruitment event was a great avenue to interest these students in the program,” she said. “These students can motivate others in the Greek community to get involved.”

GAMMA’s parent program is BACCHUS: “Boosting Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students.” It is the oldest and largest collegiate peer education program focusing on health and safety issues related to alcohol.

From passive to active bystanders

Bednarchik said one of the benefits of the revived GAMMA program was that its peer educators would be poised to help deliver another health and safety program now in its early stages at SDSU. The pilot bystander intervention training program, focused on Greek issues, will begin in spring 2011.

Bystander intervention programming is becoming very popular at other colleges. The “bystander effect,” a common social-psychological phenomenon, occurs when individuals don’t offer help in an emergency situation.

Why not? There could be many reasons, including:

  • “I assume someone else will deal with it.”
  • Or maybe “I’m too embarrassed to get involved.”
  • Or “I simply don’t know how to help.”

Bednarchik and Sue Henry of SDSU’s Health Promotion Department are creating the pilot program that will train students to be more than passive bystanders if they witness different types of risky behavior or situations, including:

  • Over-consumption of alcohol
  • Hazing
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Discrimination
  • Dating violence
  • Sexual assault

Training will give students the knowledge and the skills to effectively and confidently intervene in such situations.

Bednarchik will bring in outside experts for a one-day “train the trainer” workshop. This will be designed for the fraternity and sorority members of GAMMA who will become topic experts, specifically trained to present the new bystander program.

Ultimately, the plan is for the GAMMA members to earn a certificate, or possibly class credit, for their work as peer educators.