Student team attends conference on substance abuse in student athletes

Cassie La Jeunesse, Campus Carrier Staff Writer

In January, a group of Berry students and staff members attended the Athletic Prevention Programming and Leadership Education (APPLE) conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. 

The conference was designed to train teams of student athletes and administrators in substance-abuse prevention and reduction methods for athletic departments. Berry’s team consisted of sophomore Peer Educator Trent Griner, Assistant Athletic Director Ginger Swann, Assistant Dean of Students Lindsay Norman and four student athletes: sophomores Reagan Pifer and juniors Elizabeth Ragland, Jacob Delk and J.P. Chamblee.

The conference was centered around the seven “slice” APPLE model developed by the University of Virginia.

“Each slice is a different target area that your athletic department can decide to put into practice,” Ragland said. “While you’re at the conference, you are supposed to pick a slice that you want to go back to your campus and target, and we chose the education slice.”

Griner believes that education is important when dealing with substance abuse issues on college campuses because many athletes are unaware of how substances can affect their athletic performance. At the conference, he learned that one night of getting drunk could negate two weeks of athletic training.

“We’re not an abstinence type of program,” Griner said. “We understand different substances are being used. We’re just trying to give (the athletes) some ways to do that in the most responsible and healthy way that (they) can. They’re working too hard to give up training days.”

Pifer recalled one presentation at the conference that used a method of education called social norms campaigning. Student athletes were asked two questions: how often they thought that student athletes drink in a month and how often they themselves drink in a month. The data was taken from a range of student athletes across several divisions and sports, and showed drastically different results than those expected by Pifer.

“Most people had never consumed alcohol,” Pifer said. “It was very strange and eye-opening that we have a worse reputation, even for ourselves, than what we actually do.”

This is the idea behind social norms campaigning. Generally, students’ perceptions of themselves and their peers are much worse than what the facts show.

“I think the performance aspect is a big deal of it,” Swann said, “and also the misconceptions, like really knowing what your peers are doing and what they’re aware of in terms of how much they drink and how often they drink and why they drink.”

Swann thinks that this program is important because of Berry’s values.

“For me, a lot of this stuff goes back to the roots of what Martha Berry’s intentions were in terms of the students,” Swann said. “She wanted our students to be the best that they can be, and so I think it’s important for us to identify obstacles that could get in our students’ way.”

Now that the conference is over and an action plan has been developed, the team has been meeting weekly to discuss implementing the APPLE strategies at Berry. Currently, they are compiling a survey to figure out the effects of substance abuse issues on Berry athletes. With this information, the team plans to further develop educational programs about substance use, as well as resources for students who may struggle with substance abuse.

The first program that the team plans to implement is a student-led policy meeting for athletes at the beginning of the fall semester. Typically, the athletic department hosts a meeting every fall during which student athletes sign off on the athletic department’s policies. The goal of the new program is to make this meeting more engaging for the students, and to clarify to them what they are signing.

“It’s going to address those (social) norms and address being smart with alcohol and talk about Berry’s drug testing policy, so that everyone’s clear on what we do here and knows what will be happening over the course of the semester,” Chamblee said.

Griner is excited to get the team’s new programs off the ground, and Ragland looks forward to presenting their ideas to the rest of the athletic department. By educating their fellow students on how drastically substance use can affect their athletic performance, the team hopes to change the culture that often surrounds student athletes.

“Statistically speaking, student athletes nationwide are at a higher risk for substance abuse just because of the unique situation that they’re put in,” Griner said. “My hope would be that, from the work we do, we see a change in the culture.”

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