The summer before starting your first year at USC is full of plenty of emotions, goodbyes … and online classes. Students are assigned three online courses before arriving, one in-person course and the second half of Alcohol EDU online course to be completed during their first semester in order to access registration for the spring semester. These courses cover healthy alcohol use, sexual assault prevention and general campus safety. It is essential for students to receive information on these subjects before they are thrown into the college culture, but are these the best ways to engage students?
These online classes are a great start to addressing the problems of dangerous drinking habits and sexual assault, but students must sit through hours of these classes on their computers at home in an environment where they may not dedicate all of their attention to the online classes. These long hours are not conducive to the 18-year-old brain on summer vacation. Additionally, many students who plan to drink in college are most likely drinking over the summer as well, so they may be more dismissive of the issues presented by AlcoholEdu than those who plan to drink moderately or not at all. Alcohol may be a huge part of one’s college experience, and for this reason, thorough education on the subject is necessary to provide as safe of an environment on campus as possible.
Instead of presenting many of these issues in courses taught by a computer, USC should invest in more on-campus resources for newly arriving students. Apart from the nightly festivities, incoming students do not have much to do during their Welcome Week. Of course students are meeting their peers, exploring the campus, venturing into Los Angeles and getting ready for their classes, but they are also experiencing USC’s campus culture for the first time.
As they get familiar with campus and how they plan to engage it, the University should provide mandatory peer group sessions led by upperclassmen. These sessions would provide a voice for students from someone that has been in their position and has also learned from their experiences enough to help teach incoming students. Listening to peers may prove to be more engaging to students and would provide them with a place to discuss their perceptions of the culture they are expecting and the reality of arriving in a new place.
These peer group sessions would also benefit from allowing students to hear from students who identify their gender in the same way, as stereotypes have their own way of engaging alcohol. Gender stereotypes associated with alcohol include stigma around heavy drinking, rape culture and hazing, each of which individuals will have to learn how to deal with personally. These sessions don’t necessarily have to stay strictly on the subject of alcohol, as so many things go along with it. Some of these related subjects include sexual assault, safety on campus, how to help struggling friends and finding the balance between having fun and studying.
Creating peer groups with incoming freshmen from different residential colleges would also give students the benefit of meeting more people during Welcome Week. Additionally, the sessions would benefit from having more than one student leader to provide different perspectives from USC’s diverse student body.
Though online courses have their time and place, assigning so many hours of redundant information is not an effective way to engage students. Though there should continue to be some required education on the subjects of safety, sexual assault and alcohol before classes start, providing more directed information and peer-led group sessions instead of long virtual scenarios would help students feel more knowledgeable about alcohol, comfortable in helping their friends and drinking safely if they choose to. These groups would be a great time for incoming students to get their questions answered, listen to advice and learn from others’ experiences.