Graduate students lead lessons in alcohol awareness

Andrew Keiper

Two Kent State graduate students created an alcohol awareness program on campus in an effort to teach responsible consumption rather than abstinence. 

The program, “Valuable Ounce: Drinking Knowledge & Awareness,” was created by Annaleise Lessick and Joe Fath, graduate students majoring in clinical mental health counsel. Both are in their second year of the clinical mental health counseling master’s program.

They developed the idea from content they learned in an addictions theory course, as well as their own experiences as undergraduates. They said that alcohol-based abstinence isn’t a realistic goal for most college students. Instead, their approach aims to develop goals for students and educate them on responsible consumption.

“The goals of our program are individualized and meant to provide awareness and a menu of options for each student,” Lessick said. “We want the goals to be realistic and attainable so students don’t feel like the expectations and pressure are too high.”

This approach is the opposite of Alcoholics Anonymous, according to Fath and Lessick. Although, it will still employ tenets of anonymity to protect the rights of students in attendance.

“I think that setting limits is hazy,” Fath said. “So in this group, we want to show what realistic expectations look like to maintain a healthy body, mind and wallet.”

Valuable Ounce will employ the “Harm Reduction” model of substance and addiction treatment.

“(This model) is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use and abstinence to meet drug users ‘where they’re at,’ addressing conditions of use along with the use itself,” according to the Harm Reduction Coalition’s website.

Fath and Lessick think that this approach of moderation and management, coupled with a reward system for sustained attendance, has the potential to have a lasting positive impact on the student population at Kent State. The system will feature buy-one-get-one cards for Chipotle and other incentives.

A program like Valuable Ounce has never been done before at Kent State, according to Fath. It is completely student-led and operates parallel to the health services provided by the university.

The group, which will meet bi-weekly beginning Feb. 17, will feature group discussions, mocktails and snacks, as well as a reward system to encourage student retention in the program. In total there are six scheduled meetings for the spring semester: Feb. 17, March 2, March 16, March 30, April 13 and April 27. Each meeting will have a specific theme and educational focus.

“The Valuable Ounce program is a great example of how our graduate students better society through their collective inquiry and action,” said Melody Tankersley, senior associate provost and interim dean of Graduate Studies. “These students saw a need and tackled it by providing opportunities to inform and lead. Their peers who participate in the group meetings of Valuable Ounce will not only enrich their own understanding of issues around drinking, but will directly influence those around them, as well. “

For Fath and Lessick, Valuable Ounce offers them a relevant opportunity to hone the skills they’ll take into their careers while creating a culture of alcohol education and management on a campus known for its drinking.

“It’s not if, it’s when we meet the world of addictions,” Fath said. “And in a state racked with substance abuse and overdose deaths, who can disagree.”

Andrew Keiper is the graduate and education research reporter for The Kent Stater, contact him [email protected]