Students comprised nearly half of the 419 attendees at the CSU’s Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs Educational Conference held at CSU Channel Islands April 3-4. The annual conference’s strong student presence reflected an increased focus on the peer-to-peer approach to prevent substance abuse among college students.

The students, along with college staff and faculty from throughout California, were there to share ideas, activities and best practices in substance abuse prevention and education. The focus on student-involved prevention included a best-practice presentation from Fresno State’s WATCHDOG program, an alcohol overdose intervention education program that trains students to recognize and respond effectively in alcohol emergency situations.

A group of San José State students also discussed strategies and tools to help students become empowered bystanders when it comes to college drinking. This year’s conference also highlighted the CSU’s system-wide collaboration with Aware Awake Alive, a peer-to-peer alcohol education program that empowers students to make the right call when faced with an alcohol poisoning emergency. The program was created by Scott and Julia Starkey in the legacy of their son Carson, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo freshman who died of alcohol poisoning in 2008.

Last year, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White committed to implement Aware Awake Alive throughout the 23-campus system. The program complements ongoing efforts to encourage safe, healthy behaviors among students and will be incorporated into existing alcohol educational efforts to support student success.

One of the reasons students are so responsive to peer-to-peer programs like Aware Awake Alive is because the messages are relatable and they are not coming from the “top down,” said Jennifer Miller, conference committee co-chair and director of student affairs assessment, research and staff development at CSU Channel Islands. “In peer-to-peer approaches, students learn from other students—and these programs have proven to be powerful tools to increase education and awareness about substance abuse,” said Miller. “Peers open up to each other and become more engaged. However, the students are also taught to be referral agents for peers that may need counseling and other professional help.” Aware Awake Alive includes an online “toolbox,” which includes materials like posters, videos and flyers that are available to help campuses bolster existing alcohol awareness programs or begin new ones.

Campuses including Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CSU Monterey Bay and CSU Northridge have already implemented the tools as part of many programs dedicated to student health and success. “They are integrating the program in campus events, utilizing it with Greek life, and making sure toolbox resources are available on campus so they’re there when students may need them,” said Aware Awake Alive Executive Director Lisa Dow. “It comes from students and it’s owned by students that’s what sets it apart and makes it different.” See how Aware Awake Alive has been weaved into the campus culture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.