It is not uncommon for colleges and universities to require students to complete an alcohol education program prior to the start of their first year or when they sign up for a student organization. Based on amendments passed in 1989 to the Higher Education Act, providing alcohol and substance prevention education is a federal requirement of all institutions of higher education. The federal and institutional requirements for risk education are intended to help college students gain the knowledge and skills they need to have a safe campus experience. As students look to return to campus this fall, after an academic year that kept many away from the campus environment, institutional leaders are looking to elevate their campus risk prevention programs to ensure students have safe and meaningful experiences.
Looking to go beyond just providing introductory information to students about alcohol, The College of New Jersey sought out additional risk prevention education on topics their students, such as learning more about mental health and sexual assault. Wanting to meet the needs and interests of their students, The College of New Jersey reached out to Plaid to learn more about the Tightrope program, Plaid’s online risk prevention and student safety education program.
Tightrope provides practical education for undergraduate students on topics of alcohol and other drug use, hazing, sexual misconduct, and mental health. Additional diversity and inclusion courses are also offered as part of the Tightrope program.
In this interview, Aimee Wardle, Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, shares how The College of New Jersey partnered with Plaid to provide online risk management and safety education to their fraternity and sorority life students.
Plaid: What motivated The College of New Jersey to explore an online risk management and safety education experience?
Aimee: “We’ve done an online education course for hazing prevention, specific to hazing prevention that we used over the last year to year and a half. It was great and there were no faults with it but we kind of started talking about all of the conversations and the topics that our students are very passionate about. I was blown away when our fraternity men across all councils were very passionate about mental health, masculinity, and sexual assault and violence. I was excited these were conversations they were having that we did not have to prompt. On the same end, the women were having the same conversations and they do a lot of programming throughout the year related to these topics. We said we wanted to provide basic education and introduction to a topic for some of our students who have just never really thought about this so that is what they are getting when they join one of our chapters.
From there, when we are doing some of these different programs throughout the year and having different speakers come in, the speakers already know there is a baseline that our students already have so maybe you just do a quick refresher and then you jump right in. We looked to see if there was a way to do that and have something with all those topics in it. Tightrope checked off every single box for topics that we already talk about and then when you add in the program offered an inclusive practice course, we were sold. We wanted all of our community members to do it so everybody has the same education. It is a refresher for our current members and then for our new members, they will be seeing this for the first time. By the time we get to the fall, basically, our entire community will have completed the Tightrope Program.”
Plaid: For those exploring online risk management and safety education to college students, what advice or suggestions do you have?
Aimee: “I think part of it is figuring out what that base knowledge is that we are looking for and finding something that has it all, so you do not have to make something yourself. Let people get credit for work they have already done. The best part for us is that we found a program that if we needed to make any customizations, it was an option. I could say ‘this completely goes against our policy,’ which, thankfully nothing did, but it would have been relatively quick and easy to work with everybody to make that quick change.
If there is one thing I have learned about the students, if I can just say to them “It is this one thing, you do not have to do it all back-to-back, take a break if you want, but it is all in one spot” they will complete it. They log into one platform, this one place and get all this basic knowledge. We were able to add in all our campus resources. I was very clear with them that all they have to do is view the link to the resources. I needed them to know the link exists to the extra resources so in the future if something happens, they might even remember they saw it before and they can reach right out. They do not have to go through four loops to find the information. Everything they are trying to get done is in one program.”
Plaid: Anything that is difficult for students to access, the more instructions they have, or the more processes they must go through, the less likely they are to follow them. I think that is helpful for a lot of professionals that are thinking they want to offer risk prevention education, but they do not want to recreate the wheel that many students are not going to be able to follow and manage.
Aimee: “It helps that a lot of headquarters are also utilizing parts or pieces of the program. I think that was a big selling point for us. We are aware of different programs, but this one had everything that I was looking for and a reasonable price. More organizations on our campus were already doing Tightrope and you all were able to figure out a way, not just for us, for the student not to have to take it twice. We are able to link if they had already completed it through a national organization so all they had to do was go back and do The College of New Jersey specific items. I tell our students all the time, I do not want you to have to do double the work. This balanced it out. “
Plaid: How was it for you to work with those students who also had to take it through their organizations? Was it difficult to track or difficult for the students to link their accounts?
Aimee: “No, we had a list of groups that I could see through Plaid who have asked their members to complete Tightrope so I could email those students and let them know they might have already done the program. I sent them the instructions for how they can link their accounts, so they do not have to do it all over again. If they had not done it yet for their organization, I told them to keep this in mind because I am sure they will. It did not add work for us. It was seamless.”
Plaid: What matters most to you and your students when it comes to an online risk management and safety education experience?
Aimee: “Having the topics that were important to our students included. We tried hard to listen to them when they said they were passionate about certain topics. We typically will do TIPS training with a lot of our groups when we bring them in for the semester, so they are familiar with alcohol education. We always tell them, we are not telling you to not party, we are not telling you not to drink. If you are not 21, we are telling you not to drink because it is a law. We are telling them, if you are going to do something, we need you to do it safely and call for help if you need it. We do not want them to even try to take that responsibility, just call for help.
Through this whole process, I think the students hear, “Okay, you get it.” They appreciate not being judged on it, which is great. I think this was helpful for them because again, they are used to it, they expect it, they have to go through these types of courses, but they appreciated that we listened to them and we had the courses on mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion. It was all there. They saw we were listening to them.
This helps us not to have to start from scratch. We can do a quick refresher and move forward. They just have to do the full program once. It was meeting them where they were at. Even on the survey parts at the beginning, I told them it does not track them specifically. It might compile answers that many people clicked on a certain answer but on their end, we assured them it was confidential. We do not see that X person in Y organization said this. I am not seeing what they are putting or judging what they are putting. It is a judgment-free zone. They appreciated that it would give base information about the community without knowing specifically where it came from.”
Plaid: How has the Tightrope program helped elevate risk management and safety education for students at TCNJ?
Aimee: “I think part of the reason I am not as worried for the fall is that our community has now done all these different modules. They have that base knowledge. We did an in-person training for our TIPS program at TCNJ and I told the students it is okay to laugh at how old the videos, but not the content. All of the men that were there had already done their Tightrope Program and they said they actually enjoyed the quick TIPS training because they felt they were in a better knowledge spot so when they may have a party they understand the different ways of pouring a drink. Now they are aware of why they should do this or that. It gave them that better knowledge.
Now that everyone has done this and coming back in the fall, we are sending out quick reminders about how we are excited to see everyone but remember to be safe and make good choices. We are a little more comfortable going into the fall because everyone has gone through this training and they know the signs to look for if a brother gets stressed. They have that knowledge all the way down to the new members.
I am excited to see what the fall will bring and where we start those educational pieces. We do not have to start at square one, we can do a refresher and then dive in deep into these conversations. They have all gone through Tightrope so they can refresh and start from there. I am excited to see the fall and have the next wave of students start the process.”
The Plaid team has enjoyed working with Aimee and The College of New Jersey to provide the education their students desired. As a result of the partnership, The College of New Jersey feels prepared to enter the fall semester and will continue to offer programs to build upon the knowledge the students have acquired through the Tightrope Program. To learn more about the Tightrope Program and how Plaid can support your college, university, or organization’s online learning efforts and needs, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and visit tightropeprogram.com.