One area of findings that concerned Dr. Schwartz, though it is not a new phenomenon, is that students perceive their peers using alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs far more frequently than is actually the case.
In fact, 90.3 percent of Oakland students said they believe that on average, their peers drink once a week or more. Only 37.1 percent said they actually do so. Similarly, 73 percent of OU students said they thought that on average, their peers use marijuana once a month or more, while less than 10 percent indicated they do.
Dr. Schwartz believes it’s important that students understand the reality, because misperceptions can make them more vulnerable to peer pressure.
“It’s definitely an issue, especially for freshmen. Many will come here, hear about a party and feel they need to drink to fit in,” he said. “If we can get in there early and show them the truth about it, we might be able to begin changing perceptions that can lead to risky behavior.”
While binge drinking among OU students occurs far less frequently than the national average, the rate has risen over the years. Dr. Schwartz said this year’s results showed an increase of just half a percentage point, but stressed that the movement is in the wrong direction.
Another area of concern was that a small group of students surveyed – 1.8 percent – reported being involved in at least one incident of physical violence over the past year. More than a third of time, alcohol or drug use was involved. Similarly, 1.2 percent reported experiencing unwanted sexual intercourse. In these cases, alcohol or drug use was involved 87.5 percent of the time.
While Dr. Schwartz steers away from scare tactics to dissuade alcohol and drug use, he said it is important that students understand that the impaired judgment of intoxication or a drug-related high can lead to poor decisions that have serious consequences.
In light of this year’s Core Survey findings, the university will continue hosting alcohol and drug use awareness classes, workshops and outreach events, but these efforts are likely to incorporate a stronger focus on areas of concern raised by the study.
“Overall, it’s encouraging that Oakland students engage in these risky behaviors significantly less than we see at other colleges and universities,” Dr. Schwartz said. “At the same time, we know we have an opportunity to raise awareness and help our students lead even healthier and safer lifestyles.”