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Rebecca Jane Caldwell

SACSA 2012


  • SACSA Award Committee

  • University of North Carolina-Wilmington

  • Clemson University

  • Dissertation Committee:

    • Dr. Pam Havice, Chair

    • Dr. Tony Cawthon

    • Dr. Jason Cassidy

    • Dr. James Satterfield

  • Participating CSAOs

Alcohol Use among U.S. College Students

  • College students 18-24 drink more than non-college peers (Hingson, 2010).

  • Percentage of college students who participated in high-risk drinking increased between 1999 and 2005 from 41.7% to 45.8% (Hingson, 2010).

  • Estimates of annual alcohol-related harm have been recently increased (Hingson, 2009).

Alcohol Prevention Models

  • Ecological perspective combines individual interventions with interpersonal, organizational, and environmental interventions (Glanz & Bishop, 2010).

    • Higher Education Center’s Environmental Management model (DeJong et al., 1998; DeJong & Langford, 2002)

    • NIAAA (2002) “A Call to Action” and the 3-in-1 framework, which used four tiers of effectiveness

  • Only half of institutions use effective individual efforts and only 1/3 work with communities (Nelson et al., 2010).

Amethyst Initiative & MLDA

  • Announced in August 2008 with 119 signatories. Currently at 136 institutions.

  • Asks for the age 21 MLDA to be reconsidered.

  • MLDA linked to less binge drinking among 18-24 year olds, except for college students (Grucza et al., 2009; Wagenaar & Toomey, 2002).

  • MLDA is cited to lower alcohol-related traffic accidents, drinking rates in 18-20 year olds, and alcohol dependency (Wagenaar & Toomey, 2002; Shultz et al., 2001; Norberg et al., 2009).

Chief Student Affairs Officers (CSAOs)

  • Part of core institutional leadership team (Barr & Sandeen, 2006; Bass, 2006; Brown, 1997; Sandeen, 2001, 1991)

    • Scope influenced by institutional characteristics (Heida, 2006; Palm, 1985; Tederman, 1997)

  • Relationship to president is key (Sandeen, 2001; Bass 2006)

  • Campus expert on student development (Brown, 1997)

  • Overall, there is limited research on this role.

Statement of the Problem

  • High-risk drinking remains a serious issue for college campuses.

  • Public health and higher education researchers hold different conclusions about the status of effective prevention efforts.

  • The MLDA, while considered effective in many settings, continues to be both controversial and possibly less effective in college settings.

  • The Amethyst Initiative was a movement by college presidents that proposed a reconsideration of the MLDA.

  • CSAOs, as a primary policy implementers of the MLDA and the AI, are the subject of limited research on the topic.

Research Questions

  • How do Chief Student Affairs Officers interpret the Minimum Legal Drinking Age?

  • How has the Amethyst Initiative affected Chief Student Affairs Officers’ interpretation and implementation of the Minimum Legal Drinking Age?

Theoretic Tradition

Discursive Approaches to Policy Analysis

  • Policy development and implementation can be understood through their relevant meaning to human actors (Bevir & Rhodes, 2003; Wagenaar, 2007).

  • Taken place in an environment of complexity, ambiguity, contingency and conflicts with other policies and positions (Bohman, 1996; Dryzek, 1990; Allen, 2003; Schwandt, 1997; Kekes, 1993; Wagenaar, 2002, 2007).

  • Embedded in a web of social meanings produced and reproduced through discursive practices (Fischer, 2003).

  • Focus on the languages, discourses, and rhetorical arguments used to create frames around issues (Fischer, 2003).

Interpretive Policy Analysis

  • 4 Key Phases (Yanow, 1996, 2000):

    • Identify artifacts that are carriers of meaning.

    • Identify the interpretive communities relevant to a policy that are the perceivers of meaning.

    • Identify the discourses through which the meanings are communicated.

    • Identify any point of conflict that suggests that different groups attach divergent meanings to some aspect of the policy.

CSAOs Interpretation and Implementation of the AI and MLDA

Discourse Analysis

  • Discourse is a specific ensemble of ideas, concepts, and categorizations that are produced, reproduced, and transformed to give meaning to physical and social relations. (Allen, 2003; Hajer, 1993; Fischer, 2003)

  • Each discourse is derived from a different line of reasoning. (Fischer, 2003)

  • Different discourses about a problem lend themselves to different policy solutions (Clarke, 2007; Fischer, 2003)

Gee- Discourse Analysis Methods

  • Focus on both the details of language structure and meaning in social, cultural, and political terms. (Gee, 2005, 2011)

  • Balances focuses on cognition, social interactions and activities, and society and institutions.

  • 27 tools for discourse analysis, including 5 theoretical tools:

    • Situated meaning

    • Social languages

    • Intertextuality

    • Figured Worlds

    • The “Big D” Discourse

Sample Development

Participant Demographics

AI Campuses

Non- AI Campuses


  • Member checking

  • Progressive subjectivity:

    • Subjectivity journal

    • Analytic memo after each interview

  • Thick, rich description in results chapter

  • Hand-coding by transcript and question, followed by coding with Nvivo 9.

  • Checking rival explanations, searching for discrepant information and alternative explanations.

  • Peer debriefing

Audit Trail Example

Amethyst Initiative Declaration

  • 6 Discourses:

    • Open Market of Ideas

    • Outdated Research

    • Rites of Adulthood

    • Effective Education

    • Hidden Danger

    • Moral Development


  • In 1984 Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which

  • imposed a penalty of 10% of a state’s federal highway appropriation on

  • any state setting its drinking age lower than 21. Twenty-four years later,

  • our experience as college and university presidents convinces us that


  • A culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking, often conducted off-

  • campus, has developed. Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the

  • only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral

  • change among our students.

  • Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving

  • on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature

  • enough to have a beer.

  • By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that

  • erode respect for the law.



  • We call upon our elected officials:

  • To support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the

  • effects of the 21 year-old drinking age.

  • To consider whether the 10% highway fund incentive encourages or

  • inhibits that debate.

  • To invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to

  • make responsible decisions about alcohol.

  • We pledge ourselves and our institutions to playing a vigorous,

  • constructive role as these critical discussions unfold. (Amethyst Initiative, 2008)

Research Question 1:How do Chief Student Affairs Officers interpret the Minimum Legal Drinking Age?

CSAOs defined dangerous and irresponsible drinking as the focus of their alcohol abuse prevention efforts, as opposed to underage drinking;

CSAOs expressed a strong belief that students could be reasoned into right action regarding alcohol use through educational efforts;

CSAOs expressed a need to find a balance between strictness and leniency in their response to alcohol abuse on campus;

CSAOs expressed a range of beliefs about the changeability of their campus alcohol abuse issues;

CSAOs were unclear about what would happen if the MLDA was lowered; and

CSAOs attempted to balance their multiple roles on campus as they led alcohol abuse prevention efforts.

Research Question 1: Theme 1Problem: Dangerous and Irresponsible Drinking

  • Drinking divided into low-risk drinking and extreme drinking behavior.

  • Drinking seen as more extreme than past, particularly the CSAOs’ experiences as students.

  • In this viewpoint, MLDA is viewed as:

    • Contributing to dangerous student behavior

    • Helpful as a tool to correct student behavior

    • Nuisance law that wastes time to enforce

Research Question 1: Theme 2Students can be Reasoned into Right Action: Educational Efforts

  • Educating students to be responsible was viewed as effective.

    • Despite NIAAA reports of ineffectiveness

  • MLDA is an impediment to effective alcohol education.

  • MLDA interferes with the ethical development of students.

  • Use of campus conduct system is a regrettable act used when students don’t learn from educational efforts.

Research Question 1: Theme 3Balancing Strictness & Leniency

  • Expressed as balance between education and enforcement.

  • Overzealous enforcement may also have consequences.

  • Defining which types of behaviors will be the focus of efforts.

  • Two CSAOs experienced presidential interference in their balancing efforts.

Research Question 1: Theme 4Lack of Consensus on Changeability

  • Four CSAOs (25%) cited significant progress on alcohol abuse issues.

    • Two relied on MLDA; two relied on pragmatic policies.

  • Other CSAOs expressed doubt about ability to make progress.

    • Desire for more than current best practices

Research Question 1: Theme 5Unclear about Lower MLDA Effects

  • Little effect of lower MLDA because students already ignored the law.

    • MLDA as a possible contributor to higher alcohol abuse

    • CSAOs were students during a lower MLDA.

  • Arguments for the MLDA from public health and against from the AI were in evidence.

Research Question 1: Theme 6CSAOs Balances Roles as They Lead Alcohol Abuse Prevention Efforts

  • MLDA was an impediment to positive relationship with student body.

    • Role modeling of responsible use and behavior

  • MLDA interferes with the total student development of students/transition to adulthood.

  • CSAOs who were more supportive of the MLDA had greater psychological distance from students.

Research Question 2:How has the Amethyst Initiative affected Chief Student Affairs Officers’ interpretation and implementation of the Minimum Legal Drinking Age?

AI institutions believed that they were engaging in an intellectual debate about the effectiveness of the MLDA;

The AI failed to capture the attention and imagination of campuses and the broader culture;

The CSAOs in this study displayed a broad range of involvement by their president in the decision whether or not to sign the AI; and

The AI was seen as counter-productive to campuses citing progress on alcohol abuse issues.

Research Question 2: Theme 1Believed that the AI was a Debate

  • Surprised and offended to be misinterpreted as being for lowering the MLDA

  • Debate and inquiry are core values in higher education.

  • The path of the AI was unclear and the leadership was lost.

Research Question 2: Theme 2AI Failed to Capture Attention

  • CSAOs from both AI and non-AI institutions reported that it generated little attention.

  • Lack of political interest in the AI by students, even when the CSAO tried to engage students

  • Some presidents received negative feedback.

Research Question 2: Theme 3CSAOs were Involved Differently

  • CSAOs’ involvement ranged from a truly mutual decision with their president to no consultation and no announcement.

  • Only four CSAOs were supportive of the MLDA.

    • 7 of 8 AI CSAOs supported their president’s position.

    • 4 of 8 Non-AI CSAOS supported their president’s position.

Research Question 2: Theme 4AI Counter-productive to Success

  • If policy enforcement was part of a successful strategy, a CSAOs was likely to view the AI as a short-term or long-term setback.

    • This view was held even by a CSAO who was personally in favor of a lower MLDA.

Findings Link to Literature

  • MLDA was not as effective on college campuses (Wagenaar & Toomey, 2002)

  • Participants embraced environmental management principles (DeJong et al., 1998).

    • Implementation of NIAAA report (2002) less so (Nelson et al., 2010)

  • Affirmed higher education-public health split

Theoretical Implications

  • Definition of the problem defines the solutions.

    • MLDA is not central to campus efforts.

  • The AI did not affect institutional environments.

    • Student engagement in a debate may be key.

    • Signing the AI was a symbolic action without accompanying instrumental action.

  • The AI may have codified institutional perspective on the MLDA.

Initial Model: CSAOs Interpretation and Implementation of the AI and MLDA

How did the Interpretive Model hold up?

“How” does a policy mean?




Problem Definition: Underage Drinking vs. Dangerous & Irresponsible Drinking

Implications for Policy & Practice

  • MLDA neutralizes aspects of CSAO role & expertise.

    • Arbitrary limit versus individual student development and specific campus culture perspectives.

  • CSAOs and presidents had varying relationships related to alcohol issues.

  • Educational and other intuitive (but possibly ineffective) approaches still have value to CSAOs.

Implications for Policy & Practice

  • Viewpoints on the MLDA may be a roadblock to campus-community partnerships.

  • CSAOs expressed a variety of positions in the long-term struggle with alcohol abuse.

    • Fatigue was in evidence.

    • Psychological distance from students was coupled with pro-MLDA enthusiasm.

  • Rigorous enforcement of the MLDA has costs and benefits for CSAOs.


  • Interviews were three years after the AI.

  • The AI can be considered a failure.

  • The AI campuses are not representative of all campuses.

  • AI was a presidential decision.

  • Further types of triangulation could have strengthened study.

Recommendations for Further Study

  • Interpretive policy analysis and other discursive approaches are appropriate for college settings.

  • Additional research is needed about effective alcohol prevention in smaller college environments.

  • Participant cited non-MLDA policies that could be studied.

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