by Meaghan Cahill ’20
At the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year, Providence College was awarded the CHOICES Grant by the NCAA. This $30,000 grant “provides funding for NCAA member institutions and conferences to integrate athletic departments into campus-wide efforts to reduce alcohol abuse,” according to the NCAA website. The CHOICES Grant Program was established due to the NCAA’s growing concern of the “misuse of alcohol by college students.”
Made possible due to donations from Anheuser-Busch Inc., the $30,000 awarded to the school chosen to receive the grant is spanned out over three years; $15,000 the first year, $10,000 the second year, and $5,000 the third year. The reason the grant’s money is spread out the way that it is “is to encourage institutionalization of the campus project to continue engaging athletics in the broader campus prevention effort.”
With the money from the grant, PC will build upon the already existing Friar Family Step UP! Bystander Intervention Program utilized to increase alcohol awareness education, prevention, and intervention skills among our student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, and the broader student body.
“I am confident that the proposal submitted by our team of program developers will result in a very meaningful and sustainable program that will positively impact our entire campus community during the three-year period.” said Robert Driscoll, athletic director and associate vice president for athletics at PC.
With the first installment of the money, PC so far has most notably brought in Chris Herren, a former professional basketball player. Throughout his entire career, Herren suffered from a serious substance abuse problem that ultimately led him to overdosing on heroin while driving. This resulted in him crashing into a utility pole. He was declared by paramedics to have been dead for thirty seconds. After his overdose, Herren went to rehab and has officially been alcohol and drug-free since 2008.
In 2011, The Herren Project (THP) was started by Herren with the goals of positively impacting those who suffer addictions, educating youth on the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and providing scholarship programs to clinics and camps. As a part of this project, Herren himself visits schools of all levels to educate students on the dangers of substance abuse through telling his own story—which is exactly what he did this fall at Providence College.
“Having someone come in and tell stories…actually moves you to be emotional about it,” Hadley Tate ’19, a member of Providence College’s Women’s Softball Team commented on the benefits of having speakers like Herren come and discuss their stories. In fact, Tate and teammate Julianne Rurka ’18 both agree that having the speakers come in is the most beneficial way to raise awareness towards substance abuse.
“I really like the speakers that they have come in…just having that opportunity to hear from people is really cool,” said Rurka. “We do a lot of…programs, automated training methods, that we all have to do it. Now, with the money to do things different from that.”
Both Rurka and Tate are members of the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) at PC, which is made up of generally two members from each sports team. With this grant, SAAC’s goal is to have “student-athletes as leaders to promote less excessive, unsafe [drinking] habits,” according to Tate.
When questioned about how the student-athletes will be looking to make a direct impact, Rurka explained that each team will be creating videos that relate their sports to alcohol abuse. With sayings like “getting home safe,” the videos will not be focusing on the “cold hard facts” that both Rurka and Tate agreed need to be avoided.
“[The] slogans really hit the whole awareness part right on the head without being over-dramatic on the statistics…once the student body sees all of the statistics and things like that they kind of get put off from it. I think it’s kind of cool that we can deliver a very important message that doesn’t deter people from paying attention to it,” stated Rurka. “We’re a very big and well-known group on campus …we all have that platform where we could reach a lot of different students and maybe listening to one of these videos could change that perspective.”
Tate chimed in saying, “Like it or not, just being a student athlete sets you apart from being a normal college kid, so having a different platform to work your actions can be more effective.”
While PC’s student-athletes will be the main group on campus heading up the alcohol abuse awareness campaign, they will not be going at it alone. One of the guidelines for the grant as stated on the NCAA website asserts that “projects must partner athletics with other campus departments in the development and implementation of effective alcohol education projects.” Therefore, SAAC will be collaborating with both Student Affairs and the Counseling Center to ensure that a successful campaign takes place across campus in the years to come.
Aside from Herren, videos were shown at Late Night Madness and a BASICS training session is being planned for coaches and athletic trainers as a part of this new initiative.
Looking ahead, SAAC has also collaborated with Active Minds, Student Affairs and Academic Affairs in securing two mental health speakers that will be coming to campus to talk on Monday, February 12. The talk, titled “You’re Never Alone in Friartown,” will feature speakers Kate Fagan, ESPN correspondant writer, former basketball player, and author of What Made Maddy Run, and Chamique Holdsclaw, the number 1 pick in the 1999 WNBA Draft and 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist. The event takes place at 7 p.m. in the Mullaney Gymnasium and is open to all students.