Wellness Center promotes alcohol awareness, safety

On Oct. 20, the Wellness Center kicked off its annual Alcohol Awareness Week, consisting of alcohol-related presentations by Wellness Center peer educators. The Center also rents out a hallway between Buntrock and either Boe Chapel or the library and fills it with relevant literature.

The week’s events aim to educate students about alcohol and safe drinking.

“While St. Olaf is a dry campus, we know that some people choose to drink,” said Gillian Koch ’14, a Wellness Center peer educator. “We want to make sure they have the education on how to make safe decisions.”

Peer educators can focus on one of four areas for the week’s presentations: alcohol and other drugs, mental health, sexual health or nutrition and fitness. Even though they specialize, peer educators are knowledgeable in all four wellness areas.

Alcohol and Other Drugs Peer Educator Grace Kueffner ’16 says she chose her specialization for personal reasons.

“Alcohol and drug abuse has severely affected my family, which has impacted my life in a very negative way,” Kueffner said. “In becoming an AOD peer educator, I hope to steer people away from that sort of path.”

She also enjoys being able to lend support to her peers who may be struggling. A primary function of a Wellness Center peer educator is to provide support and counseling for students who come in seeking help. For Kueffner and her fellow peer educators, this can be a rewarding experience as well as a challenging one.

“I like having people know that they can talk to me about anything, and I’ll always be there to support them,” she said.

Psychology major Sheldon Way ’14, also an Alcohol and Other Drugs Peer Educator, hopes to pursue a career in substance abuse counseling. He said he enjoys hearing students’ reactions and opinions on what they learn at Wellness Center events and hopes to promote healthy drinking on the Hill through his work at the Wellness Center.

“The dry campus policy is helpful because it does reduce drinking, but some students feel the need to binge drink on campus in order to avoid ‘getting caught,'” Way said. “This can lead to unhealthy behaviors.”

Way noted that someone on campus who does not want to drink should not have to, and that students often drink off campus.

Way gave a presentation entitled “Alcohol Jeopardy” as part of Alcohol Awareness Week. Other events included “Media Myth Busters: Alcohol Edition,” “Exploring the Hangover” and “Consumed: A Look at Alcoholism.” According to peer educators, these events can see audiences of anywhere from 20 to more than 40 students.

Alcohol Awareness Week is one of a series of themed Wellness Center weeks, which cover topics like body image awareness, mental health and sexual health. These weeks feature special presentations by peer educators. St. Olaf’s events coincided with the National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week on Oct. 20-26.

Koch emphasized that the Wellness Center is a resource for all students struggling with issues related to drugs, mental health, sexual health and general well-being. Students, she said, sometimes confuse the Wellness Center with health services and come in asking for Advil, but the Wellness Center’s goal is instead to counsel and educate.

Peer educators are not trained counselors. However, the educators may refer students to the Counseling Center if they see fit.

“We’re great if you just want somebody to listen or want to be heard, or are wondering what resources are on campus,” Koch said.