Prevention Profiles: Take Five - David Arnold (NASPA)


Audio file

David Arnold, Assistant Vice President of Health, Safety, and Well-Being at NASPA, is our guest for this episode. Arnold, who has been at the organization since 2014, has spoken at dozens of conferences regarding peer education, college substance abuse prevention, and health promotion. During this episode, he discusses the impact of Colorado's marijuana laws on the state's colleges and universities; the benefits and challenges of being in a statewide coalition, and much more.
Rich Lucey:  Hi this is Rich Lucey and I am with the Drug Enforcement Administration in our Community Outreach and Prevention Support Section and I welcome you to the next episode of Prevention Profiles Take Five.  This is our podcast series that we started this past January and airs on Campus Drug Prevention dot gov, and so I hope you've been enjoying the series and that you enjoy today's episode as well.
Today's guest is David Arnold from NASPA.  Let me tell you a little bit about David before we get into our questions.  David Arnold serves as NASPA's Assistant Vice President of Health Safety and Well-being Initiatives.  He joined NASPA in 2014 after 10 years working in college substance abuse prevention.  He has spoken at dozens of conferences regarding peer education, collegiate substance abuse, prevention, and health promotion.  David administers two statewide coalitions for chronic disease and substance abuse prevention in Colorado and Montana.  He also chairs the Coalition of Higher Education Associations for Substance Abuse Prevention, and coordinates the NASPA Strategies Conference, which focuses on substance abuse prevention, sexual violence prevention, mental health and well-being. 
And with that, David welcome to the podcast.  
David Arnold:  Thank you so much Rich.  It's great to be here.
Lucey:  And we're really pleased to have you. So before I get into the five questions the basis for the podcast interview, can you tell us a little bit, especially for those of our listeners who aren't familiar with NASPA, tell us a little bit about the organization and what it does.
Arnold:  Absolutely, NASPA is the leading Association for the advancement, health and sustainability of the Student Affairs profession.  And a lot of the folks who work on college campuses and colleges and universities who do substance abuse prevention usually fall under their campuses Student Affairs Division.  So we work with over 15,000 members in all 50 states of the US and 25 countries throughout the world to make sure that the Student Affairs is continue to provide the best services for students as possible and that includes substance abuse prevention which is part of what I'm excited to talk to you about today here on the podcast.
Lucey:  Great!  So thank you for that a little bit of background about the organization and we're thrilled I can say from the DEA perspective to have NASPA as a partner in our community outreach and prevention support efforts with colleges and universities.  So I'm going to jump right into the first question I'm going to preface the first question by stating that under federal law recreational and medical use of marijuana is illegal, but that being said there are several states and the District of Columbia who have passed legislation that allows for the medical use of marijuana as well as what's often called recreational use of marijuana and your state Colorado was the first out of the gate on that in fact it was in November 2012 that Colorado voters passed Constitutional Amendment 64 and that legalized marijuana for recreational purposes for anyone over the age of 21.
So David from your perspective what has been the biggest impact of that on Colorado's colleges and universities? 
Arnold:  Yes that's really interesting a lot of the message that we deliver here in the state of Colorado and of course my work with Kate the Colorado Statewide
Coalition has put me in a lot of committees and governor appointed panels as part of our cannabis response as a state, but the biggest message that we've been putting out at the youth level, the K through 12 levels, what the kids are okay that there's not a traumatic change that's legalization of the amount of cannabis that is used and by and far if you look at 30-day prevalence for college students that remains true.  Where that becomes a little less true and a little bit more concerning for our institutions of higher education in Colorado is when we look at daily and near daily use.  Near daily used is somewhere between 20 and 30 days and then daily uses of course every day.  That near daily use is about double the national average and that daily uses three times the national average for folks who attend college here in Colorado versus the national sample.  And becomes a little concerning because we're talking about that level of use we really introducing some barriers that we've seen through the research that's been done by doctors Kilmer and Rhea who've been absolutely wonderful in the field to provide some great literature on this and that level of use creates impairment for academic success and so our colleges and universities need to respond to that and provide great messaging and intervention for their students in a way that follows their academic goals which is the most important thing for college and university students.  On an administrative level, colleges and universities who receive federal funds must continue to comply with the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act which federally identifies cannabis as an illicit substance and as long as that law remains in effect colleges universities must make sure that there's no use happening in college residence halls, no use happening anywhere on the land owned by the college or university but it cannot be grown distributed etc. in those environments.  And so in a lot of ways we're looking at some of the things that worked for alcohol, we're looking at environmental strategies, we're looking at making sure that our interventions match what the science tells us is best. 
And those are I would say the biggest changes Rich; is that daily near daily use and then the administrative response like campuses are having to do around cannabis. 
Lucey:  Well great I appreciate that the response and I'm especially appreciative of you mentioning that regardless of the state in which you reside or go to school that especially if your school accepts federal financial aid which is the vast majority of schools in the country you are bound by the federal law and so you know just because you might go to school in Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Colorado and the others that have some form of state legislation around this that it's the federal law that provides. 
Arnold: Yep.
Lucey:  And I would think that that having talked to Jason Kilmer and yourself and others that seems to be a message that you continue to have to promote. 
Arnold:  It is and you know where we run into a lot of trouble is where folks don't necessarily think it through like we would think through other illicit substances.  So one example I can give you that we put a strong campaign together here in the state of Colorado because we were very concerned about what we were seeing on campus was to make sure that campus newspapers and other cable publications didn't run advertisements or didn't allow space for advertisements from cannabis dispensaries here in the state, even when a prior recreational, when we were a medical state it was very very important because nowadays almost all campus publications have staff involvement, have faculty involvement, and use campus resources and therefore featuring the failed and illicit substance federally defined would be a blatant violation of the Drug-free School Communities Act.  
Lucey:  Great thank you.  So for our second question, I'll move, pivot if you will off of a specific drug issue is that you have a long history of, for as long as I've known you which is a number of years, of being part of a statewide initiative to prevent drug abuse among college students so this is a two-part question, what do you see as a benefit of being in a statewide coalition, and then the flip side, what is a challenge with these statewide efforts?
Arnold:  That's funny because they're almost the exact same answer  which is when you work with folks who are in the same state as you, you end up having very common goals and there's a lot you can share with each other.  There's a lot that makes a lot of sense because you have more locality than a national meeting might provide you, what you're certainly exposed to diverse viewpoints sometimes it's really important to think like how are we doing this thing that's very particular to our state.  I think about Montana in particular and the work that we do up there with our rural and frontier campuses who have such wonderful experiences and can really benefit from the lessons learned with each other when they're looking at prevention strategies that require more resources than really are available.  Flip side of that which is almost saying the same thing but it can be a community to challenge no matter what coalition gets built is campuses even within the district lines drawn on the state can be very different.
The work that's done here in Colorado at an institution like the University of
Colorado in Denver looks very different than the work that's done at Western
State Colorado University in Gunnison which is on the western slope of the
Rockies. And so well it's great to get together what we have to continue to keep in mind is that our campuses share a lot and are similar but there are always unique differences that we have to consider and that's why the process of assessing your campus and getting to know your campus is so very important.  And I know that one of the things we're going to talk about a little bit later is the strategic prevention framework and I'll talk about how that wraps in as well.  State coalitions can also be a great way to share resources.  So if your state has a state coalition it would look at the ways in which they are able to provide you with fiscal or training resources to make sure that your prevention efforts or mesh are matching that evidence-based program model as best as possible.  And in some cases statewide coalitions may be a place to pilot study or otherwise test or create an experimental design around creating new evidence or creating adaptation of existing evidence programs.
Lucey:  Thank you because you're talking about the benefits and the challenges of a statewide initiative in it and I recently talked about this at the National prevention networks Prevention Research Conference on a panel about this very issue about statewide initiatives.  That's when I started my career in New York State overseeing their efforts.  And you know [in] a state as large as New York State the goals might be the same if you will among campuses, but you know the schools that are in the city you know as we affectionately refer to it, you know
New York City, will be vastly different if you will then how its approached way up in the Adirondacks, you know up in the Canadian border, or in the rural areas along the southern tier so you always have to keep in mind you know there's a cultural competence that even comes into play when you're dealing among you know the campus types.  You know.
Arnold:  Yeah.
Lucey:  So you know it just resonates with me the things that you talk about with to vastly different states that you're dealing with in Colorado and Montana.
Arnold:  And that's what different and yet there are similar threats because we are Western schools and the entire western and Rocky Mountain corridor has some similarities we learn from each other in very unique ways.  I often cite the regional meeting of the minds that hosted by Joe Masters and the Missouri
State Coalition but she invites lots of other states to come it is a very
Midwestern driven conference and I do believe in the power of that region sort of sharing experiences.  But yeah, life in Iowa looks a lot different than life in
Kansas even though they aren't that far apart.  But state governments work differently.  There's a different distribution of populations, different distributions of land-grant colleges it's interesting it's fascinating and I think it's what makes a state coalition so cool. 
Lucey:  Absolutely it's exciting and challenging at the same time and why we probably are doing the work we do because we love it. 
So I'll go on to our third question.  This really does speak I think to the heart of NASPA and its mission and serving student affairs professionals.  So as someone who works for a national association of student affairs professionals in higher education, which includes many vice presidents for student affairs, what do you consistently see as a way for these upper-level administrators to provide leadership in preventing drug abuse among college students? 
Arnold:   Right so our vice president for student affairs sometimes may have a different role but the senior student affairs administrator of a college or university is often the one who's responsible for budgetary allocations for the programs that are that are related to student services, which surely include your campuses prevention programs.  And so the leadership that they provide may innocuously be just thought of as providing money because there are fiscal resources necessary to do quality prevention work on campuses.  But when we really engage senior leadership in student affairs and think really about the ways in which the goals for a prevention program are the goals for a student affairs program, to create healthy productive students, to help students graduate on time, these are shared goals and sometimes I think that there are certainly administrators in student affairs who are receptive to the message and sometimes we aren't great deliverers of the message.  We've got to make sure that when we're talking about our evidence-based programs around substance abuse prevention that we're really talking the language of our student affairs administrative colleagues which is that we are interested in retaining students, we are interested in student excellence and success, we are interested in helping students form social relationships without a crutch associated with substance abuse, we are interested in creating more productive and global citizens that can make our institution look very good and hopefully give us a great endowment later in their lives. 
These are common goals that our senior administrators feel and if they hear about language coming out of our strategic initiatives they're going to be more likely to dedicate fiscal resources to us, to invite us to the table at conversations that they're having at the cabinet level or at the board level.  And when those conversations get elevated in more stakeholders care about what we're doing and drug and alcohol prevention at a college or university that benefits our programs.  I think sometimes we're a little bit concerned that people might be keeping an eyeball on us that we might be under constant scrutiny but I maintain that if somebody's watching what you're doing it means that they care about what you're doing.  And I think that our upper level administrators can care, they do care but anything we can do to help communicate to them about why this is so important is going to continue to make our work that much more valuable to our institution. 
Lucey:  Yeah, I think you truly have hit the nail on the head with that response.  You know for as long as I've been in this field I've consistently heard from program people you know typically our level and such that are implementing and evaluating programs for prevention on the campuses you know I hear them say
that you know my VP doesn't listen to me they don't understand prevention and how do I get them involved.  You know my thought is that well you don't want them to be the prevention expert that's not their role that's your role. 
Arnold:  No, no ,no. 
Lucey:  I mean and so you basically said it is you need to figure out a way to make it relevant for you know your college president your VP for student affairs how does the work that you do in prevention tie to retention, to campus crime, to health and safety, to fiscal management I mean those are the big-ticket items that they're looking at, and drug abuse prevention as we know easily ties into all of that.   So you know you're really spot-on with the whole idea and budget allocations.  You know I don't always like to think that money drives everything I mean it's a big driver but you know that is another thing that's another way they can provide leadership is helping to provide the resources that are necessary to carry out the prevention missed admission on the campus. 
Arnold:  Yeah and a little bit of this about changing the narrative of prevention as well.  There was a time in which we, it's very clever and I loved, it was my email signature when I was in new professional; we would say, "When prevention works nothing happens".  I mean strictly speaking accurate, but it's actually a much different story and I think our narrative we need to reframe because when prevention works we actually make healthier students. 
Lucey:  Right. 
Arnold:  Not nothing we don't get to zero we go far into the positive. and that's I think a much more powerful message to get our administrators into and to help sort of tell our prevention story better. 
Lucey:  Absolutely and I love that tag and I just wrote it down because at some point I will steal it and use it elsewhere.  I don't think you've copyrighted it so that's all good there. 
So I'm gonna move on to the fourth question.  You didn't previously know you made reference to the strategic prevention framework and for those of us who work in the prevention field we'll just cut to the acronym and call it the SPF as many people do in our field.  You are a strong proponent of the SPF.  I learned this a long time ago.  I knew it when my previous, you know boss, when I was working for Fran Harding in CSAP came out to Colorado on a site visit for a week and Colorado was very and is very strong about the SPF, you know the strategic prevention framework.  It was developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  It's a five-step process to plan, implement, and evaluate prevention practices and programs.  Why is that framework so beneficial to colleges and universities? 
Arnold:  Yeah so I mean first of all I thank you for recognizing my admiration of the SPF. I don't go to the grocery store without putting a SPF into play.   
Lucey:  It can be used for anything I'm telling you it really can.
Arnold:  It really can.  So number one it's solid.  If a college or university is looking at creating or reinvigorating its substance abuse prevention program there's nothing better than to start with the SPF.  The idea of creating assessment and understanding a campuses capacity moving into developing a plan and then implementing and evaluating it has the thread of continuous improvement that's naturally built in.  Um, it is a road map to tell you how to do your job but even more importantly than that it is a common language across communities who do prevention.  And this is particularly why I think the SPF is so important in higher education.  Too often in my work on campus and my work as a statewide leader, I have come into scenarios where I've heard that a campus exists and is doing things but can't seem to make a relationship with the community; the community says we exist and we are doing is what we can to connect with the campus and it has really boiled down to a language and miscommunication.  And what the Strategic Prevention Framework from
SAMSA can do is provide both of these people that same language.  The SPF exist at the state level it's sent down to community coalition's for funded under State Block Grant funds and can be a way to instantly start relationships and begin communication about the way that colleges and communities need to work together in order to make prevention systemic to a region or to a state.  And that's why I really think that this has gone from being something
I really liked when I was on campus to something that I'm wildly passionate about as a statewide leader.
Lucey:  I mean just sitting here listening to you I can hear that passion and the enthusiasm that you have for the SPF.  And I think it's important and I'd like you to speak a little bit about this, for those of us who have worked around the SPF for so long sometimes we take it for granted you know we talk about it being a five-step process and I would never want anyone to come away thinking oh I steps that's easy.  No the bottom line is that you know each of the five steps comes with its complexities and it's you know intricacies and such and nobody ever said that prevention is easy; I mean it's not.  So can you talk a little bit about you know that piece that you know while it does provide you all these benefits you know don't think that this is you know something that's gonna do all the work for you. 
Arnold:  Right.  No it's a framework and what it does is it tells us our best strategy to move forward not necessarily even all of the ins and outs.  It tells you that your community really needs to understand itself, it really needs to know what the gaps and resources are, it really needs to be guided by plan full decision making, and then needs to be constantly improving.  And so even though that brief description should empower and make folks think about where they are in the spectrum.  But it's a lot more like a dance than it is like a like a light switch.  You don't go through one iteration of this strategic prevention framework and be like wow that was done.  It's a little bit more like learning the Macarena and using that as an example of moving forwards this sort of procedural look at the way that we're going to move forward with something.  And then if you become really comfortable with your community where you become really comfortable with your campus you start to adapt and make changes and make it your own but still following that underlying framework of this initiative. And so I think that's what's really powerful about it.  I would also offer off of what you said Rich, which is that you know, I don't think prevention should be easy, I think prevention should be hard.  This is an incredibly difficult thing that we're trying to do.  We're talking about systemic and cultural changes; we're talking about behavioral changes; we are all across the socio-economic model; we are proposing something that is massive and life changing for members of our communities.   And yeah that should take a little bit more work than reading and saying like oh yeah I think I'm in the assessment phase.  That's not what this is for what this is really for is to help to understand the goal of moving forward and making things better.
Lucey:    That's so well put and then thank you for tying it up like that.  It shouldn't be easy and it's not.  But we should also say that it can be extremely rewarding so you know it's not an easy task but it certainly has its benefits. 
So I'm gonna use this as I do with all of the other guests on the podcast episodes with our fifth question this is your opportunity to speak to our listeners what do you want to say to encourage your peers the professionals who are working to prevent drug abuse among college students who are listening to the podcast ? 
Arnold:  Yeah wow this is a beautiful opportunity. 
What I would say to folks who are listening is there are so many things to learn.  There are so many ways to develop and grow.  There are so many opportunities that exist within this field of prevention and higher education but I think that if there's one thing everyone is listening this can do is to find someone who can act as a mentor in this field. 
We pass a lot of information on through verbal storytelling and a history that that might exist with a few people but it may not be documented incredibly well.  There's no particular single text I could send anyone to and say why you just learn about everything here.  But there is so much that's known and it can be so important and valuable to have someone not on your campus (or) on your campus who you can go to and talk about what's going on when you run into frustrations or you run into successes, who can be there to give you a high-five.
It is frankly one of the more valuable things that I've ever had an experience of in my own life. 
I am thankful for all of the people who mentored me throughout my prevention journey that includes Dr. Kilmer that includes my first boss Peggy Vogel.  I think that the opportunity to really have an ally or a colleague in the work that you're doing is immeasurably powerful and if you feel alone there's chances are that somebody else feels that way too and I think that sort of connection can be valuable for everyone.  So whether you make that as (part of) a conference or you make it as part of a listserv, or you make it because you know you get to be part of just like a webinar or something you just connect with each other that is so important and so powerful and I hope everyone listening to this finds one or more person like that in their lives. 
Lucey:  I really that's just those are awesome words of encouragement I just love the way you said that in fact I jotted it down so I'm feeling a new tagline right now which is you know "Who's your go-to".  I mean and I think we all need to have that person or persons in our lives who we can turn to for encouragement, for guidance, and advice and support in this work that we do. 
So David it's it's been a thrill to have you on the podcast.  Again I will say you know speaking on behalf of DEA we have so appreciated and continue to look forward to the partnership that we have with NASPA as we continue our outreach and support to institutions of higher education.  It's been a thrill to be part of the Strategies Conference and I know that's coming up in January, so if you wanted to say a word or two about that I'll give you that opportunity now. 
Arnold:  Yeah.  First of all anybody who's listening to us who is going to be at the Strategies Conference if you can find me in the blur of light and sound that I become.  I would love to talk to you just for a few minutes to say hi and encourage your work in the field. 
Our national strategies conference is a four-dimensioned conference and one of the strongest dimensions is the alcohol and other drug prevention conference.  It's held January 17th through the 19th and this year we'll be in Washington DC at the Grand Hyatt.  Registration is open and will continue to be open pretty much through the events and we'd love to see folks out there to continue making connections and building relationships from learning new information in this field. 
Lucey:  Great.  Well thanks again David. 
And to our listeners, thank you for tuning in to this episode of Prevention Profiles Take Five and with that I will say thanks and have a good day.