Prevention Profiles: Take Five - Dr. Eric S. Davidson (Eastern Illinois University)


Eric Davidson

Eric Davidson

Audio file

Dr. Eric Davidson talks about the importance of biennial reviews, the challenges some schools may have with requirements, and more on this episode.

Rich Lucey: Hi, this is Rich Lucey with the Drug Enforcement Administration's Community Outreach and Prevention Support Section, and welcome to this episode of Prevention Profiles Take Five, the new podcast series we run off of our website,
I'm happy to have today as our guest on the podcast Eric Davidson from Eastern Illinois University.
Let me tell you a little bit about Eric before we jump into our five questions.
Eric currently serves as Interim Director for Health and Counseling Services at Eastern Illinois University.
He also serves as Director of the Illinois Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Other Drug and Violence Prevention, assisting two and four year colleges within Illinois to improve their substance abuse prevention programming.
Eric serves the Vice-President of Student Affairs in assessment, evaluation and research matters, and he has advised several student groups including BACCHUS, Health Fair planning committee, Alpha Phi Omega as well as serving on several masters level thesis committees.
Eric is a member of the American College Health Association's Alcohol and Drug Task Force and the NASPA Alcohol and Drug Knowledge Community.
Eric earned his PhD in health education from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
And so with that, Eric, welcome to the podcast.

Eric Davidson: Thank you, excited to be here today.

Lucey: I am as well, and we're gonna jump right into our questions.
And our first two questions have to do with a topic that you and I are both very familiar with, me from my time working at the U.S. Department of Education, and you I know very involved in training and offering technical assistance to people around the Drug-Free Schools and Campuses Regulations.
So let me provide some background on that is.
So any college or university that receives federal financial assistance is required to comply with the Drug-Free Schools and Campuses Regulations.
And one of the requirements is for schools to conduct what is called a biennial review which means they need to review their prevention programs' effectiveness and their disciplinary sanction consistency every two years.
So Eric, how do you help schools get past seeing this as just a federal mandate to rather be seen as good prevention practice?
Davidson: Several different ways.
One of the things that I like to ask people is, Why did you get into the field?
 Why do you do what you do?
 And invariably everyone says that they get into this field because they want to make a difference.
They want to make a difference in the lives of students, of campuses and their communities.
And what I will often then say is that the biennial review really allows individuals as well as campuses to determine whether or not they're truly making the difference that they desire to make.
I believe that if we're not assessing our policies, if we're not assessing our programs, if we're not looking at processes, if we're not looking at outcomes, then we really have no objective way of knowing whether or not we are truly making that difference.
And I think the biennial review allows practitioners, it allows institutions opportunities to gather people in different units together, allows those individuals and those units to pull their data, to look at the institutions' strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the substance abuse prevention programming and intervention programming that's happening on a campus.
It allows those individuals and groups to pause, to analyze that data, make some objective interpretations and determinations and really figure out what a campus is doing well and what a campus is not doing well.
I think the great thing about the biennial review and its parts, one of the things that a lot of people forget when they do their review is really making some recommendations for future actions.
So I think the process allows institutions and individuals to kind of close the loop after having done some assessment, making some recommendations, developing a strategic plan or an action plan of what's supposed to happen during the next two years, and then two years down the road when it comes time for another biennial review process to kind of look at their progress and what they've been able to do during the past two years.
So to me it's really good prevention.
I think a well done biennial review also provides a voice.
It provides a mechanism for practitioners to use to get other people bought into their work, the importance of their work, why there needs to be adequate resources.
So again it's more than just a check in the box.
It really can be a major component of one's work and a major asset in moving forward.

Lucey: Yeah, there's a couple of things that you said that resonated with me.
And as someone who worked, you know, at the Department of Education, so I was coming at it from the agency perspective that requires this to be done is to try and get people past looking at this as a, just a must do, like you said, a check in the box.
And I like that.
It is work.
I mean, it does take work to do this, but it's; you make it work for you.
That's why I liked what you said about making the recommendations for future actions.

Davidson: Yeah, yeah.
Every, every campus is different and every campus has a different culture.
So instead of coming in and saying everybody has to do these things, the biennial review allows a campus to sit there and say this is really what we need to focus on.
This is where we need to put our energies.
And it allows campuses to move forward in that direction.
But it also provides that feedback loop to come back and say, Did it really work the way that we wanted it to?
 It just makes sense to me.

Lucey: Yeah.
Well, so that'll segue into the second question that I have which is really the other part of the regulations.
So in addition to the biennial review, schools also are required to annually distribute their alcohol and drug policy to all students, faculty members and staff.
Based on your experiences and your conversations with colleagues around the country, what do you see are one or two of the biggest challenges that schools are experiencing around the regulations?
I think one is the content that actually goes into the Drug and Alcohol Prevention Program notice.
What I like to tell a lot of people is if your paragraph, if you have a paragraph or if your notice is very short, you're probably not including and containing all of the content that the Department of Education expects.
If everything is in included, whether it be information about sanctions, off-campus sanctions, state sanctions, commonly used drugs and characteristics of those drugs, resources that are on your campus, it can be quite lengthy.
And I find a lot of campuses have not really included all the content that's needed.
So I always encourage people to make sure that they look at the resources, the guidebook as I refer to it as that says this is what you shall do, and make sure that everything's in there.
And again if it's just a simple paragraph, it's probably not containing everything that needs to be in it.
And when one goes to the Department of Ed website and looks at the program review findings for the schools that have been found in violation, a lot of times you will see those institutions really have not covered the content in the notice as it is required.
One of the other areas that I see is distribution.
Distribution is really supposed to be active so schools really just can't put it out on an orientation table and expect that to meet the requirements.
That's a good practice.
I encourage schools to do it, just not as their primary distribution.
A lot of times institutions will view this mandate, excuse me, as a student-focused mandate.
And there is a large student focus, but the policy is to be distributed to students, staff and faculty on an annual basis.
So just giving it out at new employee orientation is not enough.
Every staff and faculty members needs to get it once a year.
And I think one other aspect with the distribution is that distribution is really ongoing, and in many ways it's more than just a one-time event.
People are expected to get it at least once a year so if you have new students or staff or faculty who come onboard during the spring semester, you really can't wait till next fall to get them your copy of the policy.
They really need to get it within that year period.

Lucey: That's an excellent point.
I know that oftentimes what I had heard was when asked, Did you distribute your policy according to the regs?
Oh, yeah, we did that in September.
Okay, but like you just said, what about those who are on what you would say off semester enrollment?
So these are the folks who are coming in in February.
Or what if you have transfer students and things like that?
They need to get it too.

Davidson: Exactly, exactly.
One of the things that I see is that even though the Clery Compliance Division of the Department of Ed is now monitoring the Drug-Free Schools, I see a lot of schools confusing the requirements of Clery with the requirements of the Drug-Free Schools, and that distribution of the policy is just one of those differences between those two mandates.

Lucey: Yeah, absolutely.
And for the listeners, there are distinct; these are distinct regulations.
We're actually referring to the Clery Act which looks more specifically at campus crime statistics and the reporting of that versus specifically the Alcohol and Drug, like I said, the policy and your prevention efforts and such around that.
So really good advice, and I know that, and I've seen this and heard this that people that have been to your presentations that engage on this conversation, sometimes it's pretty eye-opening.
They don't even realize that this is a requirement.
But once they get involved in it, they really do find it to be worthwhile.

Davidson: Very much, thank you.

Lucey: So now I'll move on to our third question.
We move off of the whole regulatory piece here and we'll talk a little bit about peer education.
So during your career you have worked extensively on peer education issues.
What do you think needs to be top of mind for professionals working with students and vice versa?
 What do you think students need to keep in mind working with professionals?
Davidson: Oh, a lot of things.
I love peer education.
I actually was a peer educator in high school and in college so I've kind of been on both sides of the fence.
One of the things that I learned as an advisor is that if I was working harder than my students then I probably was not being a very effective advisor, that the group was really more mine than belonging to the group.
So one of the things that I learned really quickly was I was there to advise.
I was there to mentor.
I was there to guide.
But if I really became more of a doer, I was probably doing something wrong as an advisor, and I really needed to kind of change my approach.
So I always like to tell new advisors, make sure your peers are doing the work.
You're there to guide them as an Obi-wan Kenobi guiding Luke Skywalker, but your job is not necessarily to be Luke Skywalker, to throw in my obligated Star Wars reference.

Lucey: I was waiting for that.

Davidson: You know, as a student I would also sit there and say, you know, your advisor is human.
They probably have many hats that they're wearing and many balls that they're juggling professionally as well as personally.
So sometimes trying to put your advisors up on a pedestal and expecting them to do all things is kind of unrealistic.
So between those two sides of the coin I think it's always important for an advisor and peers to sit down and be real honest about their expectations, who has what responsibilities, really kind of sit down and discuss what's going to happen and who's going to do what and kind of problem solve and troubleshoot some things that may come up based upon past experiences.
I think the other thing I would say about peer ed is that peer ed is always changing and evolving, mainly because our students are changing and evolving.
So I always recommend that peer ed programs look at the campus needs, look at what's going on the field.
A lot of schools may do peer eds where students go out and do presentations and programs, and that's great.
But I also know that we have some peer ed programs that focus on health communications, marketing, social media.
Some are focusing more on advocacy and lobbying.
Others may be focusing more on peer counseling, peer helping, brief interventions and screenings.
So there's just a lot of room for growth and opportunity out there.
So depending upon what health promotion programs look like on a campus, there are some great opportunities for peer eds to kind of collaborate with them.
Figure out what needs to be done on your campus.
Figure out what functions should be served by peer eds.
And then make sure the peer eds are adequately trained for that to be able to be successful.

Lucey: That's really helpful.
You know, the peer education thing for me, and again I've not been directly involved in either participating in or directing a peer education program, but I've always viewed it as when done correctly, I guess I should say, it's a win-win situation, right?
I mean prevention.

Davidson: Oh, very much so.

Lucey: You guys can't be in all places at all times, and so you're training a cadre of young people, students to go out and do the education.
But the other side from the student perspective, this is a learning experience for them too.
It's part of their college experience.
And so I loved what you said about the advisor should not be working harder than the students, that otherwise you're probably not doing your job correctly in that capacity.
They're gonna have some failures.
They're gonna have some successes as peer educators.
That's all part of the learning experience, right?
Davidson: Very much so, very much so.
I can honestly say that if it weren't for my peer education experiences in high school and college, you and I probably would not be having this conversation right now.
It's really where I found my vocation.
It's where I found my passion.
It kind of, where you know, where I felt like, okay, this is where I fit.
And in all the experiences that I had as a peer educator helped prepare me to be successful in my first career opportunities.
And then when it was time to become an advisor, you know, that kind of gave me a leading edge over some of the other folks that I was competing with.
So I would say, you know, you never know what seeds you're planting, and you never know how you may be investing in the future of the career and the profession by the work that you're doing as a peer ed advisor.
Lucey: Absolutely.
Davidson: And I think that's key because then you end up getting some folks that have some knowledge and have some expertise and can also make greater meaning out of their experience because they've been there.

Lucey: And you never know when you're going to spark the passion in one of the peer educators or more peer educators to go into this field.
I mean that's, you know, also a bonus.
Davidson: Very much so.

Lucey: So that's excellent.
So we'll move on to our fourth question, kind of the other hat you wear among many as Director of the Illinois Higher Ed Center.
You've been involved with what's the term of art we use in the field sometimes, statewide initiatives around drug abuse prevention among college students.
What would you say are some of the biggest benefits that come from being involved in a statewide initiative?
Davidson: Definitely, I think the biggest benefit is that of networking.
When I was a younger professional and starting out in my career, I was the sole health promotion, health education person on my campus.
And I was the first one to have that position.
So there wasn't really a lot of people that I could go to for mentoring.
So I found through my involvement in IHAC as a practitioner excellent because I discovered that I wasn't alone, that there were other people out there, and other people were having the same issues and the same problems and the same successes that I was having.
So I could sit down and I could share with them, and they would share with me and we would exchange what we were doing, and you know, resources and techniques and methods and programs.
So it really helped decrease my isolation while increasing accessibility to different resources and ideas and concepts.
So I really valued that.
In a state initiative, I think there's through that networking there's that opportunity to find mentors.
I was a 25-year-old kid fresh out of graduate school.
I had been doing peer education.
I'd done some work in a community-based setting, but transferring from that community-based setting to higher ed was a real large paradigm shift.
And then I think back to some of the more experienced and seasoned practitioners through that state initiative and that network, they really did offer me some guidance and some wisdom to help me grow professionally and mature into the professional that I am now.
The other thing would be pooling of resources.
Whether a state initiative is able to pool resources where I may not be able to bring a certain speaker to my campus because of cost prohibitation, they might be able to do it or they might be able to pool resources among many campuses which makes bringing that speaker to the area much more efficient and effective.
So you know, through the state initiative there's probably a great amount of professional development that I was able to acquire and achieve that if the state initiative had not been present I wouldn't have been able to get on my own or bring to my campus.
And likewise, you know, I'm thinking of peer education.
There were several of us that had peer ed groups and we were able to pool together, and instead of me offering the certified peer education training to my peers alone, we were able to all come together to a drive-in.
Some of my peers got exposed to ideas and concepts from other advisors.
They got to meet with other advisors, part of that networking.
It was just a real win-win.
And one of the other things I would say is it allowed for some benchmarking.
Our state initiative does some state aggregate data and were able to look at that data locally and kind of show the differences and use that as part of our biennial reviews.
So just a lot of great benefits.
I'm a big fan for state initiatives.
I think every state should have one, and those that don't are really missing out.

Lucey: Well, all of the benefits you've mentioned deeply resonate with me because that's how I started my career, working back in New York State.
Davidson: That's right.

Lucey: For nine years I was overseeing New York State's initiatives around this issue, and of course you talk about mentors.
Mine was and is still Fran Harding who I worked for in New York and is now Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.
You know, you talk about the networking and the opportunity to find mentors, and you know, the term that we use, leveraging resources.
I mean people couldn't believe that in the state of New York with all that we did try to do in the state, it did not cost a lot of money to do.
Money does help, but it's not the be all and the end all.
So everything that you've mentioned certainly are the benefits of a statewide initiative, and hopefully we'll be able to continue the work around the country around that.
I'm gonna move and go to our closing question and this is your opportunity to talk to your peers around the country.
What is it that you would want to say to encourage your peers, the professionals who are working to prevent drug abuse among college students who are listening to this podcast?
Davidson: That's a great question and there are a lot of things I think I would say.
The first is we operate in a system, and sometimes we operate in a system of systems.
So I think it's really important for practitioners to adopt a systems approach and mentality, and those that can do that typically are able to better advance their work much further than they can imagine.
Even if a person's a lone ranger, they're in a system and their work influences other areas, and what goes on in other areas influences their work.
So really taking in the big vision, the big picture and realizing how small ripples on one part of campus could actually create a wave on another portion.
I am an avid reader, and one of my favorite books is "Who Moved My Cheese?" so I always say the cheese is always moving, and be sure to sniff and scurry to adapt to change rather than hem and haw about the former ways.
It's important to be aware of what's going on, and I think that's where state initiatives are key.
Conferences and trainings are key.
Webinars and things like that, podcasts like that are key.
Things are always changing.
The field is far different now than what it was 20 years ago when I started.
So just be wary of what's going on.
I always like to think that our jobs are more than just education.
In my first position, a lot of people thought that all my job was to do was just educate and go out and do programming and presentations.
But for us to be effective, we really need to take a socio-ecological approach, which means looking at policy, looking at environmental strategies, looking at laws, looking at enforcement, looking at community mobilization.
There are a lot of skill sets that are needed in order for our work to be effective.
If a person doesn't have everything, that's okay.
But it's important to find others that may have those skill sets that we really don't have strengths in.
I would also say that leadership is key and important, and it's important for us to develop our leadership abilities and competencies because a lot of our success is really derived through how successful we are as leaders and creating change through our leadership.
And then the last thing I would just sit there and say to everyone is thank you for your dedication.
Thank you for your efforts.
Thank you for your perseverance.
It's a difficult task.
Having been in the trenches, it can be challenging.
It can be frustrating.
But stick with it because the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages, and you will be happy with your life, and it will be a life well lived and well worth it.

Lucey: That is just fantastic advice, really excellent words of encouragement.
And I know the listeners will find something in all of those different pieces that you just gave to hang onto and to work with.
So with that, Eric, let me say thank you on behalf of DEA for spending some time with us during the podcast and all that you do out in the field.
Davidson: Thank you very much.
I appreciate it.
Thank you for having me today.

Lucey: Absolutely, and so with that to our listeners, we thank you for joining us on this episode of Prevention Profiles Take Five.
And you take care and have a great day.