Over the past seventeen years, I have had the honor of serving as the project director of Missouri Partners in Prevention, my state’s higher education prevention coalition. Over the years of monthly meetings, conferences, technical assistance phone calls, and e-mails, I have gotten to know each of our 21 campuses well and our coalition contact at each campus even better. Recently, upon the retirement of one of our longest-standing coalition members, she shared a heartfelt poem with the group and left a lasting impression. Her words were simple and profound and they spoke to the heart of why those of us who work on statewide coalitions do what we do: the work we do matters and as a group, we are stronger.
In her parting words, she shared that without the statewide network, she would have never received training on motivational interviewing or BASICS, tools she used daily in her work on campus for over 10 years. She noted that without the data of our statewide assessment, she and her colleagues would never have been able to get support for new programming initiatives or provide data on prevention outcomes to their senior level administrators in times of budget cuts.
Statewide coalitions have the power to transform our college environments by actively involving a combination of campus, community, business, and government agencies to create environmental change. Research has shown that broad involvement in a comprehensive statewide plan is a key component of effective college-based drug abuse prevention.
Statewide initiatives are concerted groups of institutions of higher education, community members, and government officials in a state working to change aspects of the campus and community environment that contribute to high-risk drinking and other drug use. Over half of the states and territories have some form of a statewide coalitions or networks designed to support prevention on campus and affect the state’s drug and alcohol abuse concerns.
Across the nation, statewide initiatives take many forms. In my state of Missouri, our coalition Partners in Prevention is a membership organization with 21 campuses who meet monthly to network and collaborate and receive training on evidence-based strategies to address substance use. The presidents of our campuses sign letters of commitment to implement a statewide assessment and provide leadership for prevention initiatives on campus. Other coalitions across the nation meet virtually or provide training when necessary on relevant topics. While statewide initiatives take many forms, the consortiums often meet monthly or bimonthly for training, perform a statewide assessment, develop advocacy plans, share practices, support each other’s efforts, and learn from each other. In short, the participation in a statewide coalition or network strengthens our campuses and ultimately our communities.
There are many benefits to participation in a statewide coalition. I believe strongly in the mantra, “people support a world they help create”. A statewide coalition provides technical assistance on prevention to our non-prevention colleagues. Statewide coalition trainings allow law enforcement or conduct professionals the chance to learn how their counterparts across the state have contributed to student behavior change. Campuses in our statewide coalition regularly share strategic plans, meeting agendas, peer education resources, and campus policies, all with the guided hand of the statewide coalition staff. By sharing these resources, we allow our campuses to develop best practices that will affect change in student behavior not just on one campus, but also across the state or region.
In a coalition, campuses can take a stand among many, instead of standing alone. Often, this is a key component for administrators who act stronger alongside a group of colleagues or gives an administrator a chance to shine among his/her colleagues. In addition, participation in a statewide initiative fits well with the mission of many of our institutions. Statewide coalitions allow us to share our knowledge with others and fulfill our public service missions.
It is a built-in support group. At many colleges and universities, collegiate alcohol and other drug abuse prevention is left to a singular professional. Sometimes that professional is also balancing work in the health clinic or in residential life. Due to this, working in collegiate prevention can be an extremely isolating professional experience. While other health professionals and student affairs professionals have colleagues they can lean on, those who work in prevention are often the only professionals doing that work on campus. Without colleagues to share resources and provide support in times of high stress or frustration, our colleagues are burning out and lacking in professional development opportunities to learn evidence-based strategies. Statewide prevention coalitions can be life-preservers for our alcohol and other drug professionals. The opportunity to receive technical assistance and share best practices and receive support can be highly motivating and lead to better prevention outcomes.
Statewide coalitions are tremendously powerful tools to help bring about campus and statewide change. In my work, I hear often that our campuses would not be able to achieve their outcomes without the work of a statewide network such as Partners in Prevention. If you are not part of a statewide network, but one exists in your state, I highly encourage you to investigate more about how to join. If you do not have a statewide coalition or network, consider reaching out to other campuses in your local area or state for a cup of coffee to talk about your prevention work. The seeds of statewide coalition work are often planted by the first conversation.
Statewide coalitions are not just meetings or opportunities to exchange prevention dos and don’ts. Statewide initiatives transform our campuses, shape our professional experience, and help us engage deeper in our work.
Joan Masters is the project director of Missouri Partners in Prevention (PIP), Missouri’s statewide coalition funded by the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Joan serves as a senior coordinator in the Wellness Resource Center at the University of Missouri and has led Partners in Prevention since 2001. She is responsible for the training and technical assistance that PIP provides to the 21 member campuses and serves as the primary investigator for PIP’s grant projects.