2019 Prevention Progress: A Year in Review

“You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” ~ Maya Angelou

As 2019 draws to a close, we also approach the end of a decade in higher education that has largely been defined by issues of health, wellness, inclusion, and safety. This year has been no exception, with breakthroughs and progress tempered by crisis and tragedy. EVERFI prevention experts weigh in below on the issues and updates that shaped the industry in 2019 and set the stage for the challenges and opportunities that will kick off the decade ahead.

Alcohol & Other Drugs | by Kimberley Timpf

Drinking rates continued to decline among high school students, ushering in a new era for many college campuses and giving schools the opportunity to leverage a healthy majority in efforts to change their campus drinking narrative. In stark contrast to these positive trends, several alcohol-related student deaths once again made headlines, reminding us that efforts to address high-risk behaviors and hazing on campus have continued to fall woefully short and prompting additional legislation, including the proposed END ALL Hazing Act

In the world of drugs other than alcohol, much of the focus remained on the nation’s opioid crisis while also tracking the growing public health threat of vaping. EVERFI data has mirrored that of national studies indicating exponential increases in vaping (including cannabis) and e-cigarette use. The rash of reported vaping-related illnesses and deaths across all 50 states–many attributed to vaping of cannabis–have prompted states to respond swiftly, including bans on flavored tobacco and vaping products. And while early indications point toward a slight decrease since 2017 in opioid-related overdoses, we can’t afford to take our foot off the gas, especially when it comes to prevention. Numerous federal funding initiatives are helping to ensure this doesn’t happen by providing much-needed support for prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion | by Jesse Bridges

While conversations about diversity and inclusion are not a new trend in higher education, 2019 put an acute focus ‘equity’ as the intersection of identity, history, systemic injustice, harassment & discrimination, and inclusive excellence on campuses across the nation. This year, we saw institutions grapple to reconcile a complex relationship with a history of slavery and the current responsibility for reparative justice, while bias and hate related incidents were on the rise. This manifested in decisions such as the renaming of buildings, removing campus statues, and paying reparations. Also sparked were deeper discussions about the comprehensive approach that is needed to create a truly inclusive campus; one that supports free speech and civil discourse while guarding against racially motivated acts and hate speech. The recently released Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism has inspired fresh debate on where that balance exists in the living, learning, and working community of a college campus. 

Addressing these issues through both proactive and reactive discussions is but one lens through which we can view the year. Institutions are deploying innovative initiatives, processes, and approaches that seek to extend the goal of “getting the mix right” to both increasing representation and investing in inclusive excellence. Some examples are creating a common vocabulary through campus wide training efforts that engage students, faculty and staff, as Syracuse University is seeking to do; focusing on institution wide culture of belonging, like Vassar College and Community Colleges leveraging adaptive technology and other scalable solutions to address achievement gaps. In addition, there has been a reemergence of the theory of intersectionality and the importance of not only acknowledging, but actively creating a campus infrastructure that supports the confluence of identities that students, faculty, and staff carry. This results in a differentiated set of needs and services such as culturally competent and demographically representative wellness services.

Mental Health and Well-Being | by Erin McClintock

2019 was a year that brought continued attention to mental health, marked by both tragedy and an invigorated focus on the benefits of investing in student well-being. A survey of college presidents affirmed that 8 out of 10 presidents felt that student mental health was more of a priority than it was three years ago, and 6 of 10 said that if they had unlimited funds they would hire more counselors. Despite this, EVERFI’s own data suggests that staffing counselors is just one component of boosting student mental health with only 3% of incoming first year students saying they are most likely to reach out to a counselor when experiencing stress or emotional challenges, and 45% saying that they are most likely to seek support from a friend.

Campuses across the nation mourned in the face of alarmingly high rates of student suicides, and the field was left heartbroken by the tragic passing of Penn’s head of counseling, Dr. Greg Eells, reminding us that mental health challenges are not exclusive to students and that sometimes helpers need help as well. This year campuses also placed increased attention on the topic of graduate student mental health. As we forecast into 2020, I predict that we will see increased shifts focused on prevention, continued exploration of the return on investment in student mental health, ongoing analysis of the intersections between well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion, and some groundbreaking collegiate mental health standards being enacted in Canada that will surely be guidance worth following in the states.

Sexual and Relationship Violence | by Holly Rider-Milkovich

The biggest sexual assault prevention story this year was the news that wasn’t. At the February conclusion of the notice and comment period for the proposed Title IX regulations, nearly one hundred and twenty four thousand public comments shuffled into the ED inbox. And (as was also true for 2018), we spent this year waiting for ED to deliver–by turns sussing what the final regulations may include, seeking to prepare for required changes (beefing up Respondent support efforts, considering changes to hearing practices, identifying advisors, etc.) and also reassuring our communities that the values guiding institutional Title IX efforts remain intact. Some ED leaks have forecast that much of the proposed changes related to adjudication processes will remain the same, though changes in guidance regarding addressing off-campus behavior may be retracted in the final rules. 

On a more active note, in 2019 campuses have continued to push forward with efforts to understand and take action on sexual and gender-based violence prevention. Some highlights include the public release of the AAU 2019 campus climate survey reports from 33 participating institutions, demonstrating transparency and a commitment to accountability. Additionally, in part responding to or anticipating state legislation (such as those passed or enacted this year in California, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, and Delaware), or reflecting emerging research and data related to sexual harassment in the academic workplace, colleges and universities are increasingly requiring faculty and staff to complete sexual harassment prevention training.