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Students Surveyed on Pre-Departure Programs on Substance Use, Sexual Assault

By Dane S. Claussen, Ph.D., MBA
Manager of University Relations
Athena Study Abroad

“There and Back Again…Safely: Examining Students’ Reports of Substance Use and Sexual Assault Prevention Program Receipt Prior to Departure Abroad,” by Sierra Smucker, Eric R. Pedersen, Joseph W. LaBrie, Elizabeth J. D’Amico, Coreen Farris, David J. Klein, and Beth Ann Griffin, was published in the Fall 2019 issue of Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad.
A total of 2,245 valid completed surveys were received from among 2,692 students surveyed at 63 different institutions who were already slated to study abroad. The 2,692 students were chosen from among those who completed a screening questionnaire; participating students were required to be between the ages of 18 and 25, planning to study abroad for between 4 and 21 weeks, and going to one of the 12 most popular countries for study abroad (United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, South Africa, or Mexico).

Survey respondents were asked demographic questions, what country they were going to, alcohol use currently and intended while abroad, whether they had completed an alcohol or drug program or a sexual assault prevention program in college and under what circumstances (required, voluntary, etc., including whether it such a program was specific to study abroad). (Students were not asked about current or intended drug usage or their history, if any, with sexual assault.) The sample represented study abroad students generally on race and ethnic identity and countries chosen, but women and upperclassmen (juniors and seniors) were slightly overrepresented.

The article notes that this is the first study “to address student-reported exposure to general pre-departure programming with preventive information specific to study abroad alcohol misuse and sexual assault.”

About 86% of respondents had completed an alcohol or drug program during college, and 38% completed such a program specific to study abroad. Students at small colleges were less likely to have completed such a program (33%, versus 41% at medium-sized colleges and 38% at large colleges). About 84% of respondents said they had completed a sexual assault program, and 22% completed such a program specific to study abroad; of those who completed such a program, 80% said the program included discussion of alcohol as a risk factor for sexual assault. Students at large schools were less likely to have attended such a program (18%, versus 26% at small colleges and 28% at medium colleges).

As the article’s abstract concludes, “these findings suggest that either students are not receiving the preventive information that universities intend them to receive or the programming is not impactful enough to be recalled.”

The student response rate in this study was high: more than 83% of students emailed submitted a valid, completed survey. It shows again that social scientists do not need to settle for response rates (especially for emailed surveys) that are now often in the single digits. (It seems to have required “only” that each respondent be offered a $20 gift card!)

One possible limitation of this study is that students may have received alcohol, drug, and sexual assault programming after they took the survey, either before they left the USA and/or after they arrived in their study abroad country. (Another limitation of the study is that, presumably for legal and ethical reasons, students were not asked about current and intended drug use the same way they were asked about current and intended alcohol use; alcohol use is also illegal for the study’s average respondent, since his/her age was 20.1, with a standard deviation of .95.)

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