Few events each spring generate the type of turnout that Ain’t Patty’s Day does on College Avenue. From matching shirts to green beer, a portion of Clemson students come together for a spirited celebration in lieu of St. Patrick’s Day, which traditionally falls during spring break.
Students who choose to drink are encouraged ahead of time to properly educate themselves on how to avoid getting into high-risk situations.
Students gather in downtown Clemson for a 2018 event on College Avenue.
“Going out with friends, staying with the same group, setting a limit on the number of drinks — those protective behaviors are very important,” said Jennifer Goree, director of Healthy Campus. “We know most people make safe decisions. Most are in position to be helpful to the few who may be experiencing some sort of crisis, whether it’s excessive alcohol intake or other harmful behavior.”
Knowing full well the uptick seen in high-risk behaviors around some of these signature events — ranging anywhere from football games to fall crawl to spring break — Goree’s team uses its platform to educate Clemson’s campus on some of the resources available to students.
Healthy Campus launched an alcohol safety and bystander intervention focus in August 2017, partnering with Clemson Athletics and the Division of Student Affairs in a multi-faceted messaging campaign through both print and digital media. The campaign generated awareness through several of Clemson’s athletics venues on its video boards.
“Wanting to capitalize on the goodwill of Clemson students — who are by and large very good people — we want them confident to recognize when a problem exists, be able to do something about it and get individuals the help they need,” Goree said.
Abi Elvira, a sophomore biology major from North Augusta, South Carolina, was a personal witness to a bystander’s assistance last semester when a roommate was in a potentially precarious situation. The roommate went out and was brought home by another student. She was distraught and crying. She couldn’t locate an Uber after being left behind by a group of friends near downtown — that is, until a bystander stepped in and brought Elvira’s roommate home to Calhoun Courts on campus.
Elvira is no stranger to helping fellow Clemson students, either. She is among a group of 25 facilitators for the Aspire to be Well program. Aspire is a 90-minute, peer led health- and safety-focused dialogue and is a requirement for incoming freshmen, transfers and Bridge students.
“I just remember being at my session as a freshman and liking it,” Elvira said. “I spoke with a facilitator afterward, so I went online and applied. We have a special connection with the students because we’re one of the first faces they see, which I think helps them adjust to campus and know where resources are.”
Facilitators go through a rigorous educational and training process that includes a creative inquiry course in the spring as well as a special certification. Elvira and her teammates focus on key aspects of maintaining a safe and healthy campus through alcohol and other drug misuse, interpersonal or relationship violence, mental health and holistic wellness. In turn, students gain an understanding of campus resources and learn how to help others through risk-reduction strategies and bystander intervention.
Elvira knows the intersection of large events such as Ain’t Patty’s Day on Saturday, March 9 coupled with excessive alcohol intake can be particularly dangerous.
“Alcohol impairs the way you think and it also impairs you physically through breathing and motor reactions,” she said. “Adding too much can take situations from nice and cool to a complete 180-degree turn. It could affect your schoolwork, job or relationships with people.”
And because of that, Goree and her team constantly implore students to look out for one another during some of these large social interactions.
“Recognize a problem when it exists, but be empowered to do something about it,” she said. “That’s the message we want to take hold with the students through ‘Celebrate Safely’ and some of our other educational efforts.”