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Red Watch Band Toxic Drinking Initiative Sets New Single-Semester Training Record


Red Watch Band, the organization formed at Stony Brook University in 2009 to combat toxic drinking on colleges throughout the United States, continues to gain recognition for its accomplishments.

Grad Assistant Rob Maloney congratulates Care MVP Ashley Olafsson.

At the start of the 2016-17 academic year, the 30-person Red Watch Band CARE Team  — formed by a group of student leaders working to change social norms surrounding alcohol use by having conversations with their peers about toxic drinking — set a goal to train 1,000 students, which had never been done before in one semester. The CARE team exceeded that goal by 284 students, smashing Stony Brook’s single-semester record for students trained.

To achieve that mark, the CARE Team implemented training sessions in every residence hall on Main Campus as well as in Chapin Apartments on East Campus, Brookhaven and Southampton campus. In addition, the team conducted outreach at more than 30 events, including Wellness Night, Scooping Out Success, the Relax-a-Thon and a self-run Connect Red event.

With 7,600 students trained since the program’s inception, Stony Brook University currently accounts for roughly one-third of all the Red Watch Band-trained students attending colleges and universities in the United States. More than 200 colleges, universities, high schools and community organizations participate nationwide.

Stony Brook’s extensive involvement makes sense. It was a doctor at Stony Brook University Hospital, whose son, a student at Northwestern University, died of an alcohol poisoning/alcohol overdose just before completing his freshman year in 2008.

Every year approximately 1,825 college students die from alcohol-related causes, including overdose, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in a 2015 national survey on drug use and health.

Since the team’s formation in 2015, more than 3,200 Seawolves have been Red Watch Band trained.

As a resident assistant, Erica Ferer ’17 hopes she never needs to use her training but is glad she can call upon it if a student requires her help. “We could potentially save lives,” she says. “I am constantly reinvigorated by our mission when I think about the exponential growth and impact we’ve had and how much more we have yet to accomplish.”

Red Watch Band has its sights set on training members of every fraternity and sorority on campus.

Furthermore, team members have taken their concerns into the community, training high school students at Cold Spring Harbor and Comsewogue. Future collaborations are in the works with Suffolk BOCES at local high schools.

Red Watch Band’s Stony Brook chapter won the SUNY Outstanding Student Affairs Program Award in 2014, was cited as a recommended program as part of a comprehensive alcohol prevention program by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and has been presented at more than 30 national conferences, including Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education and the Department of Education.

The Stony Brook chapter recently celebrated its numerous achievements and recognized various entities and people who were responsible for them at the Center for Global Studies and Human Development.

Among those honored were:

  • Largest Red Watch Band Training — Langmuir College
  • Most Spirited Red Watch Band Training — Toscanini College
  • Care Team MVP — Ashley Olafsson ’17
  • Red Watch Band CARE Team Dedicated Service Award — Christian Rodriguez
  • Unsung Hero Award — Sonia Garrido

Ashley came to know Red Watch Band after a personal experience with a high school friend who overdosed. “I didn’t hesitate to call 911 and I am glad I did. The paramedic on scene said that if I hadn’t called, my friend would have died.”

She added, “My belief is that freshmen are the most vulnerable because they think they have to impress people they do not know. People listen to their peers more than they listen to any other group. I try to make people not afraid to call for help. The number one reason they don’t call for help is they don’t want to get in trouble. The police officers here today care about making sure your friend is okay.”

At Stony Brook and on campuses throughout the nation, students are redoubling their efforts to transform the culture from one that glorifies drinking into one that focuses on compassionate prevention to mitigate these fears and misinformation.

Says Erica, “Alcohol overdose is an entirely preventable death and I won’t rest until I stop hearing stories about someone losing a friend to it.”

— Glenn Jochum


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