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Peers Promote Safe Drinking

By Michael A. Peters, Contributing Writer

There were no multi-billionaire CEOs or former U.S. presidents on hand, but a graduating class of 17 Harvard students was all smiles Tuesday night after becoming the College’s newest Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisers (DAPAs).

At just over 15 months old, the DAPA program is still young and evolving—but holding strong to the belief that peer advisers are the best vehicles for distribution of alcohol safety information to the Harvard community.

“This is such an exciting program because the students are here completely voluntarily,” says lead DAPA program instructor Ryan M. Travia, who is also Harvard’s director of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services. “It’s refreshing to see such efforts on the part of students who truly want to help their peers.”

DAPA is perhaps best known on campus as the group that offers money to pay for food and non-alcoholic drinks at undergraduate parties.

The grant program debuted during last November’s Harvard-Yale weekend and has since become wildly popular, Travis said. It boasts an endowment of nearly $20,000.

Travia said that some of the DAPA grant program’s popularity can be attributed to the differences between it and a similar party grant program offered by the Undergraduate Council (UC). Unlike the UC grants, the DAPA grants do not stipulate that the parties need to be widely publicized or open to the entire student body, Travia said.

“Students have commented that these grants allow them to throw a great party and that prior to the grants, they underestimated just how much these non-alcoholic drinks and food could add to the event,” Assistant Dean Paul J. McLoughlin wrote in an e-mailed statement.

Veteran DAPA Amy Tao ’07 explained that though DAPA will not fund the purchase of alcohol, its goal is not to impose a modern-day prohibition on the substance.

“We’re not there to police at parties. Each individual brings something different to the table,” Tao said. “We all have different drinking histories and different social groups.”

The group’s attempts at generating a buzz have taken on a number of forms, including posters tacked-up across campus and the distribution of Nalgene bottles imprinted with facts about alcohol use at Harvard, according to DAPA coordinator Kay Negishi ’07—all in the hopes of getting students to more seriously consider the importance of drinking responsibly.

FOR THE GOOD OF US ALL

The latest DAPA graduates were only the second class to complete the 12-week training program offered by the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services.

Shiv M. Gaglani ’10, a recent graduate of the DAPA program, said he is looking forward to acting as a resource for fellow students.

“In the past my friends traditionally asked me a lot of questions about alcohol because of my knowledge in chemistry,” Gaglani says. “They were always asking questions like ‘Is it okay to take a Tylenol after drinking alcohol to relieve a headache?’ I wanted to be able to answer my friends and whoever had those concerns. DAPA gave me this opportunity.”

Tao said her DAPA training has helped her most in aiding those within her social network.

“I personally was very surprised about how many people came to me with questions,” Tao said. “The question asked most: I have a friend I’m concerned about...how should I go about helping that friend? As a DAPA, I’m able to help answer.”

McLoughlin sees DAPA playing a key role in both the present and future promotion of a safer Harvard.

“No one can deny that drinking behavior on college campuses across the country has reached dangerous levels,” McLoughlin wrote in his statement. “I am hopeful that the DAPA program and all of the other new initiatives around alcohol education started by [the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services] will allow students at Harvard to act responsibly and safely. It’s in their and our best interest.”

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