Note: Due to the confidentiality rule the Big Book Study group enforces, the members associated with the group will be identified by their first name and last initial.
Contrary to what its previous name suggested, the A.A. Big Book Study Group is not directly associated with the worldwide network of Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. Their new name, Big Book Study Group, tries to make that clear.
Florentina Dobrin, project coordinator of the U.S. Department of Education Whole Students Whole Campus grant, said the group could not officially be recognized as an A.A. meeting because they could not open the group to the community outside of USF, which is one of the rules required by the A.A. organization. “We wanted USF students to have access to our resources. Also, because of our grant we needed to guarantee they were the ones benefiting from our programs. We didn’t want to have to deal with the liabilities of getting other people involved,” said Dobrin.
Senior and founder of the group Jeremy S. said he began the Big Book Study Group last September to provide an additional resource for students on campus, but that it should not be mistaken for just another club at USF. “It’s not a club. It’s a place for [students] to go if they need help,” he said. Although there was previously a collaboration with Dobrin and other students to launch a campaign that brought awareness around alcoholism, Jeremy said that in retrospect those ideas contradict the A.A. ideology of bringing people to the group by “attraction not promotion.” He said that there is a fine line that needs to be respected between their work and that of A.A. because they do not want their group to be associated with anything that can “dilute their effectiveness at helping people become sober.” This emphasizes how the group is modeled after the ideals of the Alcoholic Anonymous organization, and how it is also unique in the approach it uses at USF. The group does not wish to take on a title that does not fully represent what they are doing on campus.
However, according to Cutter M., the current leader of the Big Book Study Group’s discussions, they do make use of the basic text used by A.A. meetings and other organizations discussing alcoholism. “The name ‘study group’ is designed to model after actual A.A. meetings, in which the group reads a portion of the big book and discusses it afterwards.” He clarified there is no written work or assignments of any sort that come along with being part of the group, as the name might also mislead others to think. Rather, Cutter said he believes “it is very important to have this resource on campus because many students might have a problem with drugs or alcohol and might not feel comfortable going to a faculty member or school counselor.”
Likewise, one of the things Dobrin emphasized was that most, if not all, of the work done to provide resources for students’ drinking abuse problems has been student-led. “The most effective way to reach students is through you guys, their peers, who know them best.” As a side note, Dobrin also said USF has a series of Brief Motivational Interactions (BMIs) in which students and faculty can be trained to facilitate conversations with students sanctioned for drinking offenses on campus. She said that almost three hundred BMIs have been held since they began in Spring 2008, and that aside from studies proving these an effective strategy to reach students having alcohol related issues, they are also beneficial for Pre-med, Psychology, and Nursing majors interested in having such training. Faculty are often interested as well, because, as Dobrin said, “they are also affected by students’ drinking. [Students] come to class with a hangover and they can’t perform as well.” Faculty, however, Dobrin said, often receive a different type of training that guides them in leading impromptu conversations with students outside of class. It should also be noted that BMIs are no longer just held for sanctioned students but that ROTC and the Athletics Department has also requested such meetings for their members.
Dobrin said her office has also distributed what have become known as “chicken cards,” named for their notorious chicken cartoon, as a resource USF Public Safety provides inebriated students they meet on campus. The cards contain a list of resources, such as speaking to a “peer counselor,” and attending the Big Book Study Group.
Dobrin said USF did not originally receive the Whole Students Whole campus grant because members of the U.S. Department of Education did not feel USF really needed the money. “It’s true. Compared to national college numbers, USF doesn’t really have a huge binge-drinking problem but the people of the grant were interested in our location. We’re in San Francisco and students go everywhere. That made them change their mind and we got the grant.”
Cutter confirmed the attendance at the Big Book Study Group meetings is often low but he said, “I attribute that to it still being early in the semester, students usually realize they might have a problem when grades begin to slip and the stress piles up.” One could assume Dobrin agrees, because she said, “Most people that come, come because they think it would be helpful to them. Until they really need it, they don’t [pay attention to] the posters.”
With National Alcoholism Awareness month around the corner in April, Dobrin says her office will take advantage of hosting a “town hall meeting” at USF to brainstorm new strategies to improve their services and make them more accessible to students. She said the money allotted by the grant is soon to come to an end and she really wants to get the USF community involved in helping keep these resources on campus. “We want this to keep going. We want to let students know there is somebody there.”
For more information about resources dealing with alcohol abuse or learning more about safe drinking contact Florentina Dobrin at firstname.lastname@example.org.