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Travia promotes 'healthy decisions'

Alcohol and drug education a part of student programs

Ryan Travia is plugged in to student life at Dartmouth. As the coordinator of alcohol and drug education programs, he knows about some of the extracurricular choices students make.


Ryan Travia teaches a class on alcohol and drug awareness for Peer Education Action Corps in Silsby Hall in late September. (photo by Amanda Weatherman)

"We promote healthy decision making," says Travia of his job in the Health Resources Division of the College Health Service at Dick's House. His division includes employees responsible for health education programs and counseling on a wide range of issues that interest college students, including eating disorders, nutrition, mental health, sexual abuse and substance use.

Travia's approach advocates learning and dialogue. He says that as more people talk about substance use and abuse, it helps broaden the scope of his educational efforts.

"It's hard to get to everyone," he said, "so the more who are knowledgeable and involved, the better."

He can be seen regularly meeting with students, leading training programs for  Undergraduate Advisors (UGAs) and  Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors, or facilitating discussions with members of athletic teams and Greek organizations. A typical session with Travia might include background information about the physiological effects of alcohol and other drugs like marijuana, tips on how to help a friend who's had too much to drink, and training to recognize substance abuse behaviors. The message isn't always abstinence, he says, but it's always encouraging and supportive of making healthy choices. He also says that students need to be held accountable for their behavior. Learning to be responsible is part of the college experience, he says.

"I was struck by his energy, passion, and command over the information," says David Kerem '05, who participated in UGA training. "[Travia] found thoughtful and creative ways to transmit relevant information to us that was helpful and memorable. Usually a sensitive topic, at no time did I feel that any conceivable drug and alcohol abuse-related question or issue was taboo. He was bare-knuckled, honest and informative, giving the UGAs exactly what they needed from him."

Travia works hand in hand with many people in the Dean of the College division, and he explains that cross-campus conversations and partnerships enrich his programming.

"I've worked to build relationships with many administrative offices around campus, and I think this informs my conversations with students," he says. "I'd like to develop programs that involve faculty, too, because sometimes a student's substance use affects his or her academic performance. Faculty should be a part of the ongoing conversation about how to encourage healthy decision making."

Constant surveying and evaluating helps Travia adjust his efforts in reaching out to the Dartmouth community. For example, students fill out online questionnaires about a number of social behaviors, and Travia hopes that gathering data over long periods of time from large populations of students will lead to an increase in student participation in peer counseling and more student discussions around alcohol and drug use.

Travia's interests go beyond immediate campus life. He and anthropology professor Hoyt Alverson and other colleagues have just started talking about a research project to look into ritualistic drinking behaviors and customs across society. Travia also sits on several committees of the Dartmouth Center on Addiction, Recovery and Education (also known as DCARE), one of which focuses on community outreach and another that concerns tobacco use.

One new initiative that Travia has introduced at Dartmouth is the 21st Birthday Card program developed by the B.R.A.D. Foundation. B.R.A.D., which stands for Be Responsible About Drinking, was founded by the family and friends of Bradley McCue, a Michigan State University junior who died in 1998 of alcohol poisoning after celebrating his 21st birthday. The card, sent to students from Health Services about a week prior to their 21st birthday, carries a message to celebrate responsibly, and it also provides information about alcohol poisoning symptoms. Travia has adapted the program for Dartmouth students, and he's been able to enlist local businesses like Ben and Jerry's and Ramunto's Brick and Brew to provide coupons for free ice cream and pizza slices.

"We want our students to be healthy and happy." Travia admits that it's not always easy work, but he loves it. "It's my passion."

By SUSAN KNAPP


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Last Updated: 12/17/08