In March of this past Spring semester, Strategic and Corporate Communication students in Dr. Sara LaBelle’s Advanced Message Design (SCC 400) course tackled a difficult challenge: to change their peer’s attitudes toward using prescription stimulants to study for midterm and final exams; Unfortunately prescription stimulant abuse is a fairly common and accepted behavior for these purposes at not only Chapman but schools nationwide (see Benson et al., 2016 for a meta analysis). The student-driven Rethink campaign strove to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription stimulant misuse among college students by tabling and speaking directly with peers, designing and placing posters around campus, and posting on multiple social media platforms. Students were also encouraged to sign a pledge to Rethink prescription drug misuse during both their midterm and finals study sessions.

The Rethink campaign was unique in that it was completely designed by SCC majors. From the logo to the campaign mascot, SCC400 students used research and evidence-based information to achieve the goal of the campaign: to encourage their peers to consider the risks of abusing drugs like Adderall and Ritalin to study for exams, and to fight the normalization of this behavior during midterm and finals week.

SCC 400 students explain the dangers of Adderall use to students on campus.

Rethink allowed Strategic and Corporate Communication students to implement course concepts on campus while making a positive impact on the Chapman University environment. Importantly, it also allowed students to collect data using an experimental design to see if their messages actually worked! Over the course of the Spring semester, students in SCC400 collected data at both Chapman and a nearby university (as a control group).

What did we find?

Pre- and post-test survey results from 187 Chapman students, and 65 students from the control site, indicate a number of successes for the Rethink campaign. Students’ attitudes toward using prescription stimulants to concentrate while studying, to study for longer periods of time, and to concentrate in class were significantly more negative after the campaign! Students at Chapman also felt that the misuse of prescription drugs was significantly less accepted or “okay” by their peers following Rethink : this is a huge win for the campaign, as perhaps the most challenging aspect of this phenomenon is that college students assume other students are not only engaging in this behavior but also approve of it. In further support of the campaign, there were no significant changes from pre- to post-test at the control site; but there WERE significant differences in attitudes at Chapman and the control site. Overall, the Rethink campaign was a huge success!

Students pose outside of Leatherby Libraries with Addy!

What’s next?

While many of the students in the Spring 2017 SCC400 class are already happily using their experiences for resumes and job interviews, students interested in helping with the next iteration of the campaign can sign up for Dr. LaBelle’s Fall 2017 SCC400 course! As Dr. LaBelle notes, “There is always room for improvement, and I am excited to see what the next group of incredible SCC students has in mind for Rethink.