21st Birthday Program - Celebrating & Educating Our Students and Families

The purpose of this program is to engage families of Gonzaga University (GU) students in promoting and encouraging healthy behaviors and responsible decision-making related to student alcohol consumption. The program was created in response to a need to reduce risky drinking behaviors often associated with 21st birthday celebrations among GU students, and also in response to several student narratives that their parents had encouraged them not to shy away from the campus drinking culture, stating that 'it was a just normal part of life as a college student'.

Three weeks before students' 21st birthdays, their parents receive a postcard encouraging them to talk to their student about safe alcohol use. The postcard includes information on suggested conversations, preventative strategies, and resources available on campus. Parents are also given the opportunity to send a personalized birthday card to their student encouraging healthy celebration and outlining preventative strategies related to alcohol consumption.

If a parent chooses to send their student a 21st birthday card, the student will receive this card in the week leading up to their 21st birthday. The birthday card encourages students to have a fun and safe celebration, outlines protective strategies should they choose to celebrate with alcohol, and includes the personalized message from the student’s parents. The card also includes a coupon for a free drink at the Starbucks 

location on campus, sending the message that it’s not necessary to celebrate a 21st birthday with a drink that’s alcoholic. These coupons are being generously provided by Gonzaga’s dining services team, who was excited to partner with us on this initiative, allowing this to be an incredibly cost effective program to conduct. 

To document the effectiveness of this program, we issue assessment surveys to parents and request feedback, as well as inquire as to whether or not they took the opportunity to have a conversation with their student before their 21st birthday. We also survey students to assess their behaviors related to alcohol consumption, both on their 21st birthday and in the time since. As an additional form of assessment, we work with the Office of Community Standards to evaluate whether or not any students who received a 21st Birthday Card have been cited for violations to the university’s Code of Conduct, specifically the alcohol policy. 

Before its implementation, this program was proposed to and unanimously approved by the Gonzaga Parent & Family Council. Additionally, staff in student well-being and prevention education have shown strong support for the program, partnering with us to write the content for both the parent postcard and the student birthday card. Although we are still in the early stages of rolling out this program, initial responses from parents (and students) have been extremely positive, complimentary, and appreciative. 

By implementing this program, we hope that parents will understand the role that they can play, and the influence they have, on their student’s decision-making related to alcohol use and helping them to avoid unsafe or irresponsible situations. We hope that parents will utilize the tips and suggestions provided to have conversations with their student about alcohol use and healthy behaviors. Ideally, these conversations will provide students the opportunity to know where their parents stand on issues of alcohol consumption and what their expectations are in line with family values. Through this initiative, we invite parents to engage with us in ensuring the safety and well-being of our students during their time at Gonzaga.
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