Cayuga's Watchers Lauded by Smithers Institute

Changing Cornell's Drinking Norm, One Peer at a Time
Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cayuga's Watchers, an organization that trains and employs students to help curb high-risk drinking at Cornell, has received the Trice Award from the ILR's R. Brinkley Smithers Institute for Alcohol-Related Workplace Studies.

The award, received by the student-run nonprofit founded in 2012, is named for the late Harrison Trice, an ILR professor who spent much of his career researching and writing about substance use in the workplace. He taught at ILR from 1955 to 1990.

Samuel Bacharach, director of the Smithers Institute and the McKelvey-Grant Professor of Labor Management Relations, told Cayuga's Watchers that "We do this to honor the work that you've done and are continuing to do."

The award comes with a $5,000 contribution to the organization, led by Sarah Reitman ILR '15. "It is truly an honor and a privilege to represent the legacy of Professor Trice and his groundbreaking work," she said.

Through monitoring protocols overseen by Hannah James HumEc '15, director of internal operations for Cayuga's Watchers, potentially dangerous situations have not escalated into emergencies, Reitman said.

"Our organization has made great strides in transforming the drinking norm at Cornell to include safe and responsible alcohol consumption," Reitman said.

"The exceptionally strong support Cayuga's Watchers has received from the Smithers Institute and Professors Sonnenstuhl and Bacharach has been instrumental in helping us 'keep the party going, safely' at Cornell."

Part of the interest in forming the Watchers' group stemmed from organizational behavior courses taught by Professors Bacharach and William Sonnenstuhl, Reitman said.

Adam Gitlin ILR '13, who co-founded the group with Eric Silverberg A&S '14 and John Mueller A&S '13, focused his senior honors thesis on the social dynamics and social norms that sustain high-risk drinking cultures on college campuses.

Using Cayuga's Watchers as a case study, Gitlin examined the methodology of implementing student initiatives that seek to change the culture. Noah Liff '15, director of external operations, has also taken classes from both professors and worked with them on research that has helped advance initiative goals.

Through a Sonnenstuhl course this semester, Reitman said, she and her team researched the impact of Cayuga's Watchers on Cornell's drinking culture. "Our research reaffirmed the value of our organization as a means of combating a dangerous side effect of student's accepting heavy alcohol consumption as the social norm – the tendency to regard alcohol-related emergencies as non-emergencies."

Decades ago, Trice led research about alcohol misuse in the workplace.

Bacharach said, "His work on culture, constructive confrontation, social class and drinking were at the forefront of this field. When he could have done research in a number of more glamorous areas, Professor Trice decided that he wanted to do research in an area that would make a difference."

Bacharach, who is also director of ILR's Institute for Workplace Studies, said, "Professor Sonnenstuhl and I had the privilege of working closely with Harry Trice and of being mentored by him."

Trice's relationship with R. Brinkley Smithers and the Smithers family made ILR's Smithers Institute possible, Bacharach said. "All the work we do at the Smithers Institute stands on the shoulders of Professor Trice and R. Brinkley Smithers."

In that context, the Smithers Institute created an award celebrating Trice's legacy, Bacharach said. "We give the Trice Award only occasionally to an individual or group who has made a unique contribution to the battle against substance abuse on campus."

Cayuga's Watchers, in its first year, has trained more than 700 students to recognize and respond to signs of alcohol abuse and sexual assault, engage in effective bystander intervention and coordinate with emergency personnel, Reitman said.

A workforce of 140 students, usually in teams of four, has monitored more than 50 on- and off-campus events at the invitation of hosting student organizations, she said. Most events have attendance of about 150 students, but Watchers also work larger events such as Slope Day parties.

Using group text messaging, team members communicate with one another while monitoring at-risk partygoers. "We have successfully mitigated numerous potentially harmful situations using this method," Reitman said.

During its first year of operation, Cayuga's Watchers "focused on Cornell's Greek system to access the most at-risk and change-resistant segments of Cornell's student body," she said.

Outreach efforts have been expanded this semester to the multicultural and athletic communities, Reitman said.