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CCU Atheneum: Rebecca Cwalina with her pal Wally the Turtle.
Rebecca Cwalina with her pal Wally the Turtle.

The Wally Campaign tells the real story about social norms

by Rebecca Cwalina
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Everywhere you go on campus, you see neon signs with a cartoon turtle sharing statistics about student alcohol consumption, such as “64 percent of Coastal Carolina University students don’t drink or keep it to four or less” or “84 percent of CCU students are willing to be designated drivers.” You might wonder what it’s all about.

Wally the Turtle is the mascot for the Wally Campaign, a student-managed public health campaign that aims to inform students about what really happens at CCU when it comes to alcohol consumption. The participating students, known as the “Shell Squad,” are Adrienne Covington, Katie Estabrook, Ashley Gordon, Kayla Haggerty, Carlianne Lindsey Hanks, Lindsay Hickman, Rachel Houston, TJ Kilbride, Victoria Lambert, Brenna Maloney, Christopher Nash and Sarah Rieman. These students intend to change their classmates’ perceptions about alcohol use by showing that the conventional wisdom concerning college-age drinking behaviors are exaggerated.

The campaign is based on social norms, a behavioral theory that describes how people tend to emulate the behavior of their peers. Students at CCU have misperceptions about the actual alcohol consumption rates of their peer group, which may have an impact on their own drinking practices.

The Wally Campaign began with Elizabeth Carter, associate director for alcohol and drug prevention, and Mark Flynn, assistant professor of communication, who both have a background in health campaign theory and practice. They decided to use social norms theory to address high risk drinking, teaming up in fall of 2012 to begin research and preliminary discussions for the campaign. They assessed the current drinking perceptions and behaviors and whether or not a campaign was needed on CCU’s campus. The campaign uses statistics from the National College Health Assessment Dataset, an online survey given to CCU students in 2012, to present a realistic picture about drinking behaviors at CCU.

“We found that CCU was slightly below the national average for drinking behavior, but slightly above the national average for perceptions of drinking,” Flynn said. “This means that there was a slightly larger than average gap between perceived drinking behavior and actual drinking behavior.”

After the research was complete, Carter and Flynn wanted students to get involved and develop a brand for the campaign. The campaign has been student developed since spring 2013, including their brand mascot, Wally the Wall Pond Turtle. The character was inspired by the turtles in the Wall Building pond. Each semester, Carter and Flynn work with students outside of the traditional classroom to develop, refine and implement their campaign strategy. Some students from Flynn’s Introduction to Health Communication courses have had a helping hand in the campaign’s development as well, working on Wally messages as part of a strategic campaign message design project.

“We aren’t here to tell people to stop drinking,” said Hickman, a junior English and communication major. “We just want people to know that students aren’t drinking as much as they think. When students think other people are performing certain behaviors, they want to follow. We just want to show people that these drinking behaviors aren’t actually happening.”

“I look forward to using the skills I’ve gained through the campaign in my new internship and for future careers,” said Kilbride, a junior health communication major, campaign coordinator and head student researcher of the campaign. “The campaign has really transformed me into a leader and has given me necessary skills that will benefit me for the rest of my life in my career.”

“This has provided a great experiential learning opportunity for students in the course because many of their strategic communication and designs have been used in the campaign over the past few years,” Flynn sad.

Members of the Shell Squad adopted an unexpected goal during the course of the campaign: finding other students with the same beliefs and making them feel at home.

“When I first came to CCU, I thought I was an outcast for not engaging in the same drinking behaviors [as my peers],” said Hanks, a junior communication major. “I came to college to learn, and I felt very alone in that until students from the Wally Campaign presented in my class. I felt the same way they did and wanted to jump on the campaign immediately. Now, I want others who were in my shoes to find us so they can feel at home.”

The campaign has evolved since 2012. At first, there was more behind the scenes work, such as research and designing posters to post around campus. It has grown to include many more members who present in classrooms and for various clubs and organizations. The program even has a real mascot, Wally the Turtle, a member of the Shell Squad in a turtle costume who was introduced in Fall 2015 at the Farmers Market on Prince Lawn. The Shell Squad has been taking advantage of this addition by frequently putting up the campaign’s tent on Prince Lawn to spread its message.

The Shell Squad gains experience in campaign design, message content, public speaking and how to engage students and other audiences on health topics. They presented at Bacchus General Assembly in Reston, Va., last fall, a national conference on peer education programs.

The Wally Campaign always welcomes new members to the Shell Squad and invites students of all majors to join. The members meet once a week to strategize and plan out events. If you are interested to learn more, contact Kilbride at tjkilbrid@coastal.edu or Flynn at mflynn@coastal.edu.

 

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