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Offers Students A Source For Advice
Stressbusters use massage therapy to loosen up students.
Photo: Shira J. Boss
does Columbia teach massage classes, salsa workshops and seminars
on how to flirt? Since Alice! came to campus. Alice! is the
collective name of the school's innovative health education
program, one of the most progressive in the country.
it is best known in the form of its acclaimed and comfortably
anonymous website for health information called Go Ask Alice! On
campus, Alice! has built a reputation as an easy-going,
comprehensive and trusted place to turn for information on
everything from allergies to relationships.
to maintaining its website, the Alice! staff coaches students on
managing time and reducing stress, guides them in quitting smoking,
gives grants for alcohol-free student events, distributes
informational pamphlets and stocks 20,000 condoms per year for the
dancing and flirting events are part of the annual Safer Sex
Awareness Week, held the week before Valentine's Day. They are in
part designed to demonstrate physical but non-sexual ways students
can relate to one another. During the week students can also pick
up safer sex kits and get informational tips as well as munchies
during events such as the popular "Orgasm, Pleasure and Pizza"
night hosted by Judith Steinhart, one of Alice!'s leaders. Her
affability and soothing manner combine with her 20 years'
experience as a sex educator, counselor and therapist lead many
students to think she is Alice personified, and to call her by that
the week's events is "Singing about Sex," for which student artists
write and perform songs with safer-sex lyrics. Jordan Friedman, the
director of Alice!, is so impressed by the quality of the musical
talent on campus that last year he started planning "CU on CD," a
safer-sexy soundtrack that would play music both in regular compact
disc players and in computers, which would give the tunes new life
with written links to information about the topics in each
always looking for new ways to reach students, and the multi-media
approach has been well-received in the past. Spring Break Survival
Kits, handed out on campus the week before break, have featured a
cassette tape, "Sex Chat Unplugged," with infotaining skits about
sex, drugs and alcohol read by students. Packed in a motion
sickness bag, the kits have also included hangover tips, drug and
alcohol information pamphlets, condoms and soap samples.
events and handouts catch students' attention, they respond with
feedback, questions and requests. Last year students said they
liked reading information in private and requested more pamphlets.
Now "Alice! To Go" wall racks around campus buildings and in dorms
dispense leaflets on about 50 different topics. Although some are
about sexual health and concerns, Alice! also addresses nutrition,
reducing stress, quitting smoking, alcohol abuse, and other topics
of concern to college students.
"A friend of
mine here is thinking about getting a skin piercing and just told
me, 'I know, I'll just go talk to Alice,'" said Tom Hughes
model for other universities, Alice! is constantly making
improvements and expanding its scope. An outside consultant who
reviewed the school's alcohol abuse and sexual assault programs in
1998 helped define focus areas and priority issues, and a 30-person
committee has been meeting quarterly to address those issues.
Another initiative aims to broaden Alice!'s cross-cultural
awareness and make sure it is addressing every group's
Alice!'s pamphlets come to life during seminars, offered in a
series or as one-day workshops. Students sign up for these
voluntary mini-courses on becoming more assertive, learning time
management techniques, managing a healthy diet or discovering, "Who
am I and what do I want from life?"
program on reducing stress has spawned "stressbusters." Students
are trained by a licensed massage therapist to give mini-massages
on the shoulders, neck and back. Then they are hired for $8.50 an
hour to loosen up students and staff for special occasions or at
various campus events (always in a group setting). To acquaint
students with its new Lerner Hall location, Alice! started offering
"Wind Down Wednesdays," free mini-massages at noon. "The response
has been incredible - we have people lined up before 12 o'clock,"
of health education at Columbia and now for the public is the Go
Ask Alice! website. It started in 1993 for Columbia students to ask
questions using cunix, the university's computer network. "We put
it on the World Wide Web for the world to access and sometimes we
feel that the entire world does access it," Friedman
provides health information and a searchable database of questions
asked anonymously by e-mail and answered by Alice!'s staff of
health educators and student researchers. They get about 1,500
submissions every week, from general health queries to specific
questions about sex and relationships, and get about 1.5 million
hits (visits) every month.
constantly stress that people should talk to their doctors, but
some people are scared to talk to their doctors," says Chris
Geissler '00, a student researcher at Alice!. "My hope is that once
we give them some information, they're more comfortable going to
site is open to access by anyone, some groups have protested that
children can read information that is at times sexually explicit.
Counters Friedman, "You have to actively search out those
questions, it's not like anyone would come across them without
looking for them. He also suggests that concerned parents practice
"safer surfing" - going on line with their children so they can
discuss the information and add their own input. "We almost never,
ever receive any negative mail or response from the public or the
press," he adds.
received letters of praise from parents, librarians, grandmothers
and clergy as well as students and others who testify that the site
is doing a lot of good. One section of the site that addresses
concerns of parents cites a 1997 research article in the Journal
of Adolescent Research that presented a study showing that more
sex education led to more abstinence, more responsible sexual
activity and a decrease in unwanted pregnancies.
now working with schools and public libraries on issues of access
to the Internet and intellectual freedom, and has spoken at
nationwide conferences such as for the American Library Association
and the American College Health Association.
"When I go
around the country I can't believe the number of people who know
about the site, use it, refer to it, download stuff - it's
astounding and it makes you feel really good," he says. "It's good
for us and a great role for Columbia. We've always felt that the
potential of our work goes well beyond the computer screen and CU's
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