Heads UP is a collaborative venture between Dr. Joseph LaBrie, S.J. in the Psychology Department and the Department of Student Affairs at Loyola Marymount University. Heads UP is a responsible drinking research project seeking to promote a healthy lifestyle among all students. The idea for the program emerged out of a critical incident that occurred in February of 2003, when LMU held its annual all-campus event, Charter Ball, a student-sponsored semi-formal evening of food and dancing. Although no alcohol was served during the event, before the end of the night, 21 ambulances were called to campus for alcohol-related incidents and seven students went to local hospitals for treatment of severe alcohol poisoning. One week prior, the United States Department of Education had posted a grant competition to prevent high-risk drinking among college students. It was clear from the events that transpired at Charter Ball that LMU could benefit from such a grant.

The vast majority of undergraduate students at LMU live on campus (including 97% of freshmen). Occasionally, as with the Charter Ball, alcohol-related problems enter the wider community consciousness and questions arise about the institution’s approach to alcohol prevention. LMU participates in both the CORE Alcohol and Drug Survey and the CIRP Institutional profile survey. The results from these surveys in 1999 revealed a disturbing pattern of problem drinking by LMU students. From the CORE data, 76.9% of all undergraduate students (71.4% of students under 21 years of age) reported drinking in the past 30 days, and 50% reported at least one episode of binge drinking in the same time period.

With the support of the President and the Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. LaBrie began writing a grant to target heavy drinking among freshmen male students and those students adjudicated for violating campus alcohol policies. A single-session group intervention based on the empathetic style of Motivational Interviewing was at the center of this program; supported by a series of campus community initiatives (i.e., posters with normative student data, focus groups, on-campus events). The Heads UP grant proposal was accepted by the Department of Education during the summer of 2003, and the program began in September of that year.

One year after the inception of the Heads UP men’s program, Dr. LaBrie and the Heads UP researchers designed another research grant to specifically target freshmen women and female students referred by Judicial Affairs. The need for female-specific intervention arouse after a critically dangerous hazing incident occurred on a female athletic team at Loyola Marymount University. This project, which centers on a single-session peer-led discussion group regarding reasons women drink, was accepted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism during the summer of 2004. This Motivational Interviewing-based intervention is also supported by many campus community initiatives.

Heads UP was then split into two projects – one specifically tailored towards freshmen and judicially referred male students and one specifically tailored towards freshmen and judicially referred female students. Both Heads UP Men and Heads UP Women projects are in direct collaboration with each other.

During the spring of 2005, Dr. LaBrie and the researchers at Heads UP designed a new intervention to be run with campus organizations; particularly fraternities, sororities, and service organizations. This new project, which seeks to correct misperceived group-specific drinking behavior, was accepted by the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation in the Fall of 2005. Using real-time feedback, the Heads UP staff are able to ask organizations for their perceptions of drinking patterns on the campus and collect actual data from students about their own drinking behaviors. During the presentation, students are able to see how their perceptions compare with their personal drinking behaviors.

Recently, with the success of these projects, the original Heads UP research grant was accepted as a “model program” by the United States Department of Education. This award distinguishes Loyola Marymount University as a “model program” for other institutions of higher education. The researchers at Heads UP are now working to improve the original intervention, create a manual to disseminate to other universities, and provide trainings to other campuses interested in implementing the project on their own campus.