Someone You Should Know: Alan David Berkowitz, Ph.D.
Published in Campus Safety and Student Development, March/April 2002, p. 51-52.
By: Brett Sokolow, JD
CS&SD: This issue of CS&SD shines the spotlight on Alan Berkowitz. Alan is a member of the Advisory Board of this publication. Alan, thank you for agreeing to an interview. Please tell the readers of CS&SD about your professional life.
AB: I am an independent consultant who works with colleges, universities and communities on issues of culture change - creating healthy communities that foster health, personal well-being, and tolerance, and that encourage diversity. Most of my work focuses on drug prevention, sexual assault prevention and prejudice reduction from an environmental change perspective. One of my favorite quotes is an adaptation of a sixties phrase: "You can't be part of the solution until you understand how you are part of the problem." This means that all members of campus communities have a role to play in solving health and social justice problems - by making a commitment to personal change, through correcting our misperceptions and misunderstandings of campus problems, by intervening in problem situations, and by developing programs that can foster healthy behavior.
CS&SD: How did you become an independent consultant?
AB: My first job was at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where I worked for almost twenty years as a Counseling Psychologist and Counseling Center Director. During that time I developed a number of innovative programs, including one of the first sexual assault prevention program for men, a Men and Masculinity Symposium (with Chip Capraro), and the social norms approach to drug prevention (with H. Wesley Perkins). This led to my being asked to consult on an occasional basis to help other schools set up similar programs. In 1995 I was given a one-year warning that my job was going to be eliminated. This is was one of those mundane events that on the surface seemed wrong but which was spiritually just what I needed. It forced me to leave the safety of academia and gave me the courage to try working as an independent consultant, which I have been doing since then.
CS&SD: Tell us about what you do as a consultant.
AB: I view consulting as a collaboration between two sets of expertise. I am an outside expert with knowledge and skills about culture change. But campus staff and employees are the experts on their own campus culture and problems. My work is to combine my expertise with their knowledge of the unique culture of their campus to come up with programs and interventions that will move things forward. It is not to dictate solutions. Each campus, community or organization has a different "next step" to take because each situation is different. I have to do a lot of deep listening to get a sense of the campus, its problems, and its assets before proposing possible strategies and directions.
CS&SD: Can you describe some of your projects more specifically?
AB: I am asked to do a variety of things and work with a variety of constituencies. Each campus visit is unique and individually designed. Sometimes I give all-campus lectures on issues of drug prevention from a social norms perspective, on men and/or women's role in preventing sexual assault, or on a variety of diversity and social change issues. I may work specifically with athletes and Greeks, but when I do this I also insist on working with coaches or leaders, as they have more influence with these students than I do. Often I work with campus task forces and committees to help them evaluate their efforts in a particular area and improve them or identify why they are not working. Then I may do trainings and workshops on particular topics to give faculty, staff, and/or student leaders the theoretical understanding and implementation skills to move a program forward. In addition, I am often written into grants as an external consultant and may work at a distance evaluating program materials, grant proposals, and survey instruments. Finally, I frequently work with state health departments and state coalitions against sexual assault as a trainer and speaker. I make a strong effort to have all my work be culturally relevant and inclusive of all campus constituencies and identities.
CS&SD: What are some of your observations about the state of student affairs today?
AB: This is an exciting time to be a Student Affairs professional. We are now beginning to understand campus environments is a way that can create real change. The tremendous success of the social norms approach is a case in point. Those of us in the sexual assault prevention field need to take advantage of and adapt the environmental strategies that have been developed in the drug prevention field. Unfortunately there is a lot of fragmentation in most student affairs divisions. While there are individuals and departments who offer excellent programs on particular subjects, their work is often separate from other individuals and departments who offer programs on the same subject. Thus there is a need for collaboration between professional staff so that consistent messages and methodologies can be developed. I call this "creating mutually reinforcing program elements." Another problem is the lack of a long-term commitment to prevention. Prevention is a process that must take place over time and be done in a rigorous and scientific fashion. There are no quick fixes or magic bullets. Many programs are implemented in a sloppy way without fidelity to what we know about theory and good practice.
CS&SD: What about some of your own writing and publications?
AB: I have a variety of writing projects recently completed or in the works. I work hard to see the "big picture" and sense the next step that needs to be taken. Thus, much of my current writing is devoted to theoretical overviews or state of the field articles. Recently, I revised a comprehensive overview of the research and theory on social norms, including a response to recent criticisms (1), completed a chapter titled "Fostering Men's Responsibility for Preventing Sexual Assault" (2), and wrote a critical assessment of "The Men's Program," a popular sexual assault prevention program for men (3). In addition, I have just finished a personal narrative titled: "Coming Out to my Homophobia and Heterosexism: Lessons Learned in the Journey of an Ally" that chronicles my growth and evolution in relation to understanding and reducing my own homophobia and heterosexism. It will be published in a special issue of The Counseling Psychologist (4). This article was quite a challenge, because it was very personal and I am used to writing in a more detached, "academic" or scholarly voice. Finally, I am thinking about a book that will provide an overview of theory and programs focused on men's responsibility for preventing sexual assault.
CS&SD: Are you affiliated with any organizations?
AB: I am usually present at the conferences of the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), and the American College Health Association (ACHA.) I am very active in the Annual Social Norms Conference, and in the International Conference on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in Higher Education. Finally, I am very involved with the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), an international leadership training organization that focuses on diversity issues and prejudice reduction. Much of my own awareness and skills as a diversity trainer has come from my work with NCBI.
CS&SD: How has the higher education community responded to your services?
AB: I feel blessed to be able to do the work I do, and it has kept me busy. At the same time, I'm can always use more work - so your readers can call me! Being self-employed involves a lot of letting go because the sense of security that can come from a regular job is not there. I have also been very gratified to receive a number of awards in recent years, including one for promoting the cause of human dignity from ACHA, a life-time contribution award from the Network of Colleges and Universities Committed to the Elimination of Substance Abuse, and recognition for my work with men from ACPA.
CS&SD: Do you have clients who work with you every year?
AB: There are a few schools that I have been to two or more times. These are my most rewarding consultations because there is already a relationship in place and a mutual understanding of what we have to offer each other. Ongoing consultations are even more gratifying than one-time visits (which account for most of my work.)
CS&SD: What's next for you?
AB: It's hard to say. I will probably continue doing my consulting work for a while. I have a few writing projects in mind. This winter, I produced the first issue of The Social Norms Report, a new periodical that will be published by PaperClip Communications (973 546-3097). Each year there will be four issues that cover emerging developments in the social norms field and seven "working papers" that provide an in-depth introduction to a particular application of social norms theory. I am very excited about these new ventures and my role in editing them. If you are interested in looking at it, the first issue can be downloaded from www.PaperClip.com.
The possibility of applying the social norms approach to issues of social justice and prejudice reduction is also extremely exciting to me and I look forward to working with the schools that are taking steps in this direction.
In the aftermath of September 11, we all need to learn ways to cope with uncertainty and not give into fear. As a result, I find that it is more important than ever to work on personal growth issues, look into life's deeper meanings, and learn from members of our communities who have had to cope with similar situations.
Finally, I have learned that leadership requires a constant process of self-examination, learning, and willingness to make mistakes. So I guess I look forward to making more mistakes and learning from them! Overall, I want to find ways to become a better channel for my ideals and inspirations about what will make the world a better place. This includes developing programs to reduce bystander behavior and teach students the skills to intervene effectively, continuing to send positive messages about the healthy majority, fostering collaboration and synergy within student affairs and between student affairs and our faculties, and finding ways to transcend and work with fear.
Articles cited in this interview:
- The Social Norms Approach: Theory, Research and Annotated Bibliography. Also posted on the Higher Education Center Social Norms website: www.edc.org/hec/socialnorms/
- Fostering Men's Responsibility for Preventing Sexual Assault. Forthcoming in: Paul A. Schewe (Ed), Preventing Intimate Partner Violence: Developmentally Appropriate Interventions Across the Lifespan. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2001.
- Are Foubert's Claims About "The Men's Program" Overstated?
- Coming Out to my Homophobia and Heterosexism: Lessons Learned in the Journey of an Ally. To be published in "Narrative Perspectives and the Deconstruction of Heterosexism within Counseling Psychology (Eds: James Croteau, Julianne Lark, Teresa Lance), a special issue of the The Counseling Psychologist.