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What is Peer Education? 40 Years of BACCHUS: A History

March 17, 2015 Tad Spencer NASPA

This year marks a milestone for BACCHUS40 years of peer education in higher education. I have a special connection to the organization—not only because they hired me nine years ago, but because I, too, entered the world in 1975. While I may not be the spring chicken I used to be, BACCHUS peer education is enjoying rejuvenation with tremendous possibilities in the future.

The BACCHUS Initiatives are now well into our second year of living under the NASPA banner. In many ways, this was a natural progression, as the roots of the organization were always in student affairs. 

Early Beginnings: Preventing Alcohol Abuse on College Campuses

Founded at the University of Florida by students with the support of Gerardo Gonzalez and Tom Goodale, the first BACCHUS group was organized in response to the need for alcohol awareness and abuse prevention on college campuses, addressing prevailing issues such as binge drinking and drunk driving among students. This group chose to call themselves "BACCHUS," an acronym for Boosting Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students.

Peer Education as a Strategy for Safety: A New Model for Campus Prevention
Peer education has literally become an expectation of any comprehensive campus prevention program and The BACCHUS Initiatives of NASPA continue to provide cutting edge resources and programs for students on a wide variety of health topics on alcohol issues and beyond.

This was the first student organization of its kind, and word quickly spread throughout higher education. The term "peer education" was born. The organization incorporated in 1980 as BACCHUS of the U.S., Inc., and began to offer services, educational materials, and training conferences to a fast growing network of college campuses. The BACCHUS peer education model soon spread to other campuses across the nation.

In 1985, as an outgrowth of an effort to welcome more fraternity and sorority students into the peer education umbrella, GAMMA (Greeks Advocating Mature Management of Alcohol) began and soon hundreds of campus Greek systems were organizing peer education groups known as GAMMA affiliates.

Broadening Our Mission: Promoting Health and Safety Among College Students

Though it sometimes causes perplexed looks on the faces of people we meet, we always kept the word BACCHUS in respect of our founding and history, and our established identity within higher education, but we no longer use the acronym since our mission now includes many student health and safety issues.

Peer education has literally become an expectation of any comprehensive campus prevention program and The BACCHUS Initiatives of NASPA continue to provide cutting edge resources and programs for students on a wide variety of health topics on alcohol issues and beyond. Peer education programs focusing on alcohol abuse, tobacco use, violence prevention, sexual assault prevention, sexual health, safety, physical, and mental health issues all find a home in our network of chapters.

Why Should We Bring Peer Education to Our Campus?
Fun Facts About BACCHUS and the Peer Education Model

  • Having a BACCHUS Initiatives peer education group is a benefit of NASPA Institutional Membership.
  • NASPA institutional members receive 10 percent off BACCHUS Materials at bacchusnetworkstore.org.
  • NASPA institutional members can download the four BACCHUS health topic toolkits (alcohol, tobacco, sexual health, and Safe Spring Break) for free
  • Undergraduate student leaders are elected each year to a national advisory council on peer education.
  • BACCHUS Initiatives staff members provide training and technical assistance to campuses on peer education and health topics.
  • In addition to our member services, we also coordinate three state-level grant projects in Colorado and Montana.
  • Are you a former peer educator or group advisor? Connect with our Alumni & Friends Program. Also, stop by our reception during Annual Conference - Monday, March 23, 4:30 PM - 5:30 PM in the Hilton Fountain Room.

We invite you to come celebrate 40 years of peers helping peers with us November 12 – 15 in Reston, Virginia at our annual General Assembly. Details and registration information will be posted soon. With special guests and 40th anniversary-themed events, it will be the gathering for undergraduate peer educators promoting healthy and safe campuses for students.

Even if you missed the first 40 years of peer education, now is a great time to get on board—to increase knowledge of health and safety topics, to address high-risk behavior on campus, and to grow student leadership opportunities. We’ll be here to help.


Updated Information 2016: 

If you’re interested in improving your campus prevention strategies, join us for our 2017 NASPA Strategies Conferences in Austin, TX from January 19 – 21, 2017. The 2017 NASPA Alcohol, Other Drug, and Campus Violence Prevention Conference will provide student affairs practitioners with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively address and prevent collegiate alcohol and drug abuse.