Wear your mask: Majority of CSU students motivated to practice safe public health behaviors

CSU recently launched a campaign to promote health behaviors, part of which focuses on how face coverings can help slow the spread of COVID-19. Photo by John Eisele/CSU Photos

Ninety-one percent of Colorado State University students are motivated to practice safe health behaviors so they don’t spread COVID-19, according to a recent campus survey.

The statistic is part of a recently launched campaign by CSU to encourage students to practice public health safety behaviors amidst COVID-19. The campaign, which features print and digital messaging across campus with CAM the Ram wearing a face covering, started rolling out last week.

COVID-19 recovery 

For the latest information on the CSU’s pandemic recovery plans, visit covidrecovery.colostate.edu.

The first thrust of the campaign focuses on how face coverings can help slow the spread of COVID-19, pulling data from a July survey of students.

The campaign was developed by more than two dozen faculty, staff and students across campus as part of the Social Norming Taskforce, co-led by Jody Donovan, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and Laura Giles, associate executive director of housing and dining services.

The taskforce used a social norms marketing strategy to develop the campaign, relying on recent statistics from the campus-wide survey on student perceptions involving COVID-19.

“Social norms marketing is one strategy that focuses on correcting the misperceptions that we have about our peers and their attitudes and behaviors,” Donovan said. “While the university is doing messaging around the public health and caring for our community, we were asked specifically how to engage our student population and help them buy into being a part of keeping our campus healthy.”

Donovan said the social norming committee came out of the Student Life Recovery and Continuity Workgroup, one of the groups executing President Joyce McConnell’s COVID-19 recovery plan. Workgroup members Karen Estlund, dean of Libraries, and Blanche Hughes, vice president for Student Affairs, led the charge for the subcommittee. Giles added that the support for the campaign was evident from the beginning.

“President McConnell and the CSU Pandemic Planning Team underpinned the importance of this work being based in CSU student behaviors,” she said. “There are many communication strategies informing students, faculty and staff about the new operational paradigm of CSU — this is only one – and together all the strategies will make a difference in public health.”

Student Social Norming Survey highlights

The CSU Student Social Norming Survey was administered July 2 through July 13 to a random sample of 5,000 new and current CSU students. A total of 1,569 responded for a 31% response rate.

95.1% of students completely or mostly agree that “staying at home when you are sick can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

87.4% of students completely or mostly agree that “hand washing can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

76.4% of students completely or mostly agree that “physical distancing can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

72% of students completely or mostly agree that “wearing a face covering can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

71.8% of students completely or mostly agree that “using sanitizer can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

70.1% of students completely or mostly agree that “avoiding gatherings can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Social norms marketing

Jeni Cross, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, has been doing work on behavior change and using social norms marketing for 20 years.

Some of Cross’ previous experiences involved designing campaigns to reduce drinking and driving as well as bullying among teenagers. She said social norms marketing is a strategy to help capitalize on the positive behaviors of others to set and establish expectations for our own actions.

“Social norms are one of the biggest influences of our behavior, but they’re really underappreciated,” Cross said. “We have a cultural ideology that you shouldn’t be influenced by what other people are doing. But the reality is that almost anywhere, what we see other people doing is actually how we judge our own behavior and then what we do.”

Cross is one of several faculty members on the taskforce, including Katie Abrams, associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Communication; Nathaniel Riggs, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies; Gina Slejko, associate professor in the College of Business; and Elizabeth Williams, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies.

The group helped develop the survey and have been offering their insights and expertise into the campaign’s messaging, something Cross said many other public health campaigns don’t do.

Looking at the survey results, Cross said she was impressed with the concern and interest of students in engaging in behaviors to avoid spreading COVID-19. She explained social norms marketing aims to narrow the gap between the number of people who say they are engaging in healthy behavior and those with the misperception that the majority of people are not doing the right thing.

Donovan said that having faculty input, along with the staff expertise on student engagement and the students who serve on the committee, is paramount to the campaign’s success. She added that the collaboration has forged new relationships and cultivated a cross-pollination of ideas. Giles shared similar sentiments.

“The success of this taskforce is rooted in the multiple perspectives that came together with one shared outcome — to help CSU students be successful as they return to a new normal under public health guidance,” Giles said.

Student input

Gaby Brown, a third-year majoring in biomedical sciences, is one of several students on the taskforce, providing feedback and input.

Brown, who serves as director of health for the Associated Students of Colorado State University, said CSU has done a good job of getting student insights during the process.

“We really have students’ interests at heart,” Brown said. “If we all work together, we can hopefully stay on campus as long as possible. It really is a community effort.”

As for what’s next, students can expect additional messages throughout the semester with critical information on social gatherings and other public health information.

Looking at the current campaign messages in circulation across campus, Donovan pointed to one key word that will set the tone for the semester.

Together we can slow the spread of COVID-19,” Donovan said. “The word ‘together’ — it’s on all of us to help our campus be a healthy campus.”