Campus News

Samantha Luu brings data-driven strategies to Campus & Community Coalition

As the coalition’s new director, the public health professional seeks to reduce the negative impacts of high-risk drinking.

Samantha Luu
Samantha Luu

Samantha Luu describes herself as a “proud first-generation college student and two-time Tar Heel,” with a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Public Health degree from Carolina. She has a “gremlin of a Frenchie named Tofu” and loves “all things connected to food and foodways both Southern and global.”

Luu also has an important new job as director of the Campus & Community Coalition, a town-gown collaborative effort to reduce the negative impacts of high-risk drinking. Before joining the coalition, she spent two years working with Peer Support Core for Mental Health at UNC-Chapel Hill, a program at the Gillings School of Global Public Health designed to increase resources for programs focused on peer-to-peer support, noncrisis support and discussion.

The University is a major stakeholder in the coalition and its efforts to build community and address high-risk drinking environments, including:

  • Good Neighbor Initiative, now in its 19th year, which aims to improve relations between long-time residents and Carolina students renting rooms and homes in historic Chapel Hill and Carrboro neighborhoods.
  • Party Registration Program, a partnership with the town of Chapel Hill through which Carolina students can register their parties and get tips on how to host events without being disruptive to the community.
  • Neighborhood Education and Advocacy Team, a group of volunteers that sets up behind Pantana Bob’s eight to 10 times a year on gamedays, Halloween and active times. NEAT volunteers hand out snacks and water bottles to students coming in and out of the Northside neighborhood and remind them to be mindful of noise and trash.

The Well asked Luu to talk more about the coalition, its goals and the data that drive its strategies.

What is the Campus & Community Coalition?

The Campus & Community Coalition is a town-gown coalition that promotes environmental change to reduce the negative impacts of high-risk drinking. We see that the negative impacts of high-risk drinking behavior include and extend well beyond the drinkers themselves and out into their community; thus, we utilize a collaborative, community-based and public health approach to change the environment and culture around alcohol use. We have representatives from the University, Town of Chapel Hill, Orange County Health Department, students, near-campus neighborhoods, businesses, law enforcement, local schools and others.

You say your strategies are data-driven. What is the local data telling you?

Locally, we’ve seen that underage and binge drinking in our community are below national averages — this is great and we’d like to continue to see a downward trend. There have been some improvements in reducing the negative impacts overall, but we could certainly see more positive change. (Note: A study conducted by the coalition and Gillings, released in April 2021, found that excessive drinking cost Orange County over $111 million in 2017.)

These last several years, dominated by the pandemic, have exacerbated mental health issues and negative coping behaviors, like increased alcohol and other substance use; some studies have shown an undesirable increase in alcohol use during the pandemic. As local data from recent years continues to be analyzed, it would not be surprising to see that alcohol use remains an issue in our community.

In addition to regular data collection across the coalition, we have also been working on studies to understand the community cost of high-risk drinking and how alcohol disproportionately impacts our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ Carolina students. (Note: In partnership with the Student Wellness Office and the coalition, graduate students at Gillings have replicated the Color of Drinking Study developed at University of Wisconsin-Madison to examine the burden of secondhand harms of others’ drinking borne by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students and turn those observations into tools for meaningful change and calls for additional resources.)

What are your priorities for the fall?

The coalition is in the middle of its current strategic action plan, so I’ve been assessing the status of those actions and supporting forward progress on them. Some actions directly involve the University, like those promoting late-night programming and the University Alcohol Policy, while others integrate University and community stakeholders, like K-12 parent education and advocacy for limiting alcohol access.

One action we’re considering, driven by several years of community collaboration, is a social host ordinance to address loud and unruly gatherings. Social host ordinances are well-researched ordinances proven to reduce the harms of high-risk drinking. After much research and debate, coalition members wanted to pursue this action to deter, prevent and provide accountability for disruptive parties that disproportionately impact the quality of life of Chapel Hill’s historically Black, near-campus and near-downtown neighborhoods.

We’ll also be keeping an eye on how our environment and alcohol culture adapts in this later pandemic phase in addition to continuing to foster local partnerships in the business and K-12 communities.