HomeCommunityPurple Project succeeds in awareness, fails in engagement

Purple Project succeeds in awareness, fails in engagement


In 1983, the general public collectively learned that there’s more to anti-drug activism than Nancy Reagan telling kids to just say no and pledge to DARE. Thirty-five years later, Carmel High School seeks to amplify the message of abstinence with The Purple Project, a pledge for teenagers to abstain from alcohol through the daily adornment of a purple wristband—but has it been successful since its implementation in September?

Inspired by the alcohol-related death of former CHS student Annabelle Vandenbroucke in July, CHS activities director Aubrey Powers explains that she felt it was the responsibility of the school to respond to the tragedy by influencing students to make good, conscientious decisions. Variations of the bracelet include commitments to making safe choices, not drinking and driving and resisting substance abuse.

The project was initially founded by former professional basketball player and addiction survivor Chris Herren in 2011 as an attempt to aid students in recovery from substance-related addictions. CHS activities director Aubrey Powers reveals that she was inspired by Herren’s story and wished to spread his message on campus.

In an effort to draw attention towards the project’s goal, Powers encouraged students enrolled in her leadership class to wear purple bracelets in support of the campaign.

“It’s an opportunity for students to demonstrate their pride in being sober,” Powers explains. “There aren’t very many times in school where you get to show that sobriety is something you stand for.”

Student-athletes were tasked to wear these bracelets in order to show support for the project in September’s Powderpuff game, a football game in which female students play football and male students dress as cheerleaders. A number of students were quick to question the timing of the campaigning, with signs and advertisements for the project being made the same week as the infamous “Powder Puff parties,” annual parties—not sponsored or endorsed by the school, and by no means mandatory for Powder Puff participants—that are notorious for their rife supply of illicit substances.

“I think that it was definitely planned,” says senior Clementine Chamberlain of the timing, noting that the project was not treated seriously by students. “If [the school] had done the project even a week later, I think there would’ve been a much more positive response.”

This timing issue was further illustrated by students making a joke of the project on social media— including students wearing bracelets with the project name on them while taking videos containing substance consumption—rather than taking it seriously as an anti-drug campaign.

One student who attended a pre-Powderpuff party noted seeing a number of students drinking while simultaneously wearing one of these wristbands, commenting on the irony of the scenario.

“Kids are on social media, and if they’re partaking in bracelets that say they aren’t going to…of course they’re going to post that,” another senior girl remarks.

The aforementioned senior explains that she feels these projects are ineffective due to their treatment of students as being ignorant to the effects of alcohol, explaining her belief that schools should be allowed to acknowledge that if students are to partake in the consumption of illicit substances, there should be some way of guaranteeing they will be safe.

“I think something like pooling money towards getting Ubers for kids to return home safely would be effective,” a senior explains. “If I were going to drink, I think it’d make more sense.”

Of course, the school representatives cannot legally address the fact that students are drinking, running the risk of enabling such behavior.

“It might be more effective that way, but we simply cannot acknowledge that students are partaking in drinking if they do,” Powers emphasizes.

Still, this begs the question, Is it possible to aid students in making better choices about drugs and alcohol without directly acknowledging solutions to this problem other than abstinence?

“What we can do is tell kids not to drink at all or not to do drugs at all,” senior leadership member Annalise Krueger explains. “If we say anything else, that qualifies as acknowledging students drinking.”

Krueger encourages students to have conversations with their parents and families about drinking as opposed to the school, remarking that it is impossible for the school to directly confront drinking as it pertains to minors.

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