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Residence Life adopts new alcohol policy sanctions

October 16, 2008

The UW-River Falls sanctions for alcohol policy violations in the residence halls have been revised for the 2008-09 academic year and addresses violations with educational interventions in place of tickets. 

“The revised policy calls for confrontation and documentation by the Resident Assistant when an alcohol violation occurs,” Sandie Scott-Deux, director of Residence Life, said. “The RAs are trained to intervene ASAP.”

Instead of Public Safety being called in to issue underage alcohol abuse citations, the RAs confront the residents, document who was present, gather all the alcohol and have the resident dispose of the alcohol by dumping it down a drain, Kristie Feist, assistant director for community development and education, said.

“The cut and dry policies are all the same,” Feist said. “Only now we have solidified our sanctions for violations.”

An alcohol policy violation is defined by the 2008-09 Res Life Conduct Guide as “possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages by persons under 21, being in the presence of alcohol by persons under 21, manufacturing/distributing/selling of alcoholic beverages, transporting alcoholic beverages, displaying alcohol containers/paraphernalia by persons under 21 or conducting inappropriate behavior while under the influence of alcohol.”

There is also a provision that limits the amount of alcohol a single resident can have in their possession at one time: no more than 24 cans of alcohol and no more than 2 liters of hard liquor. Common source containers, such as kegs, are also not permitted.

A violation occurs when any one of these policies are violated. Traditionally, resident assistants were responsible for contacting Public Safety to deal with an infraction, Scott-Deux said.

According to the Conduct Guide, the first violation will result in the resident being required to complete an online alcohol education course. The residents will be required to pay for the course themselves. They will then sign a statement of understanding for the conduct policy. Then, they will be required to go on residence life probation for six months.

The second violation will bring about a referral to Student Health Services for an assessment for which the resident will be charged $110. They might be referred to the Restorative Justice program, a program centered on the “theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior,” according to restorativejustice.org. The resident’s parents or caretakers will also be notified. The residence life probation will be extended to one year.

The third violation, along with Restorative Justice and a parental notification, will result in residence hall relocation or ban, as well as going on probation for the tenure of being a student.

A fourth violation will result in a residence hall contract cancellation.

These violation policies are fluid, however, and each case is reviewed by either Feist or Jason Neuhaus, the area coordinator for UWRF.

“The policy guidelines are in place to help guide students in the right direction,” Feist said. “Every situation is unique and must be treated as such. Consequences could vary.”

Scott-Deux explained the revised rules as an attempt for the University to approach residents who have made poor decisions in relation to alcohol and educate them about the poor choices they have made.

“If you want to make any significant change you need to intervene as early as possible,” Scott-Deux said.

The old policy operated by Residence Life professional staff sent out letters chastising policy violations.

“On the first offense we wouldnít meet [the resident violator], but we meet on first offense now,” Feist said. “It seemed like we let it progress and we didn’t intervene in an educational manner sooner.”

The point of these meetings with Residence Life staff is not for the student to get a lecture or get yelled at, Neuhaus said.

“It’s nice for Res Life staff to meet with offenders to facilitate building a relationship to help them make better choices,” Neuhaus said.

The Residence Life staff said they hope the new policies will get residents talking amongst themselves and informally spreading the word around campus. Perhaps, according to the pro staff, that will also help curb policy violations.

“Some students may feel this new way of doing things is worse than getting a ticket,” Scott-Deux said. “Some will be more scared of what will result from that phone call home than an underage they can just pay off and we want students discussing those consequences between themselves.”

The new policy was designed to reward students for cooperating with an RA when a situation presents itself, according to Neuhaus. When a resident is cooperative, that is taken into account when Neuhaus or Feist meets with that resident. Cooperation also means that Public Safety will not be called.

“It makes more sense for students to be respectful with these new sanctions, and that is generally what we have seen so far,” Neuhaus said. “[A resident] would rather take a $35 online alcohol course than face Public Safety and the possibility of a $250 underage ticket.”

This new set of guidelines for intervention by RAs does not mean that Public Safety will never get involved, however. According to Feist, Public Safety is still a University partner that aids when students become belligerent, fail to show proper ID or have large quantities of alcohol.

“If it is a situation that our Res Life staff doesn’t feel comfortable dealing with, or isn’t trained to deal with, than Public Safety is called to step in,” Feist said.

Public Safety Director Richard Trende said that Public Safety will continue to abide by state law and react to alcohol violations with a zero tolerance policy.

“We will react when we are called like we always have,” Trende said. “We have noticed a decline in the number of calls we get from residence halls.”

When comparing the number of incidents reported this past September from September a year ago, the number of incidents has actually increased from 60 to 90 confrontations. The difference is that this year RAs are dealing with incidents themselves and not relying on Public Safety.

“I personally like the new policy,” Nick Swain, an RA in Crabtree Hall, said in an e-mail interview. “From the incidents that I have had, I believe that it was a lot easier on the residents. There was less hostility and the residents were more apt to being compliant to help get through the process.”

Swain is not alone in thinking the new policies ease the stress put on relationships between RAs and residents when an incident occurs.

“I think the new policy is great because it only asks the RAs to document what they see—they never have to decide whether a resident is ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent,’” Mallory Schultz, the hall manager in Johnson Hall, said. “I think the policy has eased some tension between residents and RAs and is less awkward overall.”

There are other RAs, however, who feel the new policies allow for residents to get away with more.

“I feel that residents are starting to learn that Public Safety won’t get involved and that they can get away with more, which results in smaller consequences,” one RA said under the promise of confidentiality. “I see residents testing the boundaries and searching for loopholes. They’re getting better at hiding from the RAs.”

Several underage students from the west end of campus shared those same opinions. They agreed to talk only with the promise of anonymity.

“I like knowing that if I go along with whatever the RA says, public safety won’t come,” one resident said. “And it’s even better when I just stay quiet in the room. Then the RAs don’t even know there’s a bunch of us in here drinking.”

One resident said they much preferred spending only $30-40 on an online course they would not pay attention to than having to pay an underage ticket.

“So what if my parents get called? They won’t do nothing,” the resident said.

Another underage resident liked the revised policies, however, saying that they liked dealing only with the RAs they have come to know in their building.

“Public safety is too intimidating and too harsh,” the resident said. “I feel like my RA cares more about me and my side of the story than Public Safety.”

Having only been in effect since the start of this academic year, there is no evidence or data yet to determine how effective the new sanctions are.

“Every university, no matter where you go, will have alcohol problems. It just varies as to what extent,” Scott-Deux said. “But our policy of direct-dial confrontation with a follow-up meeting to own up for their actions mirrors for residents what we want them to learn for real world communities.”

It has yet to be seen how the new policy influences drinking habits overall on campus, but it is unrealistic to expect the alcohol violations to disappear entirely.

“I think that no matter what, kids are going to drink. There is no way around that,” Swain said. “I think that no matter what policy is in place, there will always be those that follow the rules and there will always be those that were born to test the limits.”