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Res. Life policy yields drop in reported offenses

May 7, 2010

Since Residence Life adopted their new alcohol policies in 2008, the UW-River Falls Annual Crime Report has shown the number of liquor law violations resulting in either an arrest or offense reduced by approximately 50 percent.

The reduction in citations, however, may not mean less drinking on campus.

The decrease in offenses is a result of a change in Residence Life alcohol policy and the distribution of citations, said representatives from Residence Life and University Police (UP).

The crime report is designed to inform students and their families about campus safety as a part of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act or Clery Act, according to the US Department of Education.

The act was first made into law in 1990 after 19-year-old freshman Jeanne Ann Clery was murdered in her residence hall while she was sleeping. Her parents, who, along with their daughter, hadn’t known about the history of violent crimes on the campus, and fought for the law so that students and their parents could make informed decisions about safety.

The number of alcohol violations on campus will be reflected differently in the Annual Crime Report because of how Residence Life now managers violations, said Joe Saugstad, Resident Assistant in South Fork Suites.

Saugstad, who has been a member of Residence Life staff for three years, said he believed that underage drinking in the residence halls has not necessarily been less, but it appears that way on the report because only the number of citations issued by UP are counted, not the total number of incidents encountered by RAs in the halls.

The number of liquor law violations cited in the residence halls for 2006, 2007 and 2008 were 146, 163 and 81 respectively, according to the 2008 UWRF Annual Crime Report. However, the number of disciplinary referrals from Residence Life for liquor law violations has remained fairly steady.

Traditionally, an RA confronted with an alcohol related situation was instructed to call UP to resolve the issue and give a citation. The new alcohol policy that took effect in fall 2008 calls for RAs to confront the students who are drinking and resolve the issue within the Department of Residence Life. If certain requirements are not met by the students at the time of the violation such as not providing appropriate identification, the student isn’t cooperating or is a danger to themselves or others, the RA may call UP to help with the situation or give a citation.

The situation is very similar to reports of sexual assault, said Assistant Director for Residence Life-Community Development and Education Kristie Feist. There are offenses that happen but are not reported to police.

The total number of sexual offenses (including sexual assault) on or off campus in the past five years is less than 20, according to the crime report. Of the 2,290 people that participated in the campus climate survey, 42 students reported they felt they were victims of sexual assault according the survey results released this month.

In order to get an accurate impression of illegal alcohol activity within the halls, Saugstad said, students and parents would need a second source of information.

Chief of police Richard Trende said that the number of events recoded on the crime report could be misleading unless readers had an understanding of the University’s policies. Trende, who had three children go to college, said that as a parent he paid attention to a campus’s environment while considering possible universities he would like his children to attend.

“Frankly,” he said, “River Falls has a very healthy environment.” Other Residence Life staff said they believed there has been less illegal alcohol activity in the Residence halls, but not a significant amount. Several members of Residence Life staff said that a benefit they saw from the new policies is the stronger relationship between residents and their RAs.

Hall Manager Jenny Phillips said that she thinks the residents feel more comfortable with their RAs and less intimidated as they would by University Police and that this might mean a deeper level of respect for RAs, which could hinder underage drinking.

Tom Lengyel, Stratton hall manager, said he felt the new policy is more conducive to students who have been caught, and said he hopes there would be less recurring incidents as a result.

Feist said the changes brought UWRF’s policy closer to the policies of many other Universities across the country. She also said the changes helped improve some of the “perception issues” of their RAs among their residents.

“In the student’s mind, it was the RA giving them the ticket,” said Feist. “[Now] students are more understanding.”