Alcohol policy can have a strong influence on students

By Reilly Moore

Alcohol policies are different at colleges and universities around the country, but depending on the policy, it can influence prospective students as well as current ones.

At the University of Richmond, the student handbook says, "The use of alcoholic beverages on the campus is expected to be in compliance with federal, state and local laws as well as University policy." Because the legal drinking age in the United States is 21, this policy theoretically prohibits drinking by the majority of Richmond students.

But the policy is not always enforced, resident assistant Josh Huffines said. Students often drink in small groups in dorm rooms or the University Forest Apartments, but these types of incidents are too hard to prevent, he said.

"If I wrote people up every time I knew people were drinking, I would be writing incident reports all night," Huffines said.

When students are caught for routine alcohol violations, such as possession of alcohol in a residence hall room, the consequences for a first offense are not severe, he said. The resident assistant relays the information to the area coordinator, who then deals with the incident further. The police and the student's parents are rarely contacted for a first offense, he said.

The primary focus of the current policy is to prevent large-scale parties and binge drinking, Huffines said. Recently, enforcement of the alcohol policy has become stricter, he said.

"The policy is definitely enforced more this year than it was last year," Huffines said.

Evidence of the crackdown on large-scale drinking was shown before this year's Festivus, formerly known as Pig Roast. A flyer was posted on the door of every University Forest Apartment warning that any alcohol-related violations during that weekend could result in immediate evictions.

University police have also been taking a firmer stance on alcohol violations, Huffines said.

"The police are writing up more students than the RA's," he said.

Richmond College freshman Dan Alper, received a written arrest from university police after an incident earlier this year, he said.

Alper had been drinking in his residence hall room and decided to go to the apartments with some friends, he said. Along the way, one of the people in his group gave him an open beer can, he said.

As the group approached the apartments, Alper saw a University police officer and tried to dispose of the can, he said. The officer stopped him, took his information and gave him a written arrest.

Alper received sanctions from the school as well as the police. He met Patrick Benner, associate dean for residence life, who punished Alper with a $50 fine and 15 hours of community service.

Alper also had to appear in Henrico Country court for an arraignment in April and must attend his hearing at the courthouse on May 6, he said.

"I have to stay in Richmond for five extra days to go to court," Alper said. "One half-empty beer can is causing me a big hassle."

Though Huffines said enforcement of alcohol-related infractions had increased, Richmond's policy was lenient compared to some of its competitor schools.

Furman University in Greenville, S.C., is one example. The school, which had been a dry campus, permits alcohol in only four areas on-campus, according to the Furman web site.

The web site reads, "The ban on alcoholic beverages in the campus residential and educational facilities reflects the reality that too many college students, often legally and underage, drink to excess….The possession and or use of alcohol beverages is prohibited in all campus locations except [the four] listed below."

Unlike at Richmond, where students 21 and older can possess alcohol and register parties, Furman's alcohol ban applies even to those students older than the legal drinking age, according to the website.
For prospective students and their families, questions about different alcohol policies are frequent, especially on tours, freshman tour guide Mary Morgan said.

"I get asked about the alcohol policy or how easy it is to drink on every tour," Morgan said. "Usually, the parents ask about the police or how strict the enforcement is and the students ask how big the parties are and how much drinking happens on campus."

Rather than make a firm stand on the issue, Morgan said she was trained to respond to question about the alcohol policy by telling students and their parents that the university abides by all state and federal laws.
"I'd like to just be able to say, €˜Almost everyone here drinks and it isn't hard to find alcohol,'" Morgan said. "But alcohol policy is such a sensitive issue with some parents."

At the end of tours, when the tour guides informally take any questions from the students or families, the questions about alcohol are answered more honestly, Morgan said.

"If a kid comes up to me alone and asks, €˜Is it really easy to drink here,' I am much more likely to give them a real perspective without having to be careful about what I say," Morgan said. "That actually happens a lot."
The actual admissions officers at the school face the question of alcohol less frequently, admission officer Kate Wheeler said.

"Prospective students rarely reveal to admission officers that they desire a campus where alcohol is free-flowing and there is no enforcement of the law," she said in an e-mail interview. "It may be the case for many that they do want this, but they aren't going to say it to the people who read their applications."
The parents of prospective students are usually the ones to ask the admission officers about the alcohol policy, Wheeler said.

"I don't know if it's a reflection of student interest or unease with the topic," she said.

Wheeler said that she didn't think there would be a decrease in applications if Richmond advertised more restrictive alcohol rules.

Applications and enrollment do not suffer because of the dry campus policy at Furman either, Furman admission officer Woody O'Cain said.

"For the typical, everyday life of a student, the campus is still considered dry," O'Cain said. "However, this does not seem to be a deterrent in students applying and enrolling, especially as every year the size and quality of our applicant pool increases."

Because Furman and Richmond are both competitive schools with difficult academic programs, students who are concerned only about drinking tend not to apply, O'Cain said.

"Classes are rigorous," O'Cain said in an e-mail interview, "and it would be difficult to be academically successful if a student's first priority happened to be drinking. Those students who perceive college as a place to party for four years (classes optional) would not be a good fit for Furman."

O'Cain also said that though the campus was dry, students and prospective students knew that drinking still occurred.

"If students wish to include alcohol in their socializing, it can be found," O'Cain said, "even as the dry campus policy is enforced by administration and RAs."

Though the evidence, such as the increase in applications mentioned by the admission officers at both Furman and Richmond, indicated that alcohol policies do not act as a deterrent to all students, for some students, the party scene at a school was a deciding factor.

"I wanted to go to a school where I knew I could have a good time," high school senior Elizabeth Donaldson of Avon, Conn., said. "I applied to schools because of their academics, but breaking the tie between schools came down to little things like the party scene and alcohol policy."

Donaldson applied to Richmond, University of Maryland, Elon University and Syracuse University. She decided to enroll at Syracuse partially because of the party scene, she said.

"I know people who go there and say it's a great time," Donaldson said. "The other schools were good options, too, but Syracuse is good academically and socially."

Another high school senior, Jack Hodil of Hampton, Pa., who will attend Richmond in the fall, said that he didn't initially consider alcohol policies when applying to schools, but was glad that Richmond's policy was not too strict.

"It didn't affect my decision at first," Hodil said, "but I consider the drinking policy a major addition to Richmond's positives."

Other students were not as worried about partying as Hodil and Donaldson, but were still happy that Richmond was not a dry campus.

Keely Naughton, a senior from Atlanta, said she planned to attend Richmond in the fall. Her decision was not at all based on drinking policies, she said, but she chose not to isolate herself from alcohol completely.
"I don't drink," Naughton said. "I know there is substance-free housing for girls, but I didn't want to participate in that. I didn't think it was healthy to completely isolate myself from €˜substances.'"

For some students, the more casual party scene that Richmond offers is a positive. Naomi Mayeux, a high school senior in Tarrytown, N.Y., is still deciding between Tulane and Richmond.

"What I like about Richmond," Mayeux said, "is that it's more like my private high school€”not a rowdy party scene, but more of a house party or frat scene. I actually like that the school seems more serious about academics and less about drinking/partying."

Naughton said: "When I was visiting schools and tour guides were throwing around terms like dry campus I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted. But then I found Richmond and I just fit, so it doesn't matter what the alcohol policy is."

Though some students disagreed with Naughton, most students believed that the college-selection process is more about academics and fitting in than drinking and partying.

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