Is the alcohol policy really too strict?

By Thomas Regan, Samantha Crawford, Jeffrey Abbott 

These numbers each year are roughly comparable when considering the larger enrollment at TCNJ.
These numbers each year are roughly comparable when considering the larger enrollment at TCNJ.

With a rag in one hand and a bucket of sanitizer in the other, a Rider freshman scrubbed tables in Daly’s Dining Hall in the spring of 2014. He was not paid for the job. It was one of several forms of community service he was required to complete as a consequence of alcohol violations.

The student, who prefers to remain anonymous, said his penalties also included fines “in about the $500 range,” and his attendance at several alcohol education classes.

By the time he had a third incident, the university turned to correction, helping the student become sober in what he considered the positive effects of a tough policy. “Honestly — and this is probably going to surprise you — as somebody now that’s sober, I think the strict alcohol policy taught me and helped me become sober,” he said. “I think it definitely had an impact on me and how I drink.”

Dean of Students Anthony Campbell is proud of the ways Rider tries to help students who struggle with alcohol issues.

“It’s not all fines,” Campbell said. “If somebody comes to me and says, ‘Look, I have a problem with alcohol, I have a problem with substances of some sort,’ we find help for them through a number of different resources that we have.”

By 2014 — the most recent Clery Report — the number of violations issued on campus had fallen to 178 from its peak of 420 in 2009.

Campbell also credits Rider’s Good Samaritan rule with reducing alcohol violations. The number of Rider students subjected to penalties under the alcohol policy has been trending downward for several years. This roughly matches — albeit a couple of years apart — the pattern at The College of New Jersey, suggesting that Rider’s policies and enforcement may not be uncommon among colleges. However, some students plead for looser policies on campus so they are not encouraged to go off campus to avoid penalties.

The turning point

Rider’s alcohol policy has changed over the years — most dramatically in the fall of 2007.

Rules tightened after Gary L. DeVercelly Jr. died while consuming alcohol during a Phi Kappa Tau hazing incident in spring 2007.

“It used to just state that anyone under 21 who was knowingly in the presence of alcohol was in violation of the policy,” Keith Kemo, director of the Office of Community Standards, said.

However, today’s alcohol policy is much more specific and is split into two categories: Tier 1 and Tier 2.

Tier 1 violations consist of incidents of underage possession or consumption and can even include empty beverage containers, Kemo said.

The violations are categorized as Tier 1 if an underage student possesses alcohol and consumes it non-abusively, according to the alcohol policy. However, Tier 2 violations can occur with a student of any age if the consumption of alcohol is abusive.

The penalties for both types of violations result in parental notification and fines starting at $100 for a Tier 1 violation, and can range anywhere from mere community service to dismissal from Rider if a fourth Tier 2 violation is reached.

Rider, TCNJ by the alcohol numbers

The anonymous student who cleaned Daly’s received of the 1,145 citations that were recorded on the Lawrenceville campus from 2010 to 2014, according to the Clery Report. However, the numbers are going down. University-imposed disciplinary actions in alcohol cases have declined every year since 2011, falling from 271 in 2011 to 178 in 2014.

Since 2007, Rider handed out its highest number of violations in 2009 with 420, while TCNJ dished out 590 in 2007. Both institutions have trended downward after those respective years.

Eventually, both hit low marks in 2014, with 178 at Rider and 292 at TCNJ. These numbers are roughly comparable when considering the larger enrollment at TCNJ.

The decline in numbers can be attributed to Rider’s adoption of the Good Samaritan Policy, according to Campbell as well as a growing awareness of Rider’s rules.

Rider’s Good Samaritan Policy, which was implemented with the new alcohol policy in 2007, means “No intoxicated community member seeking and/or receiving assistance for themselves or others will be subject to sanctions by the University under Rider’s Alcohol Policy,” according to The Source.

“People understand the Good Samaritan now,” Campbell said. “The police don’t go with every ambulance anymore like they used to do. I think what’s happening is students are understanding the alcohol policy more. They’re coming in understanding it more.”

Off campus, no problem

Junior journalism major Andrew Getz, however, believes the restrictions put in place because of DeVercelly’s death could have hurt some students.

“I just don’t get how one single event — that happens across college campuses nationally — defines our alcohol policy,” Getz said. Since 2007, the policy has been stricter and some students choose to drink off campus now, often resulting in the temptation to drive while intoxicated.

Getz said that Rider’s limitations on alcohol have encouraged students to put themselves in dangerous situations, citing Eliseo Diaz, the student who died in a car accident after a night out in 2014.

“If Rider had different policies, maybe that accident wouldn’t have happened,” Getz said. “They keep sending students off campus, and this out-of-sight-out-of-mind type of thinking they have has got to stop.”

The student who cleaned Daly’s thinks this issue could be fixed if the university were more lenient with Greek Life.

“If you lighten up the way the policy works for people that are of age and you allow more of that party environment in the Greek Life houses, then you don’t have people driving 15 minutes down the road into Ewing to risk a situation like that [of Diaz’s accident],” he said.

However, Campbell insists Rider is not pushing students to leave campus.

“I don’t think we’re forcing people to go into Trenton to drink,” he said. “There’s a lot to do on this campus. When I look at 1,500 people at Big Sean, 1,000 people at the ‘I Love College’ dance, 500 people at LalaNoBooza, when I see that the comedians get 400 people, there’s a lot to do on the campus.”

Susan Stahley, substance abuse and sexual assault prevention coordinator, worries leniency could be damaging to students’ careers.

“While I get that college is a time for fun, I have seen too many students in my career who suffer academically, who have lost scholarships, housing, gotten off-track, had not just campus judicial issues, but legal ones as well,” said Stahley.

Is the policy equally enforced?

According to Alison Holmes of Delta Phi Epsilon, there seems to be a stigma that follows Greek organizations.

“When rounds go around, they are more skeptical of loud music playing or people loudly talking, which usually is innocent fun,” she said.

However, data provided by Lawrence Police indicate non-Greek, residential women were the subject in 67 serious alcohol violations — which include summonses, violation write-ups, underage counterparts and/or a medical facility transportation — between 2010 and 2014. These 67 residential women are only 2.98 percent of the entire non-Greek population.

Based on the same types of violations, seven incidents involved Greek women — 3.02 percent of all Greek women. These per-capita calculations indicate that roughly the same percentage of Greek and non-Greek women were involved in liquor law violations.

According to Campbell, the “urban legend” that the university is searching for students who are abusing alcohol is false.

The bottom line, he said, is that Rider cannot make underage drinking legal because it is illegal off-campus as well.

“We understand that college is a time for people to grow and learn,” he said. “We know that alcohol affects our brains and affects the way we study, and there’s all sorts of statistics that show alcohol can cause problems with graduation rates and retention rates. What we’re really talking about here at Rider is talking about being responsible. The way I look at it, [our policy]mimics the law and we work from there. There may be some things we can talk about, but we’re not trying to keep anybody from living. We’re trying to help people make good, solid choices.”

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