By Dalton Karwacki
Campbell announced to the Student Government Association (SGA) Senate on Tuesday that the administration will be adding alcoholic energy drinks to the list of items that cannot be possessed by any students, even those of legal drinking age.
“We don’t prohibit all alcohol, but we want to deal with dangerous drinking,” said Campbell. “We already prohibit beer funnels, beer pong tables and things like that. We’re going to prohibit Four Loko and the other energy drinks with alcohol in them and put them in the same category as the beer bongs, kegs and such.”
According to Campbell, four Rider students, three from Lawrenceville and one from Westminster, have been taken to the hospital this year because of excessive Four Loko consumption.
One can of Four Loko contains as much alcohol as four to five cans of beer and as much caffeine as six cups of coffee.
Campbell said that it was uncertain whether the new policy, which will make possession of alcoholic energy drinks a tier-two violation, would start after Thanksgiving break or at the start of the spring semester.
The penalties for the first tier-two violation of the alcohol policy are parental notification, a $200 fine, mandatory alcohol education, community restitution and a warning that further violations will result in a loss of campus driving privileges.
The penalties escalate with each successive offense, reaching parental notification, a $300 fine, mandatory alcohol consultation and loss of driving privileges for one year for the fourth and subsequent violations. At this point, students may also face suspension from participation in on-campus events and removal from campus housing.
Alcoholic energy drinks, such as Four Loko, have been the focus of nationwide controversy, with a number of colleges and universities banning the drinks from their campuses.
“We’re not the first,” Campbell said. “University of Rhode Island just came out and banned it, Michigan State just banned it. Ramapo was the first to do it. It’s happening all over the place.”
One reason behind the controversy is that the drink acts simultaneously as a stimulant and a depressant.
“People don’t even realize what they’re doing, and that’s the danger of this whole thing,” Campbell said. “They don’t feel it; they don’t get the effect that they would normally get from alcohol. It’s alcohol and an energy drink so you don’t feel fatigue, which is one of your body’s normal signs when you’re drinking too much, so you wind up drinking more.”
Student reaction seemed generally supportive of the University’s decision.
“I think it’s a really good idea,” said one female student who asked to remain anonymous. “Four Loko is easy to spot and the fact that it has three Red Bulls and six beers in it is really scary. People drink it so quickly that they don’t even realize they’re drunk until they’re on the floor.”
Some students, however, feel the University is overreacting.
“The University can do things like this, make Four Loko an automatic tier two, but I think it’s stupid,” said junior Jackie Scarpelli. “Just because kids can’t drink responsibly, doesn’t mean I should be banned from drinking it.”
According to various news reports, these drinks raise the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) so quickly that it led police to suspect the use of a date rape drug.
“In the case of Central Washington, they were actually interviewing people because they thought Rohypnol, the date rape drug, was used there,” he said.
Campbell mentioned that caffeine can make the effects of alcohol consumption harder to notice, leading drinkers to conclude that they are less intoxicated than they truly are.
“You’re looking at the stimulant factors, so you feel like you’re not impaired and people are drinking and driving because they don’t really know,” he said. “I just had a student who recently told me they had one can of Four Loko and one beer. They got pulled over and caught with a BAC of over .15.”
In addition to the prohibitions on college campuses, these drinks also face the prospect of statewide bans from a number of state legislatures. States considering legislation to ban alcoholic energy drinks include Washington, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey.
Keith Kemo, director of the Office of Community Standards, said that he believes the inherent danger of these drinks is a big contributor to the University’s decision.
“I think it’s just a general sense that it’s dangerous, just because of how quickly it gets a person intoxicated,” he said. “The alcohol content is off the charts.”
Kemo said that making these drinks a tier-two violation fits in with the existing policy.
“A tier-two violation was originally intended to cut down on risky behavior associated with excessive consumption,” he said. “It should be considered a tier two because a person who’s just drinking the stuff for the taste, I kind of question that. I hear it tastes awful. It would seem to me that a person who’s drinking it is doing so to get intoxicated a little faster. To me that’s a little risky behavior.”
Kemo said his office would ensure students were informed when the new policy takes effect.
“If we start doing that, I think that obviously we’d put up an advertisement in The Rider News,” he said. “My office would go to student government and ask them to help disseminate that information. I would maybe have my staff, along with the counseling center, work to do some awareness programs in the halls. We could talk to the house directors in the Greek houses and have Residence Life, through the residence directors and the RAs, put on programs.”
Kemo acknowledged that the University could not realistically completely prevent students from drinking alcoholic energy drinks, but said that Rider is still bound to act.
“People are going to do what they’re going to do, ultimately,” he said. “But we do still have an obligation to make them aware that if we’re going to start doing this and make it a tier two, we should notify them as best we can.”
Campbell summarized the University’s reasoning behind the decision.
“The fact is we think it’s dangerous on our campus, and we’re in the process of educating and reducing the harm of dangerous drinking,” he said. “We think this is a logical and necessary step.”