POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y — Underage drinking is prevalent in colleges across the nation. According to a National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) article from 2015, approximately four out of five college students drink.
Marist students, unsurprisingly, are like those at other colleges and the situation is no different. Students go out to bars, they drink in their rooms and they drink at parties. “I don’t think that this is anything that is unique to Marist,” John Blaisdell, the director of safety and security at Marist, said. “I think every institute of higher education is dealing with this at some level.”
The number of disciplinary referral liquor law violations at Marist is significant, at least compared to the rest of the data in the “2016 Annual Security & Fire Safety Report” that was published at the beginning of the current academic year. In 2016, the on-campus liquor law violations that lead to a disciplinary referral were in the mid to high 400s. In 2015, it was the mid to high 300s and in 2014, it was in the high 400
“These are violations of the law, not of college policy,” Blaisdell said. Not only does this mean that a disciplinary referral is more of an internal thing (as opposed to an arrest, where outside law enforcement is involved), but it also means that a lot of situations don’t count.
According to Dr. Daniel Hoover, director of student conduct and Greek affairs, a student has to be consuming alcohol, in possession of the alcohol or, at least, “in the vicinity of where the alcohol is taking place…[and] empty alcohol doesn’t count.”
He went on to say that “if they’re not physically in the presence of it, it doesn’t actually count on the federal numbers.” That means that if, for instance, staff comes across alcohol in a freshman dorm room, but no one is there, then the situation is documented, but it might not be considered a liquor law violation. Additionally, if a student is clearly intoxicated but doesn’t actually have alcohol with him or her, that also doesn’t count – and that’s a behavior violation.
Sometimes, determining whether something counts or not can be difficult – and Hoover is responsible for judging whether or not a case does.
“It’s not easy to figure out the numbers,” Hoover said. “A lot of times, unfortunately, in those cases when we’re confronting issues, nobody is in possession of anything at the time, or nobody will admit to it at that point in time, or the staff didn’t see that person doing it, so it makes it a little more challenging.”
Hoover added that if he’s “really, really not sure and I’m on the fence, I’ll count it as one, because I don’t want an issue with the federal government.” So, although he tries to make a fair judgement call with all of the cases, Hoover noted that the numbers could be high, with regards to who’s actually drinking.
Blaisdell, however, reasoned that the numbers aren’t high. “I think you have to look at the culture of the institution,” Blaisdell said. “Staff is clearly engaged in reports [and] alcohol violations at this campus – [and] fairly consistently.”
10 years ago, the numbers hovered around 100 to 200 a year. However, the smaller student population and enforcement of the college’s policies must be taken into account.
The most common situation where a staff member (most likely the resident advisor (RA)) comes across a liquor law violation is when they knock on the door regarding a noise complaint or issue and the alcohol is out in the open.
“We respond to loud noise or music or parties in a residence hall and you go in there and the door opens and lo and behold, there’s alcohol in there,” Blaisdell said. Sometimes it’s just a few people that are being loud, but sometimes, it’s a large group of people.
Although he noted that it’s not always the case, “if I had to guess, I would say most of the time, when people are loud and there’s a lot of people there, alcohol’s usually present,” Hoover said.
Sarah English, the director of housing and residential life, agreed. “Typically, we come across a violation – it starts with a noise complaint,” English said. Sometimes a student will call it in, sometimes the RA will just hear the loud noise, but either way, “we go up, we knock on the door and there it is.”
Hoover added that parties and lots of people tend to significantly add to the data. “Usually each semester, there’s at least one or more larger gathering of students – that doesn’t help the numbers at all,” Hoover said. “There’s times where you confront a situation and alcohol’s present, but you’re not sure who has consumed it. So some of that is very hard to figure out.” As of the time of the interview, he had one case where there was a party with 60 people.
“The other things that we report that come up quite frequently – we do man the first-year residence halls,” Blaisdell said. “Students are asked to open their backpacks or bags and we catch underage students sneaking alcohol.”
The other common case, although not as much as with the noise complaints, is during health and safety inspections that take place before/during breaks. “We need to make sure things are unplugged, things are clean, and our buildings are safe,” English said. However, sometimes when doing a room check, the student will just have the alcohol sitting out.
Although not often, Hoover added that “occasionally, we have students that try to sneak it through a window in some of the buildings.”
These violations usually pool around the same time. “I think you always have a lot more reports probably within the first four to six weeks [of the semester],” Hoover said. “Then at the end of the semester, you see it pick up again – and I think that happens for both semesters.” He added that most of the time, it’s freshmen and sophomores that are in violation.
Blaisdell was more specific in timing and grade, thinking that it’s most likely freshman at the beginning of the fall semester. It’s common among “particularly our first year [students] – this is their first time away from home without parental oversight and they’re experimenting,” Blaisdell said. “They’re trying things, so I would guess…that we have more violations in the fall semester than we do in the spring semester.”
Junior Evan Mastriano, a Games and Emerging Media major, is one of the students that often comes across these violations – he’s an RA on the north end of campus, which encompasses the sophomore housing of Upper and Lower New, as well as Foy. At the time of the interview, he had about four to five liquor law violations for the semester, which was the largest in his staff (who’s responsible for the north end) of five people.
What he’s personally seen seems to match up. “They kind of came in chunks,” Mastriano said. “I had a couple at the beginning of the semester and then I had a couple during walkthroughs – other than that, it’s been an odd one here of there while I’m doing my rounds.”
How he reports the violations also depends on how he come across the violations – whether, like he mentioned, it’s during walkthroughs or during his rounds.
“If I’m on a round, I call the duty RD [resident director], the duty RD reports to wherever I am, they bring security and then we process everyone’s information,” Mastriano said. “Upon the completion of all of that, security does whatever they have to do, the RD does…whatever they have to do [and] I go back and write up my side of what happened.”
The procedure for walkthroughs is slightly different. “During walkthroughs, because it is an in-area thing, we notify our RD and then we just kind of take care of it personally,” Mastriano said.
Regardless, in both cases, Mastriano writes up his account of the case – which is “our factual recount of the circumstances and the situation,” Mastriano said, as well as basic information like the student’s names and their CWIDs – and then the report gets submitted online.
Currently, there are a couple of programs in place regarding alcohol education. For two years, “I’ve partnered with counseling services to offer a class to address those issues [of drinking] earlier on and so I’m hoping some of that may change the behavior,” Hoover said. “We just started an online alcohol educational program called ‘AlcoholEdu’ for sanctions – that just started this year – and then I have a secondary online…paid version of another system called ‘Under the Influence’ that we’ve used with students who’ve had a couple or multiple incidents.”
However, Hoover wants to establish a program that deals with drinking and decision making and coming to college, prior to starting school. “I’m hoping we may be able to get where students are taking some of this education prior to coming to Marist,” Hoover said. “I think it would be good for students to get that education prior” to starting college.
Hoover did add that more students are using the Medical Amnesty Policy. “We’ve had a lot more use it this year – this semester – which I think is great,” Hoover said. “I hope that continues – I hope students use that policy, because it’s there for a reason.”
This is because, when all is said and done, “you just want people to be safe, be smart…[and] to be responsible,” English said.
Hoover echoed that sentiment. “At the end of the day, we are here to make sure that people are safe,” Hoover said. “I would rather – I care [more] about a person’s safety and them living, than I do whether or not they violated a policy or not.”