Administrators looking to change alcohol policies

Published Aug. 29, 2012

With Indiana officials looking to crack down on underage and high-risk alcohol consumption on college campuses, the atmosphere of Butler University is changing.

An alcohol task force, comprised of Butler students and faculty from numerous departments, was created during the 2011-12 academic year.

Curbing Illegal Drinking on Butler’s Campus
For the start of this academic year, the group has come up with multiple recommendations to help school administrators and the Butler University Police Department curb problem and illegal drinking.

“I think (the task force) is the best type of approach because you’re getting multiple perspectives,” said Levester Johnson, vice president for student affairs. “But it’s most important to involve students because they can take direct ownership of this as well.”

Irene Stevens, dean of student life and co-chair of the task force, said the recommendations made by the task force cover three areas of concern: alcohol education, enforcement of alcohol laws and sanctioning of those who break alcohol laws.

Changes in Policy
However, it is uncertain whether these recommendations are being treated as changes to Butler’s alcohol policy.

Johnson said that changes were being made to the policy while Stevens said the policy itself will be reviewed during this semester and has not yet been changed.

Sarah Barnes Diaz, health education and outreach programs coordinator and co-chair of the task force, said that the confusion lies with the semantics of the phrase “changes to the policy.”

“The recommendations are what we’re now enacting,” Diaz said. “So within that, there are some shifts in policy and some changes in the student handbook.”

Sending the Right Message
Sally Click, dean of student services, said in an email to The Collegian that a major point in the task force’s discussion was the message the university was sending about alcohol.

To that effect, posters are displayed around campus to make clear to all students that the drinking age in Indiana is 21.

Additionally, Stevens said an online module was created to educate new students about alcohol, drugs and sexual assault and that all new students were asked to complete the module prior to the start of classes.

Diaz said the school’s Red Cup Culture program also needed revisions.

“In the past, the focus of Red Cup Culture was very much on the consumption of alcohol being a personal choice,” Diaz said. “It almost sends the wrong message and gives permission, so we sliced some of that out of the video.”

Diaz said members of the task force felt that education on high-risk drinking and alcohol poisoning was necessary as well.

In addition, new students were prohibited from entering Greek houses before Aug. 27 so they would participate in planned Welcome Week activities, Click said.

A member of the Greek community, who wished to remain anonymous because of fraternity policy to limit the members that can speak to the media, said this policy was helpful.

“We can really get to know kids versus putting them in a social scene they’re not familiar with,” the individual said.

Changing How BU Enforces Rules
The task force also made recommendations with regard to enforcement of alcohol laws and changes to sanctioning, but a higher power has also had a hand in making sure laws are being followed.

The Indiana State Excise Police is a unit of the Alcohol Tobacco Commission that sends undercover police officers to Indiana colleges.

When at colleges, the officers can attend parties and other gatherings where underage drinking may be occurring and ask students for a form of identification.

Stevens said she expects the excise police force to be on campus more this academic year than in recent years. This is partly due to the creation of the Intensified College Enforcement program, which is using Indiana’s excise police to try to cut down on underage drinking.

Former governor Mitch Daniels also passed the Indiana Lifeline Law earlier this year.

According to the Indiana Lifeline Coalition’s website, the law provides immunity from some alcohol violations to those who request medical assistance or have it requested for them.

The task force has suggested that BUPD be more consistent in alcohol policy enforcement, in addition to utilizing a summons arrest in appropriate situations.

A summons arrest is a ticket for public intoxication that requires the offender to appear in court, Stevens said.

This differs from an outright arrest, which sees an offender be put in handcuffs by a police offer, and a the more rare warrant arrest, which allows police to arrest a person of interest with regard to a crime.

Ben Hunter, chief of staff and executive director of public safety, said recent alcohol incidents on Indiana campuses are causing BUPD to be stricter in handing on summons arrests.

Hunter said two under-21 students encountered by BUPD last week had ‘extremely high’ blood alcohol content levels and were example cases for a summons arrest. One student was unresponsive and the other suffered injuries from a fall.

“My preference is when we can do a referral because I don’t want to ruin resumes,” Hunter said. “But at the same time, if we find someone with alcohol poisoning or, worst-case scenario, dead, there’s going to be all kinds of scrutiny.”

The alcohol policy section of Butler’s student handbook includes state penalties for specific alcohol-related crimes, which can range from fines up to $1,000 to jail time.

Separate from fines and arrests are sanctions imposed by the university, which have also been altered.

Click said fines for breaking alcohol laws have been rejected in favor of a community restoration project, which involves individuals giving back to the Butler community in some way.

An individual who has a major alcohol violation or accumulates multiple minor ones can also be put on conduct probation, which keeps the individual from participating in Greek recruitment and from holding a number of leadership positions on campus.

Click also said that 75 to 80 percent of student conduct cases over the last several years have involved alcohol or drugs. Some sanctions in those cases included alcohol or drug assessment and attendance at an in-house alcohol seminar.

“I think it’s a really good practice to take stock of where we’re at, and that’s what the task force did,” Diaz said.

Students React to Coming Changes
A level of anxiety seems to be felt by students toward the changes, the Greek member said.

“(The changes) add a layer of fear and pressure,” the individual said. “We’re under pressure to do everything right, but ultimately it’s for our safety.”

While the success of the task force’s recommendations cannot be fully examined until more time has passed, Diaz said she believes the university is handling alcohol issues in the correct manner.

“I’m confident that this is the way to go,” Diaz said. “I think that over time, we can shift the culture away from high-risk drinking.”


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