Campus drinking: Have fun while staying safe

By Wesley Deberry

No parents … no curfew … access to alcohol. On college campuses across the country this mix can spell disaster for incoming freshmen.

At the University of Illinois, the problem of underage drinking has not gone unnoticed. The Housing and Residential Department and the Champaign Police Department have been working hard to limit underage access to illegal alcohol.

A fight from within

Aug. 6 will mark the beginning of training for the resident advisers. The training lasts for two weeks and will touch on not only preventative measures for alcohol consumption by minors, but a variety of other subjects from illegal drugs to helping incoming students get adjusted on campus.

“Because alcohol is such a problem on college campuses, we do pay specific attention to the alcohol training,” said Patricia Wolfe Anton, assistant director for hall supervision and staffing.

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During their training, resident advisers are first told what is expected of them personally when it comes to alcohol consumption. Advisers who are under the age of 21 are not allowed to drink. If they are 21-years-old, advisers are encouraged to be responsible with their drinking and not “glorify” alcohol use to other students. Advisers are also not allowed to participate in events that promote alcohol abuse, such as the Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day or bar crawls.

“We tell our staff that in order to enforce policies and be role models, you have to be responsible,” Anton said.

Aside from what is expected of their personal conduct, resident advisers are also trained to catch warning signs that a student may be having trouble with alcohol. Some of the warning signs include problems getting up for school and problems with roommate relationships due to attitude changes.

“We don’t teach our staff to diagnose alcoholism,” Anton said. “What we teach the (resident advisers) to do is talk to the student, and find out the root of the problem, then make a referral to the counseling center.”

The final phase of the resident adviser alcohol training is emergency response. From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. a resident adviser is on duty in every residence hall on campus. While on duty, they are trained to constantly monitor bathroom and lounge areas for intoxicated students. Anton admits that in a given weekend it is common to have one or two emergency calls for alcohol poisoning, particularly with first-year students.

“We teach the (resident advisers) to immediately call 911 and get emergency help,” Anton said. “At that point it’s an alcohol emergency, and what we are trying to do is save a life.”

In the 14 years that Anton has been with residential life, she said there have been no alcohol deaths among students in the residence halls.

Though training of the resident advisers is a large part of alcohol safety and prevention, education among students also plays a big role. Peer educators from McKinley Health Center speak at the residence halls to educate incoming freshmen about alcohol and programs they offer, such as SafeRides. This program provides students a safe and free way to travel during the night.

Students are also educated about and provided with alternatives to drinking.

Teresa FioRito, junior in LAS, said that during her freshman year, alternate activities helped her stay away from drinking.

“It wasn’t hard at all to not be a part of that because I lived in Allen Hall and they had a lot of other activities,” FioRito said.

The citywide stand

The war on underage drinking is never-ending for the Champaign Police Department. Over the years they have come up with several techniques for the battle.

Such techniques include bar checks, where a team of officers enter a licensed bar randomly to check for minor occupants. If an underage occupant is caught at a bar, they can be fined anywhere from $290 to $750. The bar check technique has increased in use from 2006 to 2007. In March of 2007, 196 drinking tickets were given out during bar checks, which is more than double the number that was given out in the previous March.

“At the rate we are going, this year we are on pace to break 1,000 tickets,” said Sgt. Scott Friedlein of the Champaign Police Department.

While the bar check technique has proved effective, the “Cops and Shops” tactic is another preventative technique used by Champaign Police. With this technique, officers are assigned to monitor sale locations for illegal purchases, and purchases believed to be for minors. “Follow the keg” is a subprogram of Cops and Shops in which cops monitor locations that have purchased kegs for underage drinkers.

“Traditional keg registration programs are reactive in nature, so basically you wait for something bad to happen and then you go back and catch the source,” Friedlein said. “Ours catch that source before the bad thing happens.”

Similar to the Housing and Residential Department at the University, the Champaign Police Department looks to educate students about drinking. Every year a brochure is published with the help of the police department called “Liquor, the Law and You.” This brochure is given to all incoming freshmen and it explains the liquor laws of Champaign. Aside from this, Sgt. Friedlein and his fellow police officers talk to sororities and fraternities on campus about the law and what the police department expects from students on campus.

“Our thought is that even though ignorance of the law is not an excuse, we try to prevent that ignorance by putting as much information out as possible,” Friedlein said.