Strengthening laws not the key to safety on Unofficial

By Stephanie Youssef

Evidenced by events circling Facebook and a recent local spike in the sale of green T-shirts on campus, Unofficial is coming as it has every year since 1996, and there is virtually nothing that can stop it at this point. 

Much to the chagrin of the University administration, and the Champaign, Urbana and University police departments, recent attempts to stop this high-risk, student-driven event by limiting the sale of alcohol and prohibiting guests in the dorms have not succeeded. Last year, Carle Hospital and Pro Ambulance together reported 26 ambulance calls and 15 hospital walk-ins — an increase from the 22 medical calls and 1 hospital walk-in reported in 2012.

In order to try and reduce the number of medical calls made on Unofficial, more efforts should be put toward promoting responsibility and awareness as opposed to prohibition. For example, with the ACE IT alcohol safety and awareness program required for every new undergraduate and some transfer students at the University, students already know the effects and potential dangers that come with drinking alcohol and the consequences that come with doing so illegally. The ACE IT program is only available for University students, which could account for the fact that 70 percent of enforcement action taken on Unofficial last year was against people who were not associated with the University. 

The fact that commendable attempts by local administrations have proved ineffective revolves around a fundamental concept: The underage drinker who is already willing to go against state law, as well as the 21-year-old who makes it down to campus to take part in the craze that is Unofficial, is unlikely to pay much mind to any temporary laws enforced by local authorities.

It should be noted that some of these laws are effective. For example, the requirement for all bars to serve drinks in paper or plastic cups on Unofficial is meant to prevent the spread of an epidemic that could stem from poorly washed glassware. 

However, laws preventing the sale of alcohol before 11 a.m., limiting residents to one keg, and prohibiting pitchers of beer and shots of hard liquor are excessive laws that impede on the rights that residents, as well as bar and restaurant owners, have on the other 364 days of the year. Telling someone that ordering a pitcher of beer or shot of whiskey at 10:59 a.m. is not allowed on March 7, versus purchasing the exact same pitcher and shot before 11 a.m. on any other day of the year, is hardly productive.

This is not to say that administrators and police officials shouldn’t do anything against an event they see as a threat to community safety. Despite the increase in the number of medical calls last year, the severity of the injuries that were reported during Unofficial 2013 decreased. This, according to a report by the Champaign Police Department, is mainly credited to poor weather and the “Walk as One” educational awareness event conducted last year (and this year), where the University partnered with local property management companies and law enforcement to distribute safety information to local residents and students — proving the effectiveness of raising awareness.

From a safety perspective, the 18-year-old who took one shot at 8 a.m. isn’t as big of a concern as the 22-year-old who chugged 30 beers and doesn’t know his limits. Even with students being aware of drinking hazards, local authorities still aren’t comfortable looking at the dangerous statistics that plague this annual celebration. With new laws limiting liquor sales passed for this year, we will have to wait and see if they are effective in lowering the medical calls made on Unofficial 2014.

Until then, be safe University of Illinois!

Stephanie is a sophomore in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @syoussef22.