UM: Students should think before they drink

Though the University of Miami’s policies on alcohol consumption are stated in the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook (SR&R), a recent report compiled by the Dean of Student’s Office has revealed an overall increase in the amount of alcohol violations committed by students.

Gregory Singleton, associate dean of students, said that student alcohol violations increased by 21.4 percent from September 2005 to September 2006. In response to the statistics, Singleton said that the increase in violations was consistent with colleges across the country.

“Alcohol issues are the number one issue facing college students everywhere, not just UM,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of students are not aware that their actions can sometimes bring about negative consequences.”

The university’s alcohol consumption policies, as stated in the SR&R Handbook, maintain that it is prohibited for university students under the age of 21 to consume alcohol either on or off-campus. Some students did not believe that they should be sanctioned for drinking off of school property.

“I think [the policy] is kind of harsh,” Sergio Santos, freshman, said. “It seems judgmental for the school to decide that you aren’t a good student based on what you do off campus.”

Singleton, however, maintained that the university has an ethical and legal responsibility to investigate if there is reason to believe a student has violated the school’s alcohol policy.

“The law says you must be 21 to purchase or consume alcohol, and we expect students to uphold the law and policies of the university,” he said.

While students can expect consequences for violating the school’s alcohol policy, Singleton says that not all alcohol violations are created equal and that each judicial violation is handled individually. Consequences may range from a fine and disciplinary warning for minor offenses, such as possession of alcohol. These do not remain on a student’s record, while repeated offenses, which could lead to strict disciplinary probation, may remain on a student’s disciplinary record for one to four semesters.

The fines assessed for alcohol violations begin at $50 for students living in the residential colleges and $100 for University Village residents, the proceeds of which are put towards funding alcohol and drug education.

Gilbert Arias, assistant vice president for student affairs, said that the fees for UV were determined by JPI, the residence’s management company, in conjunction with the university. He also said that the rules for the Village are clearly stated in the lease agreement, which students were required to sign before moving-in.

“Given their proximity to our [Coral Gables] neighbors and the fact that there is less supervision than in the residential colleges, the rules are a little different,” Arias said regarding the Village. “We want to keep good relations with our neighbors while promoting a healthy and safe environment for students to study and live in.”

Thus far no alcohol violations in the University Village have been reported to the Dean of Students office.

Student alcohol violators are also required to participate in an alcohol education course at Pier 21, the Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Education. These peer-led workshops are facilitated by certified student volunteers from GAMMA and BACCHUS, drug and alcohol awareness organization’s geared towards the Greek and non-Greek communities, respectively.

Nanette Vega, assistant dean of students and assistant director of Pier 21, believes that the workshops are effective.

“The reason we have the peer-led workshops is because many studies have shown that peer-to-peer advising is more effective for students,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just easier for them to hear [about the consequences] from a fellow student rather than an administrator.”

While the workshops feature formal presentations on the physical, emotional and social effects of alcohol abuse, Vega said that students most commonly ask questions about the disciplinary consequences facing them.

“Unfortunately a lot of students are not knowledgeable of the consequences until they get in trouble,” she said.

In addition to disciplinary sanctions, the university has recently adopted a more preventative approach to alcohol education. In the fall of 2004, the university made it mandatory for all incoming freshman to complete an AlcoholEdu course before registering for classes. AlcoholEdu is an online, alcohol education course meant to educate students on the risks of alcohol consumption. The course is offered in two parts, the first of which must be completed within 30 days of fall orientation while the second part must be completed by the second week of October.

Vega also noted that a large number of alcohol violators are freshmen and that the reported increase in drinking violations on campus may be due to the fact that class sizes have been getting bigger over the years. She cited the experience of being away from home for the first time and the pressures of making new friends as the contributing factors influencing freshman alcohol violations.

Leyla al-Mansoori, residence coordinator for Hecht Residential College, a predominantly underclassmen dormitory, said that she and her staff utilize many different approaches, such as passive programming through flyers and bulletin boards as well as floor programs in conjunction with Pier 21, to make residents aware of the risks of illegal alcohol consumption. However, al-Mansoori said that in the end the decision is in the hands of the students.

“I think that we’re all well aware that [alcohol violations] still go on across campus,” she said. “We do everything we can to educate students and make them aware of the consequences, but they’re in college and they’re still going to do what they’re going to do.”

Rachel Johnson, a senior, believes that most students are aware of the consequences that face them, but choose to take the risk anyway.

“I remember my freshman year in the dorms, and no one thought that we wouldn’t get in trouble for drinking,” she said. “Kids know what’s up, but you can fine them, arrest them or shoot them and they’re still going to want in on that college experience.”

-125 reported alcohol violations (on and off campus) for August/September

-21.4% increase in violations over the last year (September 2005 to 2006)

-All incoming freshman are required to take the AlcoholEdu online course

Marina Nazir may be contacted at