Reporter Crystal Smith talks to Officer Tricia Knoles and experienced students about underaged drinking on Kent State’s campus.
Words by: Alex Cossins and Miranda Kiner
College universities and underage drinking are almost synonymous, and Kent State University is no different.
“Most of the students are underage, so it’s illegal,” said Brian Hellwig, Assistant Director for Residential Communities at Kent State University. “But when they do get in trouble, we try to have an educational conversation with them. It’s unrealistic to expect a student to never drink again, so when they do drink we want to have that conversation to make sure that they’re making the right choices and keeping safe.”
During the 2016-2017 academic school year, there were 131 documented incidents that took place, down 2 percent from the 2015-2016 academic year, according to Hellwig.
“We saw a huge increase in the number of parties that were occurring in the residence halls. People were getting intoxicated to the point where they were harming themselves,” Hellwig said. “Seven or eight years ago, we implemented the policy where we could call the police for all known parties.”
“One of the reasons we went to the calling police for alcohol parties is because we saw the large parties and we also saw people drinking to excess and wondering around outside naked because they were so intoxicated, so those were some alarming things that we saw,” Hellwig said. “Student population changes every year and it’s always about 60 percent new freshmen every year so it’s always a constant battle.”
The 131 incidents that occurred include parties, which Hellwig defines as three or more people.
Out of the 131 incidents, 740 people were documented.
“It’s been going down over the past five years,” Hellwig said. “It’s a positive trend that we’re seeing.”
When an incident occurs it’s up to the Resident Assistant or one of the Residential Community Directors, Hellwig for example, on whether or not they call the Kent State University Police Department.
“We call the police about one-third of the time,” Hellwig said.
One student recalls an incident from 2015 when he was returning to Wright Hall from a night out. At the time, he was 19 years old and three weeks away from leaving for basic training for the army. He was stopped by campus security while carrying a Bud Light and security had him empty the beer in the laundry room sink. The student was required to meet with Wright Hall’s Resident Hall Director, but there was no other punishment. The police were not called.
KSUPD were called for 43 of the 131 incidents that took place and issued 73 people citations for various alcohol offenses.
According to Hellwigs study for Department of Residence Services, Division of Student Affairs AY 2016/2017 “This represents a decrease of about 46% in the number of people that were cited by police from the previous year in which 158 people were issued citations.”
“Any time you call the police for alcohol parties and they cite someone, they’re going to be documented and automatically referred to student conduct,” Hellwig said. “When they’re cited by the police they go through the student conduct process and also the court process.”
The student conduct process varies from person to person. Hellwig said what usually happens is that the university gives the sanction to the courts, and if it’s a first offense the offender goes through the diversion program.
The diversion program through the court for first time drug or alcohol offense requires offenders to stay clean for six months, do 20 hours of community service, pay a fine and go to an alcohol workshop. As long as the offender stays clean for six months with no violations, the offense can be voided from their record Hellwig said.
“Alcohol is always an issue, but it’s not a huge concern,” Hellwig said. “When students meet with their hall director, they’re going to have a conversation about the impact their actions are having on the community and find ways to avoid that impact.”
The three busiest days of the week for alcohol related incidents during the 2016-2017 academic school year were Saturday, with 66 incidents, Thursday, with 26 incidents, and Friday, with 21 incidents. However Halloween fell on a Saturday this academic year and 11 of the 66 incidents recorded on Saturdays occurred Halloween night.
“Over the past couple of years, especially around Halloween, it has been alot tamer than in the years past, so were hoping to contribute that to just educating people,” said Tricia Knoles, the community resource officer from KSUPD.
“For alcohol, it’s more difficult for people to understand that their actions are affecting not just themselves but the community, especially if it’s noise,” Hellwig said. “Their neighbors may not approach them, but many times the neighbors will call us because of the noise. So that’s how we get involved.”
The most common sanction that the university gives when the KSUPD isn’t called is alcohol eCHECKUP. It’s an online educational workshop that lasts about 30 minutes that details the risks and behaviors associated with social alcoholic drinking. “That’s a pretty common sanction that we would give to help educate students about that,” Hellwig said.
When asked if there was anything more serious than alcohol poisoning, Hellwig knocked on his wooden desk, “No, thank goodness.”