BY ERIN LEACH-KEMON
The University is cracking down on student drinking with stiffer penalties, including never-before-seen fines for violators of the school’s alcohol policies.
Last year a student convicted of an alcohol violation might face a research paper or community service. Now students also risk $50 to $100 fines.
The student hearing board charged with assigning these new penalties had no say in the policy changes implemented this summer by the Student Affairs office, according to Ray Tuttle, the administrator who oversees the Judicial Review Board.
The student in charge of handing down the new fines, JRB president Sarah Goodrum, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Vice President Nicolas Perilla responded but declined to comment, saying “We’re not really in a position to talk about this.”
When pressed further, Perilla said “We do not come up with policy…that came from the administration.”
Director of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility and lead decision maker in modifying the sanctions, Ray Tuttle, said that an increase in alcohol violations over the past year served as a predominant reason for the change.
The number of alcohol violations rose to 221 in the 06-07 academic year-a 12 case increase from the previous year, and University officials expect last year’s numbers to increase as more cases are settled from the previous semester.
Some students are complaining that information on the sanction modifications is scarce and unknown to much of the student body.
“As an RA, I hardly know the sanctions,” said Senior and Bushnell resident assistant, Laura Gumkowksi.
Senior Sarah Gundle considers herself in the minority among students that are aware of the revised sanctions.
“I saw one flier…That’s the only way that I knew things were changing,” Gundle said. “I feel like it should be posted on the website where students can see it…If there’s going to be a change we should know it because we need to know what the consequences of our actions could be.”
According to Tuttle, the only notifications for students of the new sanctions are the flyers he posted in the residence halls and around campus.
“The Handbook went to press before the revised sanctions were finalized, so they could not be included,” said Tuttle.
Chris Porter, director of Residence Life explained that her office has not directly addressed students on the matter.
“At this time, Residence Life has not been involved in any efforts to inform students of potential sanctions,” Porter said.
Tuttle explained that the recommended sanctions now include a $50 fine for students found hosting underage drinking or intoxication in their dorm rooms and $50 or $100 fines for some repeat offenders.
Acting President Rick Hurley explained that the collected fines will be used to fund alcohol education courses along with other student programs.
Gumkowksi said that she believes the fines will have an impact upon the student body.
“It think it’s probably a pretty good deter faction because if you’re getting slammed with a $50 fine every other weekend then you’re probably going to think twice about hosting parties in your room,” she said.
Gundle disagreed — she feels that the fines will be ineffective.
“Being fined isn’t going to stop people from drinking…Quite frankly, I think if you’re going to drink, you’re going to drink,” said Gundle.
In addition to fines, the online alcohol education course AlcoholEdu is now a recommended sanction for all first-time violators.
According to Tuttle, AlcoholEdu was previously assigned to just second-time offenders and violators who were intoxicated. First-time violators received a sanction known as “Happy Hour” where students had to complete a test based on required reading and a 1000-word research paper.
Ruttle expects AlcoholEdu to be a more effective sanction for first-time violators.
“I thought that asking students to write a research paper on one of several possible topics really didn’t get to the heart of the issue…I hope that they will agree that [AlcoholEdu] is a more efficient use of their time,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle said that other sanctions may include a required 10 hours of community service, and in the case of repeat offenses and major intoxication violations, some students will receive a motivational interview and an evaluation of their alcohol use—others must submit a 1000-word paper.
Tuttle said that to his knowledge, fines were not issued for alcohol violations in the past.
Bernard Chirico, vice president for Student Affairs said that he, Tuttle, and the dean of Student Life, Cedric Rucker have discussed changing the structure of sanctions for the past five years.
Additionally, Chirico voiced concern over an increase in off-campus violations.
He has received numerous reports from the city police and from homeowners in the area who are renting homes to students. He specifically cited Idlewild as one of the communities generating many of these reports.
Senior and Westmoreland RA Evan Braunstein said that last year, he wrote one report and has written two so far this semester—neither of which were alcohol related violations.
“It seems like generally upperclassman dorms don’t have as many alcohol violations…I really haven’t had many issues with it,” he said.
Braunstein explained that he doesn’t believe the new sanctions will be effective in reducing the number of alcohol violations on campus.
“I don’t particularly think that harsher sanctions are effective because you don’t ever think you’re going to get caught,” he said.
President of the Student Government Association Krishna Sinha expressed higher hopes for the revised sanctions.
“It might make students think twice about where and how they drink. I do not think that any sanction anywhere in the United States will ever change the culture of alcohol consumption on college campuses,” Sinha said, “But the administration needs to be careful to curtail excessive and dangerous drinking and to make sure students are safe.”
Sinha also emphasized that there are other Virginia universities with much higher fines than UMW.
“Relatively speaking, our alcohol sanctions are much more lenient than other schools,” he said. “Virginia Tech for example has a $125 class that you might take, and you can be suspended or dismissed from the university after 3 offenses (minor or major). JMU states criminal penalties for their sanctioning, which can include $2500 fines through the state of Virginia.”
Rucker explained that he views these modifications, “Not from the standpoint of being punitive.” “It’s about health, safety and community welfare,” he said.
“We’re not so big that everything disappears. We really care about the members of this community,” Rucker said.