25 Apr 2012

BGSU offers underage drinker counseling, not police involvement

Author: Tara Keller | Filed under: BGSU, Enterprise Story, Spring 2012, Student Contributor

When an underage college student is caught drinking alcohol on campus, most people assume university officials will call the police. That underage student might face expulsion from his or her university, and criminal charges might be filed.

However, this is not the case for Bowling Green State University, which chooses to provide the underage student with counseling instead of getting the police involved.

“I don’t think the threat of prosecution has an impact on drinking,” said Dr. Harold Rosenberg, a psychology professor at BGSU. “Education and prevention can have the impact to encourage people to drink safely in a moderate or controlled fashion, which is what I think the goal should be.”

In 2010, 188 students received liquor law violations, according to the BGSU crime statistics. Most of these students then received some form of counseling provided by the university. Some might argue the counseling is becoming more effective than police intervention because statistics report this number has decreased by 43 students since 2008.



Students receiving liquor violations at BGSU







Chart by Tara Keller. Data provided by the Bowling Green State University police department.


Students who receive these liquor law violations would benefit more from alcohol counseling, which would teach the student how to consume and the substance in a healthy and safe way, Rosenberg said.

“I prefer referring people to counseling instead of prosecution because drinking age is arbitrary, and it’s a status offense,” he said. “I don’t see any point for someone getting a legal record.”

Rosenberg specializes in substance abuse and co-authored an article titled “Measuring University Students’ Self-Efficacy to Use Drinking Self-Control Strategies.” In it, he listed 31 drinking-reduction strategies such as leaving at least 15 minutes in between each drink.

“Some young people want to get grossly intoxicated,” he said. “Some students don’t have the confidence in their ability to use their self-control.”

The tips listed in the article could help with that lack of confidence and aid in avoiding alcohol-related problems, Rosenberg said.

The Internet has many websites devoted to reducing dangerous alcohol behavior, Rosenberg said. These sites compare the user’s drinking habits to others of similar age and sex around the country.

“Sites like e-chug.com asks you what you’re drinking, where you’re drinking, and how often,” he said. “It’s a social comparison.”

BGSU offers many different programs and counseling initiatives to help combat underage drinking. These efforts take the place of police involvement.

“We encourage low-risk drinking,” said Dr. Faith Yingling, BGSU’s Director of Wellness. “We’re not naïve-we know that some students drink.”

Yingling and others involved with BGSU’s Wellness Connection created alcohol alternative events throughout the year, such as “Late Night at the Rec,” “Big Playground,” and “Summer Splash.”

“These are places where people can come relieve stress in a fun and safe environment,” she said.

Several students experience alcohol-related issues, such as alcohol poisoning and drunken behavior, because they can’t tell the difference between perception and reality, Yingling said.

“You may think a lot of people drink, but it’s not what you think,” she said. “Not all students drink.”

Aside from the late-night alternative events, the Wellness Connection offers free drug and alcohol counseling. Alcohol and drug prevention specialist Alicia Komives counsels students who receive an alcohol violation.

“I’m not a lecturer,” she said. “I want to meet them where they’re at and talk about the pros and cons of their behavior.”

The students are counseled about their family, their alcohol use and how they’re functioning on campus, Komives said.

“They need to realize for themselves that a change needs to happen,” she said. “We set goals, identify risks and give them strategies to reduce their use.”

For most students, counseling with Komives is the furthest they go in the disciplinary process. However, for those students who have received a second or third alcohol violation, the repercussions become more severe.

On second violation, students usually meet with Deborah Novak, the assistant dean of students at the university.

“I find out why they were drinking,” Novak said. “I tell them they need to take a step back and focus on their priorities.”

On average, Novak said she speaks to about 100-125 students a year about alcohol violations. Some students just need someone to talk to about their use because family or other outside influences, such as spending time with people who are negative influences, might be a contributing factor, she said.

“Students are more than whatever their incident was,” Novak said.

Having three or more alcohol violations could result in a suspension from the university. The minimum suspension time is one academic year. For that time span, the suspended student isn’t permitted on university property and can’t attend other public institutions, Novak said.

“This suspension is very different than what you may have seen in high school,” she said. “This will be a permanent notation on their transcript and future employers will see forevermore they were suspended.”

In order to prevent students from reaching this point in the disciplinary process, residence hall directors and resident advisers educate residents about alcohol before it becomes a violation.

Rick Lofgren has been Harshman’s hall director for the past three years and started a program called “Club Harshman” -an alcohol-alternative activity once a year that features healthy drinking tips and educational conversations.

Once a year, Harshman residence hall hosts "Club Harshman," which teaches students about the dangers of alcohol. Photo by Tara Keller

“People come in, have fun, dance, and we even have ‘mocktails,’” Lofgren said.

Alcohol education is not only offered to students, but it is mandatory for RAs. One of the training sessions is called “Behind Closed Doors,” which gives the RAs experimental alcohol situations and the hall directors watch how they confront it, Lofgren said.

“We talk about policy, law, how to help out with alcohol poisoning and to know the signs,” he said.

Although RAs are trained to handle alcohol situations, that doesn’t mean residents should fear the student staff members, Lofgren said.

“RAs aren’t police officers,” he said. “They aren’t out looking for policy violations.”

Freshmen in particular might be more susceptible to underage drinking because of their new environment, Lofgren said.

“We usually have problems at the beginning of the year as students are transitioning and finding what it means to be a college student,” he said. “They’re testing their boundaries a little bit as well.”

Some students may be afraid to call for help for an intoxicated friend, since they might receive disciplinary action too.

“We always encourage students to call for help instead of worrying about conduct issues,” he said. “If someone dies, you can’t change that.”

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