Time to rethink drinking ban at UNL?

Entry into the Big Ten might be a reason to liberalize booze policies, some students say

Story and photos by Brandi Susnjar, NewsNetNebraska

Josh Peterson can vote for the next president of the United States. He can smoke cigarettes if he chooses. He can go down to his favorite local tavern and order a whiskey straight-up. But, at 22 years old and after a long day of classes, he cannot go back to his dorm room and crack open a cold beer.

“It’s weird because I’m 22, but I have to sneak it into my dorm room like I’m some freshman or something,” said Peterson.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a dry campus. Alcohol is not allowed anywhere on UNL property without permission. This applies even if you are old enough to drink. It also applies at collegiate games. In the 2011-2012 school year, UNL will be a Big Ten school. And with the move, some students think the university should make the switch to become a wet campus.

Indiana University, the University of Iowa, the University of Minnesota, Purdue University, Northwestern, and Penn State are dry campuses in the Big Ten. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan State University, by contrast, permit drinking.

“Well me personally I don’t drink. But I can see why people are angry about it because the university is putting them at risk,” says Kyle Wilt, a 20-year-old business major at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “If the campus allowed drinking in the dorms, they wouldn’t have to drive anywhere. It would reduce the drinking and driving. And the fatalities that go along with DUIs.”

While many students echo that, some joke that liberalization would take the fun out of it. “You wouldn’t have to sneak around anymore,” says Trinidad Mascote, a psychology student now at the University of Wisconsin. “That novelty wears off.”

Mascote came to UNL for a year as a junior. She participated in the Psychology and Law for Research Experience for Undergrads program. She knew that moving away from her family and friends was going to take some time to adjust to.

“When I made the choice to go to UNL for a year, I thought it would be just like my school,” Mascote said. “I thought Nebraska was a wet campus. I had no idea.”

While Mascote was not able to drink on campus, she says she did have a great time in Nebraska. But she does think that in order to compete with the other schools in the Big Ten, UNL needs to make the move like the other universities.

“I think that in order to compete with the big dogs, they need to be a wet campus,” said Mascote. “They need to be able to compete on every level with the other schools in the Big Ten. They can do that by being a wet campus.”

Peterson agrees, noting that drinking already is common.

“I’ve been to numerous football games where people have beer or even hard liquor. And it’s not like people hide the alcohol when they drink it,” said Peterson. “There are cops around. It’s just understood that people drink at games.”

According to a study by Harvard University, one in three US college campuses have adopted the dry campus policy, even though two-thirds of the undergraduate students are legally able to drink. Colleges across the country develop dry campus policies to put a stop to binge drinking and the stigmas that revolve around going to college.

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Binge drinking is a pattern of excessive alcohol abuse. For men, this usually consists of five or more drinks in two hours. For women, it is consuming four or more drinks in two hours. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, college students, between the ages of 18 and 20, are the majority of binge drinkers and 90 percent of alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 is in the form of binge drinking.

Citing a study done on the nation’s drinking habits, CNN reported that binge drinking is on the rise. The study, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, states that binge drinking has gone up in all groups of people, especially men. Researchers believe binge drinking is on the rise because of economy and high jobless rate.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), more than 44 percent of college students reported the only reason to drink is to get drunk. Binge drinking, or drinking to get drunk, can lead to alcohol-related deaths. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported over 1,800 college students died from alcohol-related unintentional injuries and that five percent are directly involved with police or campus security.

But binge drinking cannot only cause health issues, but it is directly connected to school performance. The CSPI reported that binge drinking students are 21 times more likely to skip class, fall behind in school work and get into trouble with campus police.

UNL developed the dry campus policy as a way to put a stop to the nation-wide binge drinking epidemic. By not allowing drinking anywhere on campus, students can focus on their studies and the university can help reduce alcohol-related deaths.

But many college students argue that they need to be treated like adults.

“Students are going to drink. I barely drink and I still think I should be treated like I am not in high school anymore,” said Peterson. “I’ve been in numerous dorm rooms every year I have been here where people have alcohol.”

Some students agree that by banning alcohol on campuses, the universities are promoting drinking and driving. If they want to drink, they have to do it elsewhere, causing them to drive back to the dorms when they are done.

However, UNL does offer a safe ride home program for students. 475-RIDE is very popular program for students at the university. It’s a way to promote personal responsibility among students.

The safe ride home program was put together in response to a tragic death of a student, killed by a drunk driver. Now, more than 10 years later, the program is still going strong. All students have to do is show the driver a valid UNL identification card, between 10:30 pm and 3:30 am. In 2009, the program picked up more than 7,000 people, averaging out to about 34 people a day.

If UNL students decide to stay on campus and are caught drinking or having alcohol on the premises, disciplinary action is taken by the university. This year, UNL pitched a pilot program designed specifically to give students an opportunity to right their wrong.

The Campus Diversion Program is a project designed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department and the Division of Student Affairs. The CDP helps students address their problematic behavior with alcohol and marijuana.

The program offers first time offenders the chance to participate in the program. Students who complete the program would not have a court record of the incident. The CDP allows students to take educational programs that are specifically designed to college students and allows them to take the program that best fits with their college schedule.

If you choose to participate in the CDP, students must complete an alcohol and drug evaluation, probation and 24 hours of community service with a recognized campus, government or non-profit organization. Each student is responsible to complete the program within three months.

Jay Taylor wishes the Campus Diversion Program was around when he got in trouble with campus security.

“I would have made my life a lot easier,” said Taylor. “Not having it made the process a living hell.”

Taylor was a freshman living in Abel Residence Hall when he was caught in the presence of alcohol. A couple of his friends were “pre-gaming” in his room before they went out that night. Taylor says that the people who were drinking were starting to get loud, when he heard a knock at the door.

“The RA’s (resident assistant) came in and they checked all of our water bottles. When they smelled the vodka, they made us dump them out,” said Taylor. “After that, they asked for all of our N-Cards to write our numbers down.”

A couple of days later, he received a letter in the mail, saying he had to speak with the Resident Director of his dorm.

“My RD told me that it is unacceptable to be drinking on campus. He told me that if it happens again, I could lose my housing,” said Taylor.

Taylor had to do 24 hours of community service and had to take a survey about his drinking habits. If he showed signs of alcohol abuse and excessive drinking, he would of had to take a drug and alcohol class. If the Campus Diversion Program was a success this year, the old system of handling drinking on campus would be thrown out the window.

“I really think this program would benefit more than the one I had to go through,” said Taylor. “It is designed to work around the schedules of college students and I think that is very important.”

UNL is not the only university in Nebraska that bans drinking on campus. The University of Nebraska-Omaha and the University of Nebraska-Kearney are among the college campuses wanting to put an end to excessive drinking. Mainly, the public colleges in Nebraska are dry campuses. However, there are some schools in Nebraska that have a wet campus.

Nebraska Wesleyan is a private school that allows students to drink on campus, but only in the dorms. Students can declare their rooms “alcohol tolerant” or “alcohol free.” But in order to declare your room “alcohol tolerant,” you must be 21 or older.

Nebraska Wesleyan allows their of-age students to drink in dorm rooms as a way to cut back drinking and driving. Since it sits about 10 miles from downtown Lincoln, Nebraska Wesleyan offers a way, for those who are old enough, to drink without having to worry about getting back to your residence.

But if you are worried about your 21-year-old neighbor throwing a wild party on a school night, you do not need to worry. Wesleyan has a policy that states, “any gathering in an individual student room cannot exceed a safe and manageable occupancy for that room.” Safe and manageable occupancy means that you are allowed to double the amount of people who are supposed to be in your room, but no more is allowed. If you like in a four-person suite, then eight people are allowed in the room at one time.

Students at UNL agree that this type of policy should be developed for their dorm rooms.

“Students who are old enough should be allowed to drink on campus,” said Taylor. “If Wesleyan is a somewhat wet campus, then UNL should be too. Just because we are closer to the bars (and won’t have to necessarily drive back to the dorms) doesn’t mean anything.”

“Being a wet campus isn’t a bad thing,” added Peterson. “It’s just normal and the way college should be.”

Students agree that being a wet campus would not only benefit them, but would also benefit the university and the state.

“With the addition of the new basketball arena in the next few years, I think a wet campus would only bring in more revenue, as well as fans because of the addition of liquor and beer,” said Peterson. “It’s really a win-win.”

Whether UNL decides to move to becoming a wet campus in the future, one thing is for sure: whether it is allowed or not, students are still going to drink on campus regardless.

“If you tell someone they can’t do something, there is some much more incentive to do it,” said Taylor. “College kids aren’t going to stop drinking on campus just because the university says not to. It would take a lot for that to happen.”

And many students say that even by getting caught drinking in the dorms, it is not going to stop them from doing it again.

“I know a bunch of people who have been caught drinking in the dorms. They still do it even though they had to do the diversion and community service hours,” said Taylor. “They may just be quieter when they do it and more sneaky. I mean, come on. Do the administrators really think it won’t happen again? I doubt it.”

And Peterson agrees that making the switch to allow of-age drinking on campus is a smart idea, but he doubts he will see it happen before he graduates in December.

So after a long day of classes and studying for finals, Peterson decides to stop at his favorite bar in downtown Lincoln with some friends for a cold one before he heads back to his dorm room. They talk about what their plans for the summer are and what classes they are taking next school year.

The debate about whether their beloved university should become a wet campus does not come up. Instead, Peterson thinks of the days when he will be able to drink in the comfort of where he lives, rather than spending his hard-earned money at the bars.

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