On campus alcohol, drug fines spike

Graphic

Graphic by Riley Benson

Originally published in The Globe September 25, 2013.

Students violating the University’s drug and alcohol policies may face much larger fines this year, with fees increased by as much as 500 percent.

“We saw a drastic increase from Spring [2012] to Spring [2013] in the number of students that were getting involved in underage drinking and drugs, so we felt students weren’t taking our policies seriously,” said Director of Judicial Affairs JW Tabacchi in an interview on Sept. 11.

According to Tabacchi, during that time the number of students involved in underage drinking and drug incidents increased by 127 percent and the number of repeat offenders increased by 650 percent. The fees were therefore increased and re-categorized to add stiffer penalties for the hosts of parties where there is underage drinking or drug use.

“We feel like a monetary fine would discourage students from underage drinking and doing illegal drugs on campus,” Tabacchi said.

First time alcohol offenses increased from $25 to $75 and hosts can be fined $125 for a first time offense. Second time alcohol offenses rose from $75 to $100 or $150 for hosting a party. Fines for first time drug offenses rose from $75 to $200 or $300 for a first time hosting offense. Second time drug offenses rose from $125 to $250 or $350 for hosting. And on top of drug charge, anyone caught smoking anything in a non-smoking area will be fined $100.

In addition to the increase in fines, the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Education hosted several events to spread awareness of the new fees and offer alternatives to drinking.

“Generally, we take an educational approach,” Tabacchi said. “We want to show students that it’s not worth it to drink underage or do drugs on campus, and we believe that there are plenty of healthy alternative, to your educational experience.”

Coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drug Education Annie Cassin partners with many other departments and student organizations such as the Office of Career Development and The Office of Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership (SAIL), as well as Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) to host these educational events, such as Spring Mocktails and the Pioneer Pub. These events are designed to educate students on the consequences and health risks involved in drinking and drug use, as well as provide information on other activities on and off campus.

“The biggest thing is getting students information so they can make well informed decisions,” said Cassin in an interview on Thursday. “We have students say ‘I’m bored, and this is cheap,’… they think this is what they’re supposed to do when they get to college.”

Underage drinking and marijuana incidents are the most common violations in the residence halls, according to Community Facilitator (CF) Brett Greene.

“Students feel like they can’t do it anywhere else, so they do it in their dorms,” said Greene in an interview on Sept. 6. “If that’s the kind of college experience you want to have, there are places off campus you can do that.”

As a CF, Greene works with other CFs and Community Mentors (CM) to patrol the residence halls nightly in pairs of two. If they come across a violation, they call Public Safety, and if it is a smaller party, they dispose of the alcohol and disperse the students after gathering their information.

“We haven’t had any problems with other drugs or self-harm or suicide so far, which is amazing,” Greene said.

While the fines were increased as a deterrent, Tabacchi said the University wants students to find safe, legal ways to have fun rather than having to fine them.

“We really encourage students to find healthy alternatives and really view these sanctions as a last resort effort,” Tabacchi said. “We really would prefer not to have to use [fines] as a means of education.”

The Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Education distributes a multitude of pamphlets, booklets and magnets that advertise campus activities and inform students about the consequences of drinking and drug use.

The Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Education is also planning more events with student organizations, one in October and one in November.

“It’s not about squashing fun,” Cassin said. “College should be fun; we just want to make sure people are safe.”

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