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Keeping students focused, sober

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Correction: Because of incorrect information supplied to the Journal by University of New Mexico officials, the following story states that drinking alcohol is no longer allowed at Lobo Village, the UNM student housing area near the Pit. According to American Campus Communities, the Texas-based company that operates Lobo Village, drinking is allowed under certain circumstances. It “must comply with all federal, state, and local laws,” a statement released by the company states. “Keg cooling devices and alcohol containers larger than one gallon are not allowed on Lobo Village property.” Furthermore, alcohol “is not allowed in the common areas of the community in any form or container. This includes but is not limited to pool area, breezeways, parking lot, or clubhouse area. Additionally, residents may only have alcohol in the bedrooms of their apartments and not in the common areas.”

 

 

Alcohol is not allowed on any of the campuses of the University of New Mexico. Period.

But studies show that heavy drinking often goes hand in hand with young adulthood. Moreover, college students tend to abuse alcohol more than young people who do not attend school. Given all that, it would seem a college campus might be a breeding ground for trouble.

That is precisely what happened a few years ago after Lobo Village opened. At the time, alcohol was allowed in the housing complex. In less than a year, UNM police and Albuquerque police had each responded to more than 100 complaints, although some of the calls may have overlapped. The reports included drunken partying, alcohol-related rape, minors drinking, brawls, public urination.

Today, alcohol is no longer allowed in Lobo Village or any other university-sanctioned student housing.

Dean of Students Tomás Aguirre said drinking violations are often connected to student housing.

“We try to be as proactive as possible,” he said. “We address it just like we address any policy violation.” Nonetheless, he conceded that casual drinking that does not result in inebriation, hospitalization or drunken driving “is considered a more minor offense.” To his knowledge, Aguirre said, only small schools routinely refer such policy violators to outside police or the justice system.

In 2012, 15 arrests were made at UNM for alleged violations of the state’s liquor law, 12 of them at residential facilities. That same year, of 269 referrals for disciplinary action for liquor law violations, 265 originated in student housing. The data, although the most recent available, may not reflect the current situation in that alcohol is no longer allowed at Lobo Village.

A national study of 343 colleges published this summer in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that campus police and security officers are often first responders to on-campus alcohol-related incidents. The survey looked at three categories of alcohol-related infractions: serious, underage and less serious, both on and off campus. It found that campus police and security personnel commonly contact school officials, not outside police or the judicial system. A minority of campus police agencies issue citations and refer alcohol policy violators to the campus health center.

In addition, the study found, enforcement actions “were more commonly reported for serious and underage incidents than for less serious incidents. Large (vs. small) colleges, public (vs. private) colleges and those located in small (vs. large) towns more consistently reported taking actions against drinkers.”

UNM’s official policy clearly recognizes the seriousness of student drinking: “Drug and alcohol abuse on campus poses a serious threat to the health and welfare of faculty, staff and students; impairs work and academic performance; jeopardizes the safety and well-being of other employees, students and members of the general public; and conflicts with the responsibility of the University of New Mexico to foster a healthy atmosphere for the pursuit of education, research and service.”

It goes on to warn: “The penalties for even the most minor of violations of the Liquor Control Act can include fines of up to $300, confiscation of property and imprisonment for up to seven months.”

Robert Burford, UNM’s student conduct officer, said sanctions for violations vary depending on severity. Sanctions range from a warning for a minor offense to possible expulsion for the most serious.

“For example,” Burford said, students “sitting in their room with a beer may get a warning for their behavior, although a person who provides alcohol to minors (may face) suspension or expulsion.”

A consideration is how the infraction affects the minor. The university also takes into account a violator’s history and whether he or she takes responsibility for the incident. An underage student caught violating the policy for the first time will be ordered to attend an alcohol assessment workshop. In addition, UNM sends a letter to the student’s parents to let them know about the situation and to encourage them to help their son or daughter refocus, Burford said.

John Steiner, manager of UNM’s Campus Office of Substance Abuse Prevention, said his agency promises students “No Lectures. No hype. Just the facts.”

The office is responsible for setting up the alcohol assessment workshops. It is not a counseling agency, but tries to help students avoid the pitfalls of alcohol abuse. It has been around since 1992, encouraging students to ask such questions as: “What are the ramifications of a DUI conviction on my record?” and “What happens if my residence hall advisor catches me drinking?”

“We give students a chance to stop and look at what they’re doing,” Steiner said. “It’s all part of prevention.”

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