Underage-Drinking Campaign Cuts Alcohol Consumption

Citations, surveys document drier campus since Atwater’s arrival.

By Christina Winesickle

INDIANA — On April 8, 2006, Jessica Foor, then a 19-year-old freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was trapped for two hours in a basement filled with people who attended a party at an off-campus fraternity house.

The Pennsylvania State Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement and Indiana Borough police conducted an underage-drinking bust at 389 S. Sixth St., the Phi Kappa Psi frat house, at 12:07 a.m., according to Indiana police reports.

Police surrounded the house and officers ordered people to wait their turn at the Breathalyzer.

“People were urinating, sucking on pennies and trying to find a way to escape the house,” Foor recalled during a Feb. 18 telephone interview.

Police requested a drivers license or a student I-Card from each person at the top of the basement stairs. Names and addresses were recorded. Results of the breath test determined who would receive a citation for underage drinking. About 70 people were cited, according to Indiana Borough police reports.

The cited students were punished by the university’s judicial system, according to a statement from IUP President Tony Atwater.

“While no suspects’ names were given at the time of the press release, as names become available, any person involved in the event who is a current student will be adjudicated through the university’s judicial system,” said Atwater in an April 10, 2006, statement on IUP’s Web site.

Atwater’s reaction to the bust demonstrated how he had made alcohol abuse one of his top concerns since his inauguration in fall 2005.

“After Atwater came into office, a few serious cases of students related to alcohol abuse grabbed his attention,” Ann Sesti, assistant director of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs program, said during a Feb. 20 interview at the IUP Center for Health and Well-Being. “He realized it was a problem on this campus and has made alcohol abuse one of his main priorities.”

However, some students think the president’s campaign to cut their alcohol consumption is impractical and contrary to ingrained campus culture.

“I think his attempts are unrealistic,” Ashley Morgenstern, 21, a junior nursing major and member of Alpha Gamma Delta, said during a Feb. 18 interview in Johnson Hall. “He needs to get real. People are going to keep drinking no matter what he tries to do. A lot of the social events that Greeks have are to bring people together to have fun. And most of these events involve alcohol.”

A former dormitory resident agreed and recounted ways that alcohol policies were routinely circumvented.

“When I lived in the dorms, we used to fill a bag full of alcohol and haul it up on the elevator because the RA never checked or came into our room,” IUP senior Stephen Burton, 21, said during a Feb. 18 interview in Stapleton Library.

But Atwater is not the only university official who has tackled student-drinking habits. Before he became president, a commission studied the university’s alcohol policy and imposed stricter and clearer consequences for underage drinking, Sesti said.

“Before the revision, punishment differed on a case-to-case basis,” said Sesti. “Since the revision, it doesn’t matter if a student had one or 12 beers. The consequences would be the same.”

The new alcohol policy went into effect on Aug. 20, 2005. Atwater was not involved in the revision, but he did approve it, Sesti said.

The revised policy prohibits students from having alcoholic beverages on university property. An exception is reserved for students who are 21 or older, who reside in University Towers and who drink privately in their apartments.

Moreover, IUP faculty and students collaborated in spring and summer 2005 to revise IUP’s judicial sanctions and create stricter penalties for underage drinking, Kate Linder, associate dean of students for student life, said during a March 10 telephone interview.

“IUP faculty and students created recommendations and then the recommendations were sent to the president and his vice presidents for approval,” said Linder. “There was some crossover of the people involved in recommendations for judicial sanctions and in the President’s Commission. But they are not the same committee.”

The revised sanctions included four punishments, ranging from removal from university housing for one calendar year for the first offense to expulsion from the university for the fourth offense.

On Nov. 1, 2005, Atwater formed the President’s Commission on Reducing Substance Abuse to create a detailed approach to reduce student alcohol abuse. The still-active 52-member commission includes IUP faculty members, students, administrators and community leaders, according to the Office of the President’s Web site.

On May 31, 2006, Atwater approved the commission’s recommendations to cut substance abuse on campus. The recommendations focused on student education and on prevention programs, according to his Web site.

“The policy is to create safety on campus,” said Sesti. “The goal is to change student’s perceptions about drinking on campus.”

Since 2005, alcohol citations have decreased on campus, Sesti said. In calendar year 2005 alcohol citations — including liquor-law, public-drunkenness and DUI violations — totaled 292. In 2008, citations totaled 97, a 67 percent drop, according to the IUP Center of Health and Well-Being in G59 Maple East Suite.

University judicial disciplinary acts related to alcohol have decreased as well. In academic year 2004-2005 students facing alcohol charges totaled 2,907. In 2007-2008 charges totaled 1,800, 38 percent decline.

Annual surveys administered to students in on-campus housing suggest that students’ alcohol consumption may have decreased, Sesti said.

One survey question is, “How many drinks do you consume per event?” The response of students saying they consume no alcohol has increased since the president’s commission became active.

In calendar year 2005, 26 percent of survey respondents said they did not consume alcohol. In calendar year 2006, following activation of the commission, the no-alcohol response increased to 39 percent. In calendar year 2008, 42 percent said they do not consume alcohol.

Three years have passed since the Phi Kappa Psi underage-drinking bust. But time has not erased Foor’s bad memories of that night.

“It is hard to believe that such extreme measures were taken,” said Foor.

Christina Winesickle, a senior majoring in journalism and nursing, is from Bedford.


Sidebar: Fast Facts

For more information on student substance abuse at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, contact the following sources:

William Sutton
Public Safety and Police
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
80 N. 8th Street
Indiana, Pa 15705
Phone: 724-349-2121

Ann Sesti
Assistant Director
Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Program
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Center for Health and Well-Being
Suites on Maple East – Suite G59
901 Maple Street
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-9355

Dr. Ronda Luckey
Vice President
Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs
John Sutton Hall, Room 211-216
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: 724-357-2220

Kate Linder
Associate Dean of Students for Student Life
Center for Student Life
Pratt Hall, Room 102
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa 15701
Phone: 724-357-1264

Tony Atwater
John Sutton Hall, Room 201
1011 South Drive
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa 15701
Phone: 724-357-2200

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