Author: Ryan Strong
The number of judicial referrals at Occidental for alcohol policy violations on-campus is nearly triple the average for Top 50 Liberal Arts Schools ranked by U.S. News according to Clery Act disclosures released this October. Amongst SCIAC colleges, Occidental’s 389 referrals for on-campus alcohol violations is more than seven times the 54 referral average for SCIAC institutions.
Occidental’s referral rates have jumped considerably in recent years. The years 2006, 2007 and 2008 had 31, 70 and 31 on-campus alcohol referrals, respectively. In 2009, that number rose to 392.
Campus Safety Director Holly Nieto explained the reason for the uptick in referrals from 2008 to 2009.
“The dramatic change in stats for alcohol and drug violations is representative in improvements in enforcement and record keeping,” Nieto said to the Weekly last year.
Some recent alumni noticed a definite change in Occidental’s approach to enforcing the alcohol policy and disciplining students for violations between 2008 and 2009.
“They got extremely strict in 2009 and took an anti-alcohol stance,” Jarred Salha ‘10 said. “The no reentry rule just caused people to get smashed. The change in strictness actually had the opposite effect that they had hoped for.”
Adam Dunbar ‘10 noted that higher enrollment means more students are going to drink and get in trouble for it, but he agreed with Salha that the administration began enforcing its alcohol policy a lot more aggressively in 2009.
“They used to pour the alcohol, now they write you up,” Dunbar said.
Administration officials, including Dean of Students Barbara Avery, say that they do not think Occidental students drink more than students at peer institutions.
Instead, they attribute much of the high number of referrals to better reporting of disciplinary issues.
A U.S. Department of Education webpage that displays referral stats for institutions includes a disclaimer that reads, “the crime data reported by the institutions have not been subjected to independent verification by the U.S. Department of Education. Therefore, the Department cannot vouch for the accuracy of the data reported here.”
Avery did also say that the high numbers may be attributable to more enforcement.
“We’re getting more reports,” Avery said. “We’re encouraging students to look out for one another.”
The strict enforcement has not curbed alcohol-related hospitalizations, evidenced most recently by Splatter, a school-sponsored dance in October, which brought a large amount of negative media attention to the college.
Some students think that the College’s focus on discipline has actually exacerbated the binge drinking.
“I think that the main problem is that it forces the drinking at Oxy underground which makes it immensely more dangerous,” Liz Wells (sophomore) said. “The RA is supposed to be the fail-safe but the RA can’t be there to stop bad things from happening in this system.”
Last week, President Veitch disagreed with the idea that the administration’s policy is contributing to binge drinking and suggested that the administration may need to step up its discipline.
“If we have a zero-tolerance policy and it’s not working, then what more can one do short of ratcheting up the consequences on the students that are involved?” he said.
Wells disagrees with Veitch.
“Its obvious that it is the severity of the policy that is not working, so why would you make the policy more severe when the severity is the problem?” Wells asked.
Harvard Lecturer and Principle Investigator for the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study Henry Wechsler has conducted numerous studies on binge drinking in college settings. One entitled “Alcohol Policy Enforcement and Changes in Student Drinking Rates in a Statewide Public College System: a follow-up study” tracks the relationship between alcohol policy and binge drinking.
“Study findings suggest that stronger enforcement of a stricter alcohol policy may be associated with reductions in student heavy drinking rates over time. An aggressive enforcement stance by deans may be an important element of an effective college alcohol policy,” Wechsler’s study concluded.
Wechsler also suggested that other factors, like environment and education, may be even more important.
“While I favor approaches that focus on controlling the alcohol environment, disciplining policy violators is also an important countermeasure,” Wechsler said via email.
In a recent Facebook post, “Oxy Housing” responded to student comments on Claremont’s alcohol enforcement practices by asserting that Occidental does pretty much the same thing as Claremont.
“[Claremont] Dean of Students Ann Quinley explains that the so-called Red Cup Rule is…an enforcement decision made to keep students from chugging the remainder of their drinks before leaving a party—a practice that can lead to alcohol poisoning,” the post read. “Students aren’t stopped as long as their behavior is not loud or unruly. However, if the student appears to be drunk, Campus Safety will ask what’s in the cup and cite him or her accordingly. Oxy does very much the same thing. If you are calling negative attention to yourself, the college will address the behavior.”
But student David Cotton (sophomore) disagrees with the college’s characterization.
“That is simply not true. Oxy’s policy isn’t even comparable to Claremont’s,” he wrote on Facebook in response. “You would be stopped immediately at Oxy whether in a dorm by an RA or by Campus Safety on the street for carrying a red cup around. Oxy’s policy creates the same problem that Ann
Quinley fears, students chug drinks behind closed doors and scenarios like Splatter arise.”
The “Red Cup Rule” and the principles behind those policy decisions have been in place at Claremont Schools for about seven years, considering that Oxy Housing’s exact quote of Quinley appears in a 2005 online edition of the Pomona College Magazine. Quinley left Pomona back in 2007, but the principles behind Claremont’s approach continue.
As Claremont was moving toward a less disciplinary approach to alcohol consumption on campus, by 2009 Occidental had decided to take a more disciplinary approach. The five Claremont-affiliated undergraduate institutions had 216 total alcohol disciplinary referrals last year combined, compared to Occidental’s 389. The five Claremont institutions have over 5,000 students combine
d compared to Occidental’s 2,000.
All of the Claremont institutions receive federal financial aid dollars for their students and are required to abide by the same laws regarding alcohol policy enforcement as Occidental.
Though many colleges’ alcohol policies precisely mirror the state and local laws concerning alcohol, Occidental is not the only college that adds further restrictions to its policy. Occidental bans drinking games and bulk containers like many other colleges.
Occidental also goes beyond state law, which prohibits underage possession, consumption or purchasing of alcohol, by prohibiting underage students from being in the presence of alcohol. Whittier College also prohibits underage students from being in the presence of alcohol but carves out an exception in cases when a roommate of age is drinking in a room he/she shares with an underage student, so as not to exile underage students from their own rooms. Occidental does not subscribe to that exception.
California Lutheran goes further than both Whittier and Occidental, maintaining a complete ban on drinking by both underage and of age students anywhere on campus, according to its Student Handbook.
Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, with 375 alcohol referrals, had by far the most referrals of any college ranked ahead of Occidental by U.S. news that was sampled. Occidental is ranked 37 in the U.S. news rankings used. Trinity and Union College, both ranked lower than Occidental, exceeded Occidental’s referral rate at 458 and 586 respectively.
Along with the alcohol referrals, all of the colleges’ drug policy violation referral statistics were also compiled. Occidental had nearly five times as many drug policy referrals as the average for SCIAC colleges and over two times more than the average top 50 liberal arts college.
Occidental College’s referral rate for on-campus alcohol and drug violations also outrank several large research institutions. Among 10 of those schools sampled, the average enrollment was 31,000 students and the average number of alcohol and drug policy referrals was 198 and 46 respectively. In general, a high percentage of students who attend large universities do not live on campus, unlike at Occidental. The research university statistic states that at least some large universities report fewer on-campus alcohol violations than Occidental. It does not scientifically represent the average number of referrals for all large research institutions.
All the statistics in the article are publicly available due to the Clery Act, which mandates that colleges publish statistics on crime and discipline on or near campus annually. To look up crime and discipline statistics for any college go to http://ope.ed.gov/security/index.aspx.
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