Underage referrals and citations for consumption of alcohol have tripled this year at the University of South Dakota compared to 2011, police officials said.
According to the University Police Department, as of Sept. 24, 49 arrests and 48 referrals dealing with underage drinking have been documented since Jan. 1, 2012.
UPD Lt. Dallas Schnack said that for the entire year of 2011 there were only 17 arrests and 5 referrals made that dealt with minors drinking alcohol illegally.
“When people think of a college campus they think of certain things, and I know that drinking and partying is going to be one of those things,” Schnack said. “It may be that there is this image that this is what you do when you come to college.”
Schnack said there are many reasons that could account for the increase of numbers, but he said he could not put blame on any particular cause.
“UPD procedure involving the bikes and the Tahoe have put us in much more contact with the public at night,” Schnack said. “We are out and about more having contact with people. But in all honesty, the culture of drinking alcohol seems to be growing. I don’t even think it’s a campus thing, I think it’s a nationwide thing. The mass culture is accepting drinking.”
While numbers have increased significantly, Schnack clarified that many of the arrests have nothing to do with students on campus.
“Now, out of these (numbers for 2012), half of these are not students,” Schnack said. “At this time last year, it was about a quarter of them who were not students, which means we are also dealing with a lot more non-students on campus, or at least around campus.”
All alcohol incidents involving arrests and citations require the Vermillion Police Department to become involved, and Chief of Police Matt Betzen said he has not personally noticed any differences in violations from years previous, but he said he could understand why there is an increase.
“Last year, we had fewer numbers than we did the year before (2010), but we also had far fewer officers on staff,” Betzen said. “If the numbers are up, it’s because we’re doing a better job enforcing.”
Betzen said there are a lot of reasons minors choose to drink, but a big contributing factor is peer pressure.
“There’s a lot of peer pressure, and alcohol seems to be to some method of overcoming your natural disinclinations,” Betzen said. “Our goal is just to deter underage drinking.”
Senior Laurie Nordahl said in many instances, people tend to think coming to college means going out to parties and drinking.
“People think it’s cool,” Nordahl said. “It almost becomes expected to drink when you come to college.”
Dean of Students Kim Grieve said while there is an increase of underage drinking, it does not mean it has become any more acceptable.
“I don’t think we are becoming more accepting of it, but more students are engaging in underage drinking,” Grieve said. “They just don’t understand what we believe to be responsible drinking on this campus.”
First-year Andi Manakdan said underage drinking on campus is becoming noticeable.
“I see a lot of people looking for alcohol on the weekend, walking around looking for a house party,” Manakdan said.
According to UPD, in many cases under university policy, students who are caught underage drinking will be cited with a referral before they are arrested.
“Our policy has always been that when we are patrolling on campus and when we deal with students who are cooperative, our first thing to do is send them to Student Rights and Responsibilities (SRR),” Schnack said. “That’s why there are 48 referrals and not 100 arrests, because those who are cooperative will be sent to SRR.”
If referred to SRR, students will be asked to discuss the reported incident with committee members, which includes Grieve, and will then be sanctioned.
“We have moved away from fine sanctions, and look more to community service and restorative justice,” said Grieve.
Schnack said one reason underage consumption has increased is due to the fact that there are more wet houses around campus, but he said drinking in the residence halls has also swelled.
“Over 90 percent of all alcohol incidents that occur in the dorms result in a referral to SRR,” Schnack said. “The other 10 percent that are getting citations are more than likely a non-student or they were uncooperative.”
New to campus policy is the allowance of alcohol in permitted units within Coyote Village and McFadden residence halls.
Phil Covington, associate dean of students, said he does not believe the new policy correlates to the increase in underage drinking.
“I don’t think in any way have we (USD) sent a mixed message,” Covington said. “The policy isn’t the issue, it’s the choices, and so we need to focus more on education.”
The policy currently allows certain parts of fourth floor Coyote Village and first floor McFadden to house alcohol if inhabitants are of age and have received permission from the university.