Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Alcohol policy violations down in ’07

Significantly fewer students are running afoul of the University’s alcohol policy, and experts on the front lines of the DU alcohol policy say they are pleased as punch that the numbers are falling.

As of June 18, total alcohol violations for the academic year that began July 1, 2006, were down 19 percent compared to the same date in 2005–06, from 288 to 232. Perhaps more importantly, DU officials say, the number of students busted for booze on more than one occasion has been cut 40 percent, from 110 students to 66.

Alcohol-related probations are down 30 percent, from 158 to 110, and alcohol-related suspensions are down 33 percent, from 18 to 12.

“We attribute it to ‘the class,’” says Kristin Olson, assistant director of the office of Citizenship and Community Standards. “And the code.”

The “class” is a three-hour alcohol-awareness seminar that costs the student assigned to it $50 and requires a confessional letter to their parents followed by a 500-word essay on what they’ve learned.

The “code” is an online quiz about the University’s Standards of Conduct that more than 1,000 students have passed since the quiz debuted as a pilot program in spring 2005. Olson says the quiz ensures that students are informed about policy and eliminates the “I didn’t know” defense that often crops up in disciplinary situations.

Olson says the code quiz at is working so well that as of the end of May, passing the quiz will be a new prerequisite for students registering for their first-year seminar.

“People do need to know the code before they come in,” says Olson, noting that alcohol class attendees typically are under 21, male, saturated with myths about drinking and more than a little unhappy about having to take the class.

Which is why class instructor Katie Dunker, struggling to convert a punishment into a positive experience, focuses on harm reduction instead of abstinence. She and Olson think the approach works.

“Some universities emphasize abstinence because the [drinking] age is 21,” says Dunker, health promotion coordinator for the Health & Counseling Center. “A more realistic approach is, ‘Here’s how to keep yourself safe if and when you choose to drink.’ Without saying ‘drink less,’ [we give them] ways to avoid more serious consequences.

“It’s all geared toward harm reduction. And I think that’s why students have been so responsive.”

Olson says the approach is in line with the citizenship office’s case-by-case philosophy, in which the wellbeing of the student and the potential for changing behavior become more important as the severity of an offense escalates.

“Are we going to throw this student off campus and let them fend for themselves?” says Dunker. “Or are we going to assist this student, retain this student?”

The philosophy requires attention to perplexing problems, such as what to do about students who “pre-party” by binge-drinking before boarding a “party bus” to go downtown.

Or how to cope with drug use violations, which as of June 18 were at 83, equal to what they were on that date in 2005–06. Olson and Dunker are weighing whether to develop an awareness class about marijuana, which is the substance involved in about 97 percent of the drug violations, and how such a class could be structured.

“There are a lot of myths out there,” Dunker says.

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