Tolerance Level

A look at the recent alcohol related policies and how they’re affecting the Elon community

 

By Daniel Temple

The cold night air penetrates through my multiple layers of clothing, as I stand shivering outside the Elon Police Department.  It’s Friday night, and I’m about to spend the next 3 hours riding along with a member of the Elon police department in order to witness first hand the enforcement that affects so many students at Elon. 

Although the town of Elon doesn’t interfere with school judicial policies, the two sides work with one another in an effort to cut back on underage and high risk drinking amongst students.  It is often through the town of Elon Police that students are reported to the University’s judicial affairs. 

The police car drives up and officer B.K Roof comes out to greet me.  After I briefly explain the purpose of my article, we get in the car, buckle up, and head out to patrol the area. 

The issue of alcohol

            In January of 2007, Elon President Leo Lambert appointed a task force to address the issue of student drinking.  As a result, a number of policies were implemented and revised in order to reflect Elon’s updated stance on the issue alcohol. 

            While school officials maintain that the student’s best interests were in mind with the recent policies, a number of students can’t help but feel frustrated.  They claim that Elon’s new position on alcohol is overly aggressive, and that the school is making serious encroachments into their social life. 

            The school on the other hand feels that it is imperative that they take a sincere approach to the issue, in order to ensure the safety of the students, as well as to maintain a certain level of academic and social integrity. 

            Still however, the debate rages on.

The student’s response

 

            One of the biggest complaints from students is that the school has become too involved in the private lives of its students. 

            “These new policies are ridiculous,” said Ryan Davis, a junior at Elon.  “The school is basically trying to control how we party, which they shouldn’t have the power to do.”

            Drinking has always been a visible part of the Elon community.  In fact, the most recent CORE data (2007) shows that Elon students drink almost twice the amount of alcohol per week as students nationally (10.4 vs. 5.4 drinks). 

            “It’s kind of hard not to drink here at Elon,” said Lindsay Collins, a freshman from Boston, Massachusetts.  “It seems like nearly everyone is drinking at the bar, parties or tail gate events.” 

            It’s this kind of atmosphere that Elon is trying to cut down on.  However, the increased sanctions for alcohol violations, along with a greater enforcement presence have certainly caught the attention of the student body. 

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            “Elon has just taken this whole alcohol thing and gone over-the-top,” said Davis.  “They’ve really gotten out of control.” 

            Many students come to Elon and hear stories about how the school used to turn a blind eye to such behavior.  A few graduates recalled the social atmosphere when they came to Elon as freshman.

 

            “When I first came to school, you didn’t see as many people being written up like you do now,” said Justin Ellis, a 2007 graduate.  “Alcohol had a much bigger presence back then, and the school was definitely a lot more lenient.”

            Many students and graduates agree that the school has changed, not just in its policies, but in the way students are partying.  They feel as if the policies have taken away some of the fun at Elon, as current students are hesitant to engage in drinking and risk possible sanctions. 

            “These new policies have certainly detracted from the overall social atmosphere at Elon,” said Bill Campbell, a 2004 graduate.  “Everyone is just too wound up over an issue that really isn’t that big of a deal.”

The school’s officials speak out

            While many students feel as if the school is intruding on their personal freedoms, Elon officials say that the revised policies and position was done to protect the students, rather than limit their social activities. 

            “The ultimate goal for the new policies here at Elon is to clarify our position on alcohol, as well as to educate students on the dangers of high risk drinking,” said Jeff Clark, a math professor and faculty co-chair on the task force on alcohol.  “We want students to know that this sort of behavior is detrimental to themselves and to the university, and must be dealt with accordingly.”

            Clark said that he believes the changes that have been made are good ones.  He wants students to excel, and doesn’t want to see students handicap themselves by participating in dangerous, high risk drinking. 

            “We really tried to approach this issue from all angles,” said Clark.  “We certainly didn’t want to lead a witch hunt, but it was imperative that we got the message across to the students.” 

            Interestingly enough, since the inception of the new policies, although the number of judicial reports concerning alcohol violations have increased, the number of violations has actually gone down. 

From June 2006 to June 2007 there were a total of 1118 reported incidents with 623 violations.  From June 2007 to June 2008 there were 1204 reported incidents with only 554 violations. 

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Essentially this means that the school is taking a more aggressive approach by reporting every incident, but is still exercising discretion in how the situation is dealt with. 

            “I think that our whole attitude reflects a nationwide sentiment,” said Whitney Pack-Gregory, assistant director of judicial affairs.  “We can no longer just turn away, we must respond, but at the same time we’re going to look at every incident carefully with a certain level of sensitivity.”

            Both Jeff Clark and Whitney Pack-Gregory believe that Elon is more or less on the same level as other schools regarding its policies toward alcohol and drinking.  Each said that a number of other schools were looked at when revisions were being made, particularly those that share similarities with Elon as an institution. 

            “We spent a lot of time looking at how other schools such as Duke, handled their own issues with student drinking,” said Clark. 

            “We feel that our policies are essentially the same as other schools,” said Pack-Gregory.  “The differences come from how much enforcement is being utilized.”

The Enforcers, perspective from the Elon Police

            It’s a cold night outside, but the heat inside the police car makes it seem almost cozy.  As Officer Roof begins making his rounds, it’s interesting to see how expansive the town of Elon actually is.

            “Most students don’t actually realize this but the town of Elon itself is actually around 5 square miles,” says Roof.  “We actually deal with a lot more than just the school and its students.”

            In fact, as we circle around and patrol the area, much of the time is spent driving through neighborhoods and back roads, and not through the campus. 

            “Some students think that we focus primarily on their behavior,” says Roof.  “But we treat them just like we would every other citizen of the town.”

Roof has been working in the Elon area since 1998, and so he has a lot of experience of dealing with students and drinking.  He talked about the kinds of things he looked for when dealing with students and illegal drinking.  

“A lot of the time I’ll notice non verbal cues that indicate that the student is doing something wrong,” says Roof.  “Location also factors into the equation, it’s known that there are certain places around Elon where drinking is most likely to occur.” 

Roof agrees that over the last 10 years, as the town and school have begun to crack down on drinking, students have in turn become more conscientious of their behavior.

He says that the progression has been a steady one, and while parties still occur, they are more structured and controlled than in the past.

“Of course you still have parties that go on, we know that it’s difficult to stop that in a college town,” says Roof.  “However it appears to me that the parties have gradually become less rowdy and students are becoming safer and more aware.”

Roof says that while underage and high risk drinking should be taken seriously, it can’t be the primary focus of the town’s enforcement. 

“When that happens, you lose sight of some really serious issues such as assaults and burglaries,” says Roof.  “It’s all about balance and discretion.”  

Town of Elon Police Car (Photo courtesy of www.usacops.com)

Town of Elon Police Car (Photo courtesy of http://www.usacops.com)

Discretion, according to Roof, is perhaps the most important tool and officer can have.  On a given night, Roof says that he’ll receive a variety of calls, and so it’s extremely important to exercise discretion

“Discretion is so important in police work, whether you’re dealing with a couple different situations or just one in particular,” says Roof. “You have to be able to asses the scene and act in a corresponding manner.” 

On this particular Friday night, Officer Roof isn’t called to shut down any parties nor does he issue any citations.  About the only trouble is a wild deer that was hit by a car, hardly a criminal matter. 

“As a member of the Elon police, I’m not trying to zero in or focus solely on student drinking,” says Roof.  “However at the same time it’s still the law and I am required to enforce it.”

Working together for the future

            Although the initial period following the policies was met with a bit of friction, it appears that students are slowly beginning to accept the new environment.

            “I think that right now we’re still in kind of in an awkward adolescence stage with these policies,” said Pack-Gregory.  “But with time, we’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t, and in the mean time students will become used to way things are.”

            “It’s still too early to tell how effective these policies are,” said Clark.  “But initial results indicate that the system is working, and of course we’re always open to student input regarding the situation.”

The school demonstrated this willingness to cooperate with students after they acquired Lighthouse Bar earlier this year. Officials decided to maintain the building as a bar, in order to provide a university run place where students of legal age can drink responsibly. 

            “I mean it’s not perfect,” said Collins.  “But it shows the school is willing to work with students on the issue, and that they’re not completely against drinking.”

           

           

 

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One Comment on “Tolerance Level”

  1. Janna Says:

    Hey, you will want to check this story more carefully for errors in mechanics on grammar, spelling and punctuation before you show it as a portfolio piece. While it is a good, standard story, there are some holes in it as a special-issue piece that you were to report on over the entire arc of the semester. It is still an OK portfolio piece, but in addition to mechanics problems you didn’t really do a good job getting solid data that represents the student view.

    They are represented in content like this, told in your voice: Many students and graduates agree that the school has changed, not just in its policies, but in the way students are partying. They feel as if the policies have taken away some of the fun at Elon, as current students are hesitant to engage in drinking and risk possible sanctions…

    What does “many students” mean? Since you are a student yourself, does it mean you asked some people you know? How many? When people in your audience begin asking these questions, they also begin asking themselves, “How can a student who drinks himself objectively report on students who drink?” People in your audience ask, “What does it mean that Elon is ‘less fun’ – do you have to drink alcohol to the point at which you are drunk enough to get tagged with a violation to have fun at Elon? Do you have to drink alcohol to have fun anywhere? Why?” Imprecision makes an audience doubt the veracity of the report. This was a pretty tough issue story for a student who is invested in the issue himself to tackle.

    You have definitely done a better job reporting the university’s official point of view and one policeman’s point of view than you have in truly finding out exactly how most students think about the issue, because you didn’t do a solid job of surveying a representative sample of students or digging up more specific previous survey data on the topic. You briefly mention a CORE number without explaining it or providing more depth. Many alcohol surveys have been conducted over the past decade at Elon. You could have obtained full survey data and even linked full survey reports. You could have done your own survey using Survey Monkey.

    Why is it dangerous to generalize, outside of the fact that some readers may question your depth of reporting? Another reason is to convey the true image of the community you are covering in your reporting. The policy changes you show in the chart indicate that Elon is asking students not to endanger their health with binge drinking, not to be obviously drunk in public, not to break state laws. That does not sound like an unreasonable expectation, so it could be that you are insulting the integrity of most Elon students by portraying them all as thinking college isn’t fun if you can’t publicly exhibit those behaviors. Previous Elon alcohol surveys have shown that MOST Elon students drink responsibly most of the time, and they seem to be having a pretty good amount of fun.

    I think you learned a lot from working on this article.


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