By Michael B. Murphy
Assistant News Editor
By Alex Shuman
By Cristina Valente
An unscientific survey of 400 FSU students, conducted by The Gatepost from Nov. 15 through Nov. 20, found that over one-fourth of students have driven drunk at least once.
A majority want a “no questions asked” transportation system on campus.
When asked how often students had operated a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, 111 of the 400 students surveyed answered at least once and 289 answered never.
Dean of Students Melinda Stoops was alarmed upon hearing that students do not always use a designated driver.
“If [students] are going off campus and they know they are going to be drinking, I would encourage them to discuss it beforehand instead of at the end being stuck and saying, ‘Oh, who’s okay to drive?’”
When asked whether they had been a passenger in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver at least once, 224 of the 400 students surveyed answered “yes.”
“That’s really concerning,” said Stoops. “They know the risk involved. My guess is that it’s not a lack of knowledge. The problem, obviously, is when people are intoxicated, they don’t make good choices. At the time, their decision-making process was probably impaired by the alcohol in their system.
“It goes back to, ‘How did they find themselves in this situation where they felt like they had no other choice than to get in a car with an impaired driver or to drive themselves?’” Stoops asked.
In 2009, according to AlcoholAlert. com, 33 percent of people killed in alcohol-related accidents were not driving the vehicle – they were either passengers in the vehicle or non-occupants.
Students want transport system for potential drunk drivers
When asked whether having a “no questions asked” transportation system back to campus on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights would be beneficial to the FSU community, 379 of 400 students surveyed answered “yes.”
SGA President Hannah Bruce said she recognizes the need for school-sponsored measures to help curb drunk driving. “We need to recognize that students are going to drink, so why not promote
safety rather than expecting students to refrain from drinking? It’s an unrealistic expectation.”
Freshman James Chege, a chemistry major, said, “I think people drink and drive because they think it’s their only way to get home. If there was a way to get home without having to
drive, it would be a lot safer and save lives.”
Senior English major Emily Zarnoch said, “A safe ride is a great idea. Students will be much safer and I believe many students would use it after Ashley Donahue’s death.”
Donahue was a junior communication arts major when she was killed in an alleged drunk driving accident on Badger Road in Framingham in December of 2011. Donahue was a
passenger in a car operated by fellow student Brooke Uttley, who had offered to drive several students back to Framingham State after an off-campus party.
According to police reports, Uttley had been driving around 60 mph when her car veered off the road and smashed into a telephone pole, ejecting Donahue out the vehicle’s back window. The posted speed limit on the road is 25.
Police at the scene determined Uttley’s blood alcohol level to be .10. The legal limit is .08.
Uttley is set to face trial at the Middlesex District Court in June, where she will reportedly plead guilty to charges of vehicular homicide, operating under the influence and driving to endanger. Uttley has withdrawn from the university.
One survey respondent said, “In light of recent events, I think [a “no questions asked” transportation system] is a good idea.”
Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens and young adults and one-third of these deaths are alcohol related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In 2011, 9,878 people were killed in drunk driving-related accidents. To better put this statistic into perspective – every 53 minutes, someone is killed as a result of drunk driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, people between the ages of 21 to 25 are most likely to drink and drive. In 2010, persons in this age group were responsible for 34 percent of all fatal drunk driving accidents.
Stoops said, “Drinking and driving is a critical area of safety. … I’m certainly not opposed to working with students and looking into it.”
However, a school-sponsored transportation system would essentially violate FSU’s alcohol policy, which states it is against the rules to be on campus while intoxicated, said Stoops.
“It’s a challenge and there is no perfect solution. There isn’t something that we could put into place without creating a gray area.”
Even though such a transportation system may not be possible, Stoops said she hopes that by this time next
year, “at the very least we will be able to have a RamCash system in taxis.
“We wanted to work with a couple of the local cab companies to set up a system where students could use RamCash for rides back to campus after hours. The snag we ran into was the technology.”
ID scanners used around campus and at places like CVS and Papa Gino’s are only available at stationary locations, and the RamCash system has not yet been made portable.
“The technology doesn’t exist for the company that we use,” said Stoops “But, on the positive side, they think that by next academic year, they’ll have a system developed.
“There’s no way to do it right now. It’s something that we are definitely looking into,” she added.
Laura Stagliola, a junior history major, said, “I think it’s a good idea in theory, but I don’t think many students always have RamCash – my mom doesn’t put RamCash on my card anymore, and I really only use it to do laundry.”
Siobhan McLernon, a senior communication arts major, said, “If taxi rides were discounted for students, then I think it would be used a lot more. … Students are going to drink regardless of the rules, and to give them the option to have a safe ride back to campus without having to pay a lot for a taxi could save lives.”
FSU used to subsidize taxi vouchers for students, but ended the program in the fall of 2012. At the same time, administrators purchased a second shuttle as part of the Ram Tram program, which provides rides to a few nearby hot spots such as Shoppers World and the Natick Mall.
Salem State junior Kyle Rufo said Salem Taxi offers $5 taxi rides to students with an SSU ID. “I use it every time I go to the bars downtown.”
Some local high schools provide this service as well. Julie Briggs, a physical education teacher at Malden High School, has had a longstanding agreement with the owner of the Malden Taxi Company.
This agreement states that if a Malden High student needs a ride home, “whether they were drunk and couldn’t call their parents or they were on a date gone bad and didn’t feel safe,” they can call Malden Taxi, show them their school ID and a driver will bring them home, said Briggs.
It was a “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. I did it with my kids at home and I brought it to the kids at school,” she said.
Briggs was the advisor of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) at Malden High School for ten years. “I wanted to take care of the Malden kids.
“Kids are going to drink – 18 to 22 are the stupidest years of a person’s life, but there is no excuse for getting in a car with a drunk driver,” said Briggs.
Stoops said FSU administrators are doing more to promote safety and good decision-making. This year, FSU signed up for a service called AlcoholEdu – an online alcohol awareness and education module that must be completed by incoming freshmen before the first day of class.
“It’s more in-depth and it’s personalized,” said Stoops. “Even if you are a non-drinker, you can still benefit from AlcoholEdu. For example, it talks about recognizing the symptoms of alcohol poisoning in others.”
The AlcoholEdu program is also open to parents. “They can take a parent version, and hopefully, people will come to FSU having already talked about [alcohol].
“We are planning to use the results for programming efforts,” said Stoops. “It will be opened up to all students in the fall and it provides good education for all students.”
In addition to AlcoholEdu, Stoops is also head of the Live Safe committee that was started last spring. The committee consists of about ten members, both students and faculty.
The Live Safe committee discusses “promoting safe choices for students,” said Stoops, which could include topics ranging from drinking and driving to wearing a seat belt to not walking alone at night in unfamiliar places.
“We try to encourage students to make good choices that will keep them safe and not make choices that could put them at risk.
“We want you to have a great experience here at FSU, which involves inside and outside the classroom. We want you to have fun, we want you to go out and we want you to be safe.”
Students disagree with zero tolerance alcohol policy, want 21-plus dorm
The crux of the student drinking issue, for many of the students surveyed, was FSU’s zero tolerance alcohol policy – a policy that many surveyed believe leads students to act more secretively and more dangerously.
The FSU alcohol policy, found in the 2012-2013 Ram student handbook, states that any resident student found to be under the influence or in possession of alcohol will receive a one-week restriction from all residence halls and a one-week restriction from participating in any school-sponsored events for the first offense.
Some students who violate the policy can pay a $175 fine to avoid suspension from residence halls.
Successful completion of an alcohol education and assessment program at the FSU’s Health Center and a fine increasing with offenses is also part of all sanctions. The punishment’s increase with a second offense and a third violation can result in a 16-week suspension from the university.
When asked if they agreed with FSU’s alcohol policy, 215 of the 400 students surveyed answered “no” and 100 students answered “yes.” Eightyfive students said they were “not sure.”
Many student survey respondents indicated they believe that FSU’s dry campus policy, ironically, endangers students more than would a policy that was less strict.
“I think if FSU got rid of the no alcohol policy, the community would act more safely with regard to drinking instead of having to drink in secret,” said an anonymous survey taker.
Senior Samantha Clementi, a fashion major, said she believes the zero-tolerance policy should be lifted because the harsh penalties from getting caught drinking have led many students to commit risky behavior to avoid being caught.
“I don’t think it helps,” Clementi said. “People go out and don’t think about getting back to campus, or think they’ll get in trouble, so they drive with a friend or get themselves in a bad situation. It’s not the only factor, but I think [incidents] like that would be reduced” were it not for the dry campus policy.
Another survey respondent said, “People should not be afraid to call [campus police] for fear of getting in trouble if someone needs medical help/ attention.”
Psychology major Marc Amedee, a sophomore, believes the repercussions for violating the university’s alcohol policy are too punitive, as students are punished harshly after first offenses.
“It’s such a hassle if you get caught,” Amedee said, “and you have to complete online courses and go to meetings. I’d say 99.1 percent of students would want this place to be a wet campus.”
One survey respondent, who self identified as a non-drinker, believes the FSU policy is unfair to students, many of whom are of legal drinking age.
“Anyone over 21 shouldn’t have to lose their privilege of drinking if they are mature and old enough to drink,” the student said.
Junior business administration major Nate Labreche said he got in trouble with FSUPD for having an unopened 12-pack of beer in his car while parked in the Maple 1 lot.
“I was 22 at the time and stopped at the liquor store before class, left the beer in the car during class, and got in trouble with [campus police] after class. This should not be considered eligible for getting in trouble,” said Labreche.
Dean Stoops said she recognizes that the zero-tolerance policy has caused many students to have a “students against the administration” mindset.
“It’s like a ‘we want to drink and you won’t let us’-type of thing,” Stoops said. “The bottom line is, I’m not telling students of age never to drink – that’s not what I’m about, and that’s not what my message personally is.”
When asked whether they believe FSU should provide a 21-plus residence hall where alcohol would be permitted, 346 students responded “yes” and 54 said “no.”
Previous Gatepost surveys have found similarly strong support for a 21-plus dorm. A 2006 survey conducted by The Gatepost, which found that 162 of 200 FSU seniors would support a 21-plus dorm. A 2007 survey found that 145 of 200 seniors supported such a residence.
Having spoken to many staff members who worked at FSU before it became a dry campus, Stoops said the wet campus environment was non-conducive to students’ learning and safety.
“I’ve heard that, prior to the change, we had an environment here where not only was there heavy alcohol use, but a lot of disruption to the college environment at the time – student life, damage in the residence halls and things you would expect to have with drinking on campus,” Stoops said.
Years ago, of-age students were given the option of living in Linsley Hall, a “wet” dorm where they were allowed to drink. The residence, on the opposite side of Adams Road, is the most secluded dorm on campus. Linsley became a “dry” dorm in 1999.
FSU used to have an on-campus pub located where the Ram’s Den Grille is currently, where students could host events and watch sports games on TV.
Administrators, under the leadership of then-President Helen Heineman, began slowly phasing out usage of the pub starting in the fall of 1999, when the pub only served alcohol Mondays and Fridays. After the pub was renovated in the fall of 2000, McCarthy’s served alcohol only sporadically, usually for senior class events, and was closed for good a few years ago.
Even after the bar stopped carrying alcohol, McCarthy’s remained a popular spot for hosting events such as open mics and poetry slams, and continued to sport a long bar counter on its right side. McCarthy’s was renovated into a dining location in 2010.
Of the 10 schools in the Massachusetts state university and UMass systems, only two – UMass Amherst and UMass Dartmouth – currently have oncampus bars.
Almost half of FSU students drink on campus
Although the alcohol policy clearly states that students cannot be under the influence or in possession of alcohol while on campus, many students said they have found ways to bring the contraband onto campus and into their dorms.
Students surveyed were asked how often they drink on campus. Of the 400 students surveyed, 100 answered “one to three days a month” and 73 students answered between “one to three days a week.” Eight students answered that they drink on campus “four or more days a week.”
The majority of the students surveyed, 219, said they “never” drink on campus.
When asked to rate the level of difficulty of bringing alcohol into residence halls, 97 out of the 400 students surveyed answered “very easy” and 139 students answered “somewhat easy.” Only 49 students answered it was “difficult” to sneak alcohol past RAs and 115 students said they’ve “never attempted.”
Catie Andris, a sophomore English major and student desk attendant, said she could not speak of incidences where students were caught bringing alcohol into residence halls, but explained the search is limited to students’ book bags or purses.
“We have residents open [bags and purses], and then we have this wooden stick sort of thing that we poke around in the bag with,” Andris said. “If there’s a sweatshirt or laptop in the bag keeping us from seeing all of the bag’s contents, we may ask the resident to remove said objects.”
Andris said RAs and student desk attendants are not allowed to touch, with their hands, any personal belongings of students inside their purses or book bags due to privacy rights.
When asked if bag checks are conducted randomly or every time a student enters a residence hall, Andris said, “Everybody [gets checked], 24 hours a day. Everyone’s bag. Seven days a week.”
Despite these efforts, FSU students claim to have found ways to bring alcohol into their rooms.
Nicole Davignon, a senior English major, said, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen other students do it all the time. Students have gotten so sneaky about it though, so it’s harder to figure out how they’re doing it.”
Students say FSU’s policy more strict than other schools’
When asked if students believe FSU’s alcohol policy is more or less strict than those at other state universities, 303 of the 400 students said they believe Framingham State’s is more strict.
Fifty-three students said it is equally strict, 9 students said it is less strict and 36 students are not familiar with other schools’ policies.
Alcohol policies at other schools in the state university and UMass systems vary, as do the sanctions that come with violating them. FSU and Worcester State are the only two fully dry public campuses in the state.
Salem, Bridgewater and MCLA are dry, with on-campus wet dorms or apartments.
At Fitchburg, Westfield, UMass Dartmouth and MassArt, students over 21 can drink in their dorms.
UMass Amherst residence halls have designated 21-plus floors where drinking is allowed. At UMass Lowell, only two of eight dorms are dry. UMass Boston is a commuter school, which does not have residence halls.
School administrators at all wet campuses set guidelines for the amounts of alcohol that can be stored in each room, as well as other measures aimed at reducing binge drinking, such as banning beer funnels, kegs and ice luges. Sanctions for alcohol violations at Massachusetts’ public schools vary.
Framingham is the only school which suspends students from res halls for first alcohol-related offenses.
School policy dictates that resident students who violate the alcohol policy are suspended for one week from living in or visiting dorms and participating in campus events.
A second violation gets residents a five-week suspension, 16 weeks for a third.
At Westfield State, students are required to complete 10 hours of community service for a first offense, are suspended from housing for one semester for a second, and receive another one-semester housing suspension for a third.
UMass Dartmouth students are also required to give 10 hours of “community restitution” for a first violation. For second offenses, students are required to complete more hours of service in addition to other sanctions. Third offenses lead to suspension or dismissal from their res hall or from the school.
At Salem State, first-time violators are placed under “residential review,” while second-time violators receive a one-year suspension from residence halls. A third violation results in suspension from the university.
A first violation at Worcester State could result either in a written warning or one semester of probation, depending on the situation. A second violation, however, could result in a res hall suspension of up to one year, while a third could mean expulsion either from dorms or from the university itself.
Bridgewater State students who violate the school’s alcohol policy might also just receive a written warning, but a second offense leads to a res hall suspension of unspecified length, and a third offense could lead to university suspension.
After first offenses at Fitchburg State, students have to complete an education program and pay a small fine. A second violation leads to a semester-long suspension from res halls and a third leads to university suspension for one semester.
At UMass Amherst, first-time violators receive two years of housing probation and two more violations lead to permanent housing removal.
UMass Lowell students receive a written warning for their first offense, followed by a year of probation and removal from housing for second and third offenses, respectively.
Violations at MassArt, according to an online policy outline, are met with unspecified “disciplinary sanctions” handed down by a Hearing Officer. A third offense for underage drinking, though, can result in expulsion.
All schools require students to complete some version of an alcohol education course for most violations.
Three-fourths of students drink off campus
Students surveyed were asked how often they consume alcohol off campus. 149 out of the 400 students surveyed answered between “one to three days a month,” 73 students answered between “one to three days a week,” 21 students answered “four or more days a week,” and 107 students said they never drink off campus.
When asked how often students attend off-campus parties where alcohol is served, 116 of the 400 students surveyed answered “once or twice a month,” 67 students answered “a few times a month,” 76 students answered “often,” and 141 students responded that they never attend off-campus parties.
A majority of students, 254 of the 400 students surveyed, said they drank “to socialize,” two students answered they drank due to “peer pressure,” 64 students said they drank “to get drunk.” Five students answered they drank “to avoid/escape something” and 75 students said they drink for “other” reasons. Some students who answered “other” said they drink because they enjoy the taste of alcohol, and that it helps them relax.
Students surveyed were asked how much they drink on average in one sitting. 122 of the 400 students surveyed answered “one to two drinks,” 138 students answered “three to four drinks,” 51 students answered “five to six drinks,” 49 students answered “more than six drinks” and 41 students answered they do not drink.
Health and Wellness Program Coordinator Judy Grob-Whiting said she was not surprised by the survey results overall.
According to Grob-Whiting, in 2011, Health Services conducted a “Core” survey, which is used nationwide, about alcohol use among students. The results showed the average student believes 98 percent of the student body drinks alcohol. The actual number of students who said they do drink is 73 percent, according to GrobWhiting.
“They are thinking ‘Oh, everybody drinks,’ when in actuality, three-fourths are drinking, and they are drinking quite responsibly,” said Grob-Whiting. From the “Core” survey, she concluded that the average student who drinks has only three drinks per week.
“The perception out there is that everybody is drinking vast quantities, but that is not true. In reality, people are drinking moderately or not at all.” She said that this perception is prevalent due to the fact that binge drinkers are “more visible” than conservative and moderate drinkers.
The Gatepost’s survey found that the majority of students said they consumed four or fewer drinks in one sitting. “That does not meet the definition of binge drinking, which is a good thing,” she said.
The CDC defines “binge drinking” as “when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours.”
Grob-Whiting works with students who have violated FSU’s alcohol policy, and said she notices a large number of students in the mandatory course are students under 21, particularly freshmen.
“They [freshmen] may not have had a whole lot of experience [drinking] prior to college … with the perception that everyone drinks in college,” she said. “Usually, students 21-plus drink more responsibly. They go out and they drink in a very safe way.
“I see the students who do violate the alcohol policy, and some are students who rarely drink, or drink moderately, but one time, they did the wrong thing,” said Grob-Whiting.