NIU hopes to end underage drinking

By Jennifer McCabe

Underage students on campus better watch out: NIU is cracking down on minors drinking alcohol.

The NIU Judicial Office has strengthened its rules on underage drinking, said Larry Bolles, director of the office.

At the beginning of each year, he said there are quite a few cases of underage possession, but that usually dies down around November. “It is not unusual to see a lot of drinking on campus,” Bolles said.

Most of these situations occur in the residence halls in a party situation, Bolles said. Other situations occur when students are caught outside of their rooms, in the hallways and other sections in the residence halls. He said even if students are over 21, they still cannot drink alcoholic beverages in public.

All of the students found in a room drinking, in a “party atmosphere (six or more students),” will be written up and charged $50. However, it does not necessarily have to be more than six students.

“You can have a one-person party. You also can have a party with or without alcohol. The staff has to make the judgement,” Bolles said.

When underage students are written up for any alcohol offense in the residence halls for the first time, they are fined and referred to Students Understanding Drinking, Drugs and Self (SUDDS), the drinking program on campus.

The SUDDS program is working to educate NIU students about drugs and alcohol. The program is intended to reach students who do not have a problem, but were caught violating the alcohol policies in their residence hall, NIU Health Educator Amy Havasi said.

She said the program is given as a preventative action to keep students from having future problems with alcohol and drugs. “Hopefully, it is given early enough to keep them from having future problems.”

It is a non-credit, two-part session that includes homework and a test students must pass. Havasi said most people do pass the test, but the ones who do not have to talk to her about the problem.

There are 15 to 20 sessions a year, depending on how many students are referred to the program. The program takes referrals from the residence halls, fraternities and sororities, and from the police.

On the second offense, the student is referred for an alcohol assessment in the University Health Services, along with the $50 fine.

Students also have to remember they are responsible for their guests, and can be fined for any rules the guests may break while visiting NIU, Bolles said.

“This started four to five years ago when students from other schools were trying to get away with not following the rules and exonerating the resident. Now, (the guest) will be asked to leave and the resident will have to pay the fine,” he said.

Bolles said there are two different kinds of offenses. Level One involves minor cases. The student may be caught with a can of beer or something similar. Level Two is more serious offenses, like party atmospheres, buying alcohol for minors or having kegs in residence hall rooms.

The local police and bars are cracking down on underage drinkers as well. Bolles said the DeKalb Liquor Commission is making sure the bars are following the liquor code, or their licenses will not be renewed.

He said one of three things are happening. Students are drinking in the residence halls, they are drinking off-campus in a private residence or they give up drinking all together, which is least probable of the three.

“Underage drinking hasn’t changed, they are just drinking in different places, which can be dangerous because these places are less controlled,” Havasi said.

There is not a major problem with hard drugs; alcohol is the drug of choice for most NIU students, Bolles said.

Havasi said generally two-thirds of NIU college students drink less then five drinks when they “party.” The number of students who drink less while in a party atmosphere steadily has been increasing.

She continued, “NIU has a smaller number of hard drinkers than other colleges across the country. At NIU, the drinking is moderated, and it doesn’t matter whether they are underage or not.”

Havasi also said NIU students aren’t much different from other students at schools similar to this one. There is one big difference, however. High-dose use of alcohol is declining at NIU, where at other institutions it is not.

Bolles said it is almost impossible for the school to offset the effects the millions of dollars in advertising the beer companies use to target college students. The school just does not have the same funds to spread the word about the effects of alcohol.

It is very risky for a 21-or-over student to buy alcohol for underage students. If they are hurt while under the influence, the older student will be held responsible. They will be contributing to “the delinquency of a minor,” and repeat violations will get the student suspended from school.

Students who violate the law more then once, are required to go for an alcohol assessment in the health services. This determines whether they need to go for counseling. The school only has short-term counseling, but they will recommend students who have a major problem to leave campus and go for long-term counseling, Bolles said.

“The students need to know that the rules will be enforced here, and we are working with the local authorities,” Bolles said.