UNCA offers a healthy solution to underage drinking

By Meredith Foster – Staff Writer – m[email protected]
Changes in the alcoholic beverage consumption policy at UNC Asheville aim to educate and rehabilitate students.
“The alcoholic beverage policy is centered on education,” Chief of Police Eric Boyce said.
When students first arrive at UNCA during orientation, they are required to attend Alcohol Wise, a program that teaches students about the consequences of alcohol consumption, according to Boyce.
“The first six to eight weeks of a student’s college career is what we consider the red zone,” Boyce said. “That’s when students are adjusting to newfound freedoms, and they might be exposed to things that they don’t normally encounter.”
During the red zone, the campus police department uses multiple resources to educate students on alcohol consumption, according to Boyce.
“Alcohol awareness is taught in the chancellor’s speech at orientation, in hall meetings given by resident assistants and if necessary, a class given through our counseling center,” Boyce said.
Resident assistants cover specific rules with their particular residence halls, Kassie Pierre, an RA in Governors Hall said.
“I believe all the residents are well aware of the alcohol policy as RAs are asked to stress it in our beginning of the semester hall meetings,” Pierre said.
Governors Hall has more than 50 percent upperclassmen, and this mix of students requires special attention to the details of the policy, according to university statistics.
“The alcohol policy states that you are only allowed to drink in closed, private areas, as long as the people in the area are of drinking age as well as you,” Pierre said.
Alcohol does not have to have consequences on a student’s college experience, Boyce said.
“Alcohol is part of the perceived college environment, it is viewed as part of the culture,” Boyce said. “We are trying to change that perceived culture.”
Universities across the country encounter cases of underage drinking. UNCA’s policy for handling underage offenders involves education as a form of rehabilitation, according to Boyce.
“All underage drinking referrals don’t make it to the judicial system,” said Boyce. “Education is the most appropriate solution.”
Underage students caught drinking are required to attend an effective decision making course that is offered by the university counseling center, Jay Cutspec, the director of the health and counseling center said.
“There are three levels of the effective decision making course, depending on the offense,” Cutspec said. “Level one is for students charged with underage drinking, level two is for a repeat offense, and level three is if there are two or more offenses.”
Level one is the effective decision-making course. The course comprises two sessions where 10 students meet and information on alcohol is presented, Cutspec said.
“Level one is completely discussion-based and is designed to be supportive, not punitive,” Cutspec said.
Level two requires students to come and meet with a counselor one-on-one at the counselor’s discretion, and Level three involves off campus resources, Cutspec said. At level three, the student is required to take an off-campus substance abuse assessment, and action is taken from there.
“In the last academic year, there were four level three offenders, 57 level two offenders, and I’m guessing more than 57 in level one,” Cutspec said.
Students respond well to the effective decision-making course, and they often come in expecting to be lectured and are pleasantly surprised at the discussion format, Cutspec said.
“Most students at UNCA don’t really have a problem talking openly,” Cutspec said.
The student handbook outlines additional rules regarding alcohol: Outside of consumption, a student cannot transport an open container of alcohol in a residence hall regardless of their age. These rules apply to all residence halls, rooms and suites on the UNCA campus.
In the student handbook different residence halls have different policies entirely. For example, West Ridge and South Ridge are both substance-free. Consumption of alcohol or drugs is illegal whether the individual is of age or not. For those students who are 21, there are other areas on campus that have been specially approved to permit alcohol.
The student handbook specifies four additional locations where alcohol is permitted, each with their own set of regulations: Locations include academic space, Highsmith Student Union, Owen Conference Center, Justice Sports and Health and Physical Education Complex. These buildings only allow alcohol on a special event basis.