UNC Asheville staff reports effects of underage drinking on campus

By Elizabeth Walker, contributor
Between the 2013 and 2014 school years, arrests and disciplinary referrals on campus relating to liquor law violations decreased, improving UNC Asheville campus life, according to UNCA’s 2015 Security and Fire Safety Report.
“I don’t necessarily think that we have more underage drinking than any other college campus,” said Jay Cutspec, director of the UNCA Health and Counseling Center. “I don’t think it’s an unusually high problem for us, but yes we certainly have it.”
According to the 2013 report, 22 arrests and 82 disciplinary referrals occurred on campus, with those numbers dropping to one arrest and 51 disciplinary referrals on campus in 2014.
“I think that our students are improving at being responsible people,” said Jackie McHargue, UNCA dean of students. “We have an amnesty policy, and that has helped students when they’ve been concerned about their own consumption or the consumption of others, that they have more personal agency in getting more help for themselves or someone else.”
Cutspec said some students use alcohol as a social initiator because it helps them lose inhibitions and become more relaxed.
“I think if your parents drink, it’s something you see your parents do growing up, and then you get older and people start talking about drinking and you want to know what it’s like,” said Grace Van Dyk, a junior political science student from Raleigh. “When you’re younger it’s half experimenting, and as you get older, it’s a lot more social once you realize it’s something you go out and do.”
Van Dyk, 20, said at a younger age, students drink to experiment with boundaries, but as they get older it becomes a social activity to connect people.
“A lot of times students will use alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms for either personal crises, emotional crises or mental health crises,” McHargue said.
Students often forget they can get caught for violating school policy while absorbed in the party life, McHargue said.
“It depends on how they’re found. Normally for a first offense we don’t start state citations. They’ll go through an effective decision making class,” McHargue said. “There’s a financial sanction a student will have, and that actually helps fund all of our alcohol and drug programming.”
According to McHargue, if the student was caught previously or causes harm to the community, state citations ensue. She said the more disruptive a student’s behavior, the more likely they are to receive more outreach.
“I think the major impact, obviously, of the alcohol consumption would be that it gets in the way of the student’s academics,” Cutspec said. “That doesn’t even necessarily mean that you have an alcohol problem, it just means if you’re going out and drinking every night or drinking to the point where you’re getting drunk and then hungover, that’s really going to affect your ability to concentrate and your focus on your studies.”
McHargue said students will also drive drunk, not realizing how inebriated they remain until getting in a car accident that can prove fatal to themselves or others.
“The other thing that people don’t often associate with alcohol and binge drinking is the number of injuries that students have,” Cutspec said. “So, on a Monday it’s not uncommon for the Health and Counseling Center to have a fair amount of injuries with people who are really drunk and either tripped or fell out of their bed.”
McHargue said underage drinking doesn’t just affect the students choosing to drink, but their inner circle as well.
“If a student is getting intoxicated frequently, their roommate or suitemates tend to worry, and that worry starts impacting their ability to have a successful time here,” McHargue said.
Cutspec said while concern for their fellow students shows how much the community cares, it can be unfair for those students not drinking. Instead of dealing with their own problems, they end up sacrificing a major part of their lives to helping their friends when they come home wasted.
“I don’t see it as a huge problem on this campus as I do when I go visit Chapel Hill or somewhere like that, and it’s every night there’s mass amounts of underage drinking,” Van Dyk said. “From my experience, people do it and it obviously has negative effects if it’s not used responsibly.”
There are many programs UNCA staff utilize to spread awareness against underage drinking, which include Brick on the Wall. where students write stories on paper bricks about experiences with alcohol, Responsible Alcohol Decisions Pledges and other non-drinking alternative activities, according to the 2013 Fire and Safety report.
“We try to do a lot of active and passive programming. Student activities do a lot of alternative programming, so you don’t necessarily feel like you have to go out and drink,” said McHargue, an Asheville native. “Asheville is a great town and we have an incredible get-out-and-do-stuff culture that has nothing to do with alcohol, which is awesome.”
According to Cutspec, one program the Health and Counseling Center uses, HALT-BS, helps to prevent underage drinking. He said certain feelings exist that lead some students to drink, which are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, bored or scared, and that HALT-BS helps students to control the urge to drink when experiencing these feelings.
“It’s really more than offering a specific program on alcohol,” Cutspec said. “It’s creating a community where people are involved and connected so that they don’t necessarily feel like they have to binge drink, that there are other ways to have fun and meet people.”