UNCA seeks to curb alcohol abuse through educational programs

By Calla Hinton, contributor
Faculty and staff at UNC Asheville aim to educate students on how to drink and handle alcohol responsibly through programs and seminars.
“Our goal is to make sure that we’re educating students about alcohol and how to be safe and what the university’s expectations are,” said Jackie McHargue, dean of students at UNC Asheville.
According to McHargue, when students are caught drinking underage on campus, they can admit to their actions and pay a fine. These fines help fund conferences and workshops at UNCA aimed at reducing alcohol and drug abuse.
“Some amazing examples are Think Before You Drink Week, where we bring in guest speakers to talk about the dangers of alcohol and drugs,” McHargue said. “It’s really going back to creating a campus where we don’t have to take any money for those programs because we’ve done so well in educating that folks are not in those situations.”
Think Before You Drink Week, a series of seminars and events promoting alcohol safety for UNCA students and staff were held from Oct. 19-23 by the Health and Counseling center in order to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol consumption.
“If we can educate folks on more responsible behavior, then it’s less likely that they’ll be violating the policies, so it’s more likely that they’ll be living healthier and safer. So maybe then these programs won’t be necessary,” McHargue said.
According to university police officials, the number of alcohol related arrests on campus has dropped from 22 to one in recent years, whereas citations have dropped down from 127 to 51.
“I think education’s improved. I think students on some level are responding more responsibly to their own behavior and the behavior of their peers. I also think students are getting more comfortable asking for help and some of the programming is really starting to help too,” McHargue said.
Abby Powell, night assistant at UNCA, said underage drinking is something that happens on campus. UNCA is not known as a party school, so it does not seem as big of a problem here as compared to larger universities.
“I think we’re a campus that has a lot of other alternatives and it’s a more supportive environment,” said McHargue. “Ultimately, the policy here is that if you’re underage, you’re not supposed to drink, but I also think that there’s something about the culture of the microbreweries and everything in Asheville that does not reward drinking just to get drunk and being that kind of drinker.”
McHargue said during training to become a resident assistant at UNCA, students go through Behind Closed Doors, a real-life modeling and intervention program where they learn to confront students about alcohol abuse. She said students struggle with this due to wanting to keep professional and personal relationships with residents balanced.
“I think that it’s really relative to the RA and to the residence halls here, but overall I’d say that they do a good job of maintaining good relationships with their residents while also being professional,” said Sidney Jones, UNCA transfer student.
According to the student handbook, although the legal drinking age is 21, UNC Asheville offers an amnesty policy in order to encourage students seek help in case of emergencies.
“Being super responsible is something that I will never penalize students for, that’s why we have an amnesty policy,” McHargue said. “I want students to be alive. I don’t care if they’ve been drinking or doing drugs- if they are in a dangerous place, I want them to be okay. That’s why we developed the amnesty policy, so people would feel safe getting help.”
Powell said a lot of students, especially freshmen, drink out of a want to experience being an adult. If the student is responsible and drinks in moderation, she said it can be a quiet gateway into adulthood for some.
“Of course, from a law perspective, you can only participate responsibly if you’re 21, but realistically if you’re going to drink underage, I want you to be safe,” McHargue said. “I want you to not be impacting your academics or others, I don’t want you to hurt yourself, I just want you to be responsible and make educated decisions.”