In the late 1980s, however, it became clear that excessive drinking was a problem. When the University took a close look at such issues as hazing, sexual assault, and violence in residence halls, it found that these dangerous behaviors almost always occurred in the presence of alcohol. A University task force on student rights and responsibilities and a subsequent task force on alcohol and substance abuse finally brought these issues center stage in 1994. Every year since then, the University has stepped up its effort to curb alcohol and substance abuse. According to Wells, SU has been in the vanguard of institutions addressing this problem. The University now has a comprehensive campus effort directed by the SAPHE Office, a proactive Chancellor's Commission on Substance Abuse and Campus Security, and a 12-point plan of attack that approaches the issue from all angles. There are clear policies regarding the illegal and excessive use of alcohol and other drugsand a fortified University Judicial System to deal with violations. There are intervention and prevention programs, including a social norms campaign introduced this fall. There are alcohol-free social events and specific housing options for students who wish to entirely avoid these influences. And there's the Syracuse Area College Community Coalition that's tackling off-campus elements of the problem, including underage drinking in local taverns.
Because of such actions, Syracuse University is well-equipped to deal with recent federal legislation that's sending some campuses reeling. The Higher Education Act Amendments of 1998 (HEA), which affect colleges and universities that receive federal funding, require colleges to address alcohol and other drug issues on several fronts, including following strict guidelines for establishing substance-abuse prevention programs, and allowing them to disclose information to parents and legal guardians when a student under age 21 commits a violation regarding alcohol or drug use or possession. Syracuse University meets or is in the process of meeting the stipulations of the HEA, which also includes the College Initiative to Reduce Binge Drinking and Illegal Alcohol Consumption. The initiative, a non-binding resolution sponsored by U.S. Senator Joseph Biden G'68 of Delaware, encourages college administrators to "change the culture of alcohol consumption" on their campuses.
A first-year student enrolling at SU in fall 1998 encountered an atmosphere much changed since the eighties. Settling into Sadler Hall last year, Michelle Elias '02 realized SU was "dead serious" about enforcing its substance-abuse policies. "I've visited other colleges where there are kegs in dorm lounges, and students walk around with open beer bottles," she says. "At SU, this is not permitted in any residence hall. If you're underage and caught in a student's room where there's beer, you're guilty by association."
Last year, SU unveiled a new Policy on Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Tobacco that was three years in the crafting. An equally comprehensive Code of Student Conduct spells out behaviors expected of students and the judicial consequences, which range from a warning to suspension or expulsion. While alert to violations, residence halls are not hyperfocused on uncovering policy infractions. "If our resident advisors (RAs) were cast strictly as enforcers, this would severely hamper their roles as resource people, mentors, and facilitators," explains Adrea L. Jaehnig, associate director of residence life. "We follow New York State standards regarding the right to search."
Jen Doherty '99, president of the Student Government Association in 1997 and a resident advisor during her sophomore year, knows the issue well. "I remember going through the halls once, knocking on doors for a floor meeting," she says. "At one door, they asked me in. I found a group of freshmen playing a drinking game. How could I have any authority as an RA if I didn't write them up? They knew the rules."
Resident advisors, especially in first-year residence halls, are on the front lines of the University's battle against underage drinking. When behavior gets out of hand, public safety officers are available, and the SU Ambulance (SUA) is on call for medical emergencies.
Last year, SUA responded to 135 calls related to student intoxication, according to Bob Audet '90, manager of emergency medical services. "During one February weekend, seven out of eight calls were alcohol-related," he says, "and three students required advanced life-support backup from city ambulance crews."
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