A new alcohol policy will greet students at UNC-Chapel Hill this fall, taking a public health approach to combating high-risk drinking.
A 26-member working group studied the issue for about a year before recommending that the university focus at the level of the entire campus population rather than on individuals who violate rules. The policy takes effect Aug. 1.
The study group suggested UNC focus on education, prevention, intervention and accountability, as well as treatment and recovery for those who need it. The policy will apply to everyone in the UNC community – not just students – and will clarify the process for adjudicating violations to create consistency in enforcement.
Beyond discipline, the university will include more education, prevention and access to health care and treatment resources.
You have to have a comprehensive approach and treat this like many other public health initiatives, like we’ve done around cigarette smoking or some of the other major health issues.
Jonathan Sauls, dean of students at UNC
“Historically, campuses have tried to ‘cite’ their way out of this problem and just had more discipline, more efforts to give people citations and perhaps curb the problem,” said Jonathan Sauls, dean of students at UNC. “All of the data nationally tells us that’s not accurate. You have to have a comprehensive approach and treat this like many other public health initiatives, like we’ve done around cigarette smoking or some of the other major health issues.”
UNC officials say alcohol is a perennial issue for all colleges and universities, but in recent years they’ve seen an uptick in dangerous drinking, going well beyond a few beers on a Friday night. “We’re talking about drinking for the sole purpose of getting drunk,” said Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs.
Some have blamed the situation on the drinking age, which has led to underage students “pre-gaming,” or drinking heavily in a short time span before an evening out.
There’s also been a heightened awareness of the consequences of underage drinking since the 2015 wrong-way collision involving a former UNC student, Chandler Kania, who was charged in the wreck that killed three people. Kania had been drinking in downtown bars prior to the crash. The Franklin Street bar He’s Not Here was fined $15,000 by the ABC Commission and had its alcohol permit suspended for three weeks as a result.
Sauls told trustees Wednesday that within a two-mile radius of their meeting at the Carolina Inn there are 50 businesses that sell alcohol, an environment that creates constant challenges. The new push will include better cooperation with the town of Chapel Hill and the Orange County Health Department, with the partners creating a jointly funded liaison to work to limit illegal access to alcohol and educate businesses on liability and security.
Crisp said there’s a collective approach that resists labeling alcohol issues as a university problem or a town problem, as in the past.
With students, you have to be careful to ensure that you’re bringing them on board and having them realize it for themselves.
Bradley Opere, UNC-Chapel Hill’s student body president
Bradley Opere, UNC’s student body president, said the success of the new effort will depend on how the university rolls it out and whether student groups get involved.
“We don’t want to stage this as, like, ‘we’re coming in to get you,’” Opere said. “For me I look at it as a chance to teach and talk to students about alcohol and all the measures people need to take to it, almost as an out-of-class experience, because people are going to encounter alcohol throughout their lives. There’s really not a gold standard in how universities do it, anyway, in the country. ... If there were, we would have heard about it.”
Opere said while enforcement has to be a part of the equation, it shouldn’t be the sole approach. “Too much enforcement will lead to too much resistance,” he said. “With students, you have to be careful to ensure that you’re bringing them on board and having them realize it for themselves.”
The university is seeking to encourage an alcohol-free atmosphere by offering funding to student groups who present entertainment events on campus.
And there will be a new emphasis on the health consequences of dangerous drinking. The university is hiring a clinical substance abuse counselor for its student health service. The new policy will give amnesty to impaired students who seek medical treatment or report being a victim of a crime or sexual assault.
“We’re much more interested in getting ahead of this problem rather than enforcing our way out of it,” Sauls said.
Along the way, the university will measure whether attitudes change toward drinking and substance abuse.
“It may be the student affairs equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest,” Sauls said.
The new policy can be found at alcohol.unc.edu. It includes a video about how to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning.