Alcohol violations make up bulk of campus crimes
FARGO -- It's not uncommon.
A student gets in trouble for drinking alcohol in a dorm room at Concordia College. Another is cited for providing alcohol to minors at a house party near Minnesota State University Moorhead. A group of students is caught walking with open containers on North Dakota State University's campus.
An analysis of campus crime data reported to the Department of Education shows, on average, 89 percent of incidents at these colleges and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks from 2005 to 2011 were arrests, citations and disciplinary referrals for liquor law violations.
In 2011, the most recent year for which comparable data is available, 88 percent of incidents reported at these colleges were liquor law violations. Nationally, that proportion is a lot lower -- liquor law violations made up 66 percent of campus incidents reported in 2011.
The local percentage is driven up by fewer reports of burglary, sexual assault or manslaughter as on other college campuses across the country.
Campus officials say their students' drinking behavior is a main public safety concern, year after year.
"Statistically, you could go back a long time and have a very similar picture painted," said Ray Boyer, director of NDSU's police and safety office.
High-risk drinking and related behaviors have been going on for so long at colleges that it's almost a given. But Erika Beseler Thompson, NDSU's alcohol and drug abuse prevention coordinator, said perception is the problem.
Friends, family members, teachers and media perpetuate the idea that alcohol plays a huge role in the college experience, Beseler Thompson said.
High rates of drinking, driving while intoxicated, binge drinking and alcohol dependence among all age groups in North Dakota and Minnesota also are a contributing factor.
"That kind of drinking is mirrored in our younger population, as well," Beseler Thompson said.
UND Director of Public Safety Eric Plummer agreed that a campus mirrors the society around it.
"Whatever problems you have at the city and county levels, you're going to have that in your university community," he said.
Factor in other crimes
For some, getting in trouble with police or campus authorities for breaking liquor laws isn't a big deal.
"People think once you've had that first minor, it's kind of like 'Oh well, I got a second one,' " said Jordan Hanson, a senior at MSUM. Hanson, who's never had an alcohol violation, said fees for citations and a mark on a student's record are the biggest deterrents.
But campuses try to curb alcohol use to minimize deaths, injuries and the number of students who are sent to detox centers.
Minimizing alcohol-related incidents on campus is a big part of crime prevention at MSUM.
Alcohol use is tied to other concerns, from loud noise and disturbances to sexual assault, said Greg Lemke, the school's public safety director.
Those concerns are not unfounded. Studies show that about half of all sexual assaults experienced by college students involve alcohol consumption by the victim or the perpetrator. Alcohol also is a factor in nuisance crimes such as vandalism and property damage.
"It can lead to more serious behavior and serious crimes that are being committed," Lemke said.
Sue Oatey, Concordia College's vice president and dean of student affairs, said because alcohol use can lead to poor decision-making, it plays a role in campus crime.
The school emphasizes the importance of making good choices in its preventive programming.
"We want our students to be aware of their surroundings and in control of their own actions, instead of being vulnerable to someone else who may wish to prey on them," Oatey said.
'A safety net'
Students who "act with a heightened degree of carelessness" about their drinking are the ones who get in trouble, said Nash Hallfrisch, who's taking classes at NDSU this summer.
During his first year at NDSU, he lucked out by leaving a party "in the nick of time" before it got busted and several others received citations for underage drinking.
Students caught breaking laws or school policies face some sort of disciplinary process through their college - even if law enforcement isn't involved.
Disciplinary proceedings and their sanctions range from school to school, and there are stricter stipulations for certain programs.
In college, Oatey said there's "a safety net" that allows students to make mistakes and push boundaries without long-term consequences.
"We hope that when mistakes are made they are not life-altering in the negative sense," she said.
That's why the school's programming discusses some of the long-term consequences of breaking liquor laws -- like whether students can pass a background check or get into medical school with citations on their record.
Throughout the summer, thousands of incoming students and their parents will head to area colleges for orientation.
This is when preventive programming starts.
A cross-section of university administrators, police, athletics, residence hall staff, instructors and advisers are all involved in educating students about the consequences of high-risk drinking.
Campus officials agree that it's something they always will have to deal with.
But Beseler Thompson is a little more optimistic.
"When people have a realistic view of what healthy, responsible alcohol use looks like, then we'd see a reduction in the amount of programming we'd have to do."