Drug offenses drop on campus
April 19, 2016
Between 2013 and 2014, UVM cut its drug and alcohol referral numbers nearly in half. In compliance with the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires Universities to release crime statistics on and near campus, UVM released a report in 2015 that showed a 45 percent drop in on-campus disciplinary liquor referrals and a 49 percent drop in drug referrals.
Senior Carolyne Ricardo, a former lead resident advisor, said she believes the drop could be the result of a change in how RAs handle marijuana odor in dorms.
“What was happening before I was an RA was that police services were getting a ridiculous amount of calls because we had to call them for the smell of marijuana, so they had to change it to us only calling when the paraphernalia is actually there,” Ricardo said.
“We can’t say we’re calling police if we smell something, so that threat isn’t really there anymore,” she said. “I think we have less options of being able to do something so more violations are passing us by.”
Senior Ryan Demmons, who has been an RA for three years, agreed with Ricardo.
“It kinda feels like kids are getting away with it more,” Demmons said. “They can say, ‘we’re not smoking, there’s no weed here,’ and smoke is literally billowing out of their room. It seems like an easy way to get out of it.”
Demmons said he’s not a big fan of the change.
“When I was an RA my first year, the way they rationalized to me that we need to call police services was that drug situations can potentially be dangerous situations,” Demmons said. “So personally I felt more comfortable calling police services than dealing with it.”
While he said he believes police may be more effective, he also feels marijuana violations are a waste of time for police officers.
“I don’t know if that actually means people are doing less drugs or that just means that it’s being handled within the ResLife conduct process and not being reported to the police,” Demmons said, “because there’s very few situations where we can actually call police services.”
First-year Tomas Rodriguez-Barberet said he experienced the change in policy when he received an odor violation.
“I was coming back from the bathroom and I saw the RA knocking on my door. She said she smelled marijuana in the hall and asked if she could go into my room,” Rodriguez-Barberet said.
“I let her in, and there was a towel under the door and something covering the alarm and she found someone else’s stuff,” he said. “The RAs wrote me up, I got a $150 dollar charge for the marijuana and a $100 charge for the bag over the alarm. I also had to take a class.”
Deputy Chief Tim Bilodeau of UVM police services said the change may be due to the priority of certain calls.
“It’s called triage, where we respond to situations that may put people at risk first,” Bilodeau said. “If there is a medical thing or a student who may be falling down or in a fight, it’s really about getting at the dangers to a student. Marijuana complaints may fall down in the call order if those things come up.”
Bilodeau said the decreased violations may be a result of a university-wide effort to combat substance abuse in new ways.
“Some of the drops are due to the intentional effort to shorten the distance between an incident in the field and getting that report documented to the Center for Student Ethics and Standards, CSES, in an effective and accurate amount of time so that next step of the student getting involved in the due process could be quicker,” Bilodeau said.
CSES Director Kim Martin said she believes a faster response time is key for cutting down on recidivism, or relapse into criminal behavior, and the new computer system CSES received in 2013 is helping with that effort.
“Students are getting feedback in a more timely matter,” Martin said. “I think that contributes because if you’ve had a couple of violations before anyone has intervened then you might [get] the conclusion that this is okay at UVM, but a quicker intervention helps to change behavior sooner by getting one to the resources they need.”
“Clery is based on geography; it’s not based on affiliation,” she said, explaining why the Clery data may not be wholly accurate.
“Overwhelmingly, those numbers represent affiliate behavior,” she said, “but on occasion, let’s say police pull someone over and they get a DUI or somebody walking along Main Street near Living/Learning has an open container but they are not affiliate with the University, that data is included into our Clery report.”
Martin said she credits the Brief Alcohol Screening Intervention for College Students for reducing recidivism and the drop in referrals.
BASICS coordinator Tom Fontana said UVM introduced the a “harm reduction” program two years ago.
“If students go through the detox process or they get two policy violations they have to come through BASICS,” Fontana said. “They take a survey, it takes about 20 minutes, and it’s pretty comprehensive.”
Fontana said the program is about having a conversation, which is entirely confidential, about substances and risky behavior.
“We’re looking at being more proactive with it,” Fontana said, “so we’re also meeting with new members of Greek life and sports teams to have those kinds of conversations on a group level to talk about what it is like to be on a team and discuss the pressures of drinking and to look at it that way.”
Along with BASICS, Fontana credits a University focus on high-risk weekends, such as Halloween and the Naked Bike Ride, with lower referral numbers.
“High-risk weekend assessments give us a chance to get together all our resources of food services, residential life, athletic and rec programming and student affairs programing to think about those weekends that have historically been risk weekends,” he said.
“It’s not enough to tell people not to do stuff and that is why I like the idea of attacking high-risk weekends because you are also offering alternatives to people,” Fontana said. “You aren’t telling them to not do something and to stay in their rooms all weekend.”
Fontana and Martin both credited the President’s Committee on Alcohol and Drug Use, which was created in spring 2014, and implemented its changes in fall 2014.
“[President Tom Sullivan] really stepped up and said that we are not okay with the alcohol and drug problem on our campus and we need to change that and open discussion with our whole community on how we can address substance abuse and discuss how it can have an impact on one’s ability to be academically successful,” Martin said.
“Most of our policy changes are within an academic year, Aug. 1 through July 31,” she said. “A fiscal year, however, is July 1 through June 30, and Clery data is based on a calendar year.”
This means the committee’s ideas were in effect for only five months of drop-in drug referrals in the 2014 Clery data collection year.
Jon Porter, vice-chair of the president’s committee and director of the Center of Health and Wellbeing, said BASICS is only one of their initiatives designed to create a faster response to student safety.
“It’s really about the screening and taking time between that screening and doing something about it as shortly as possible,” Porter said.