Drinking Culture Part II: Education over Punishment

By Connor Renshaw

While drinking is often thought of as part of the college experience, college administrators also have to be sure that students are following the law. On a campus where students who can legally drink live side by side with those who can’t, how can administrators approach this issue? Members of the Ripon College administration said that their approach is meant to ensure that the law is being followed by educating those who do break the rules while still respecting the rights of older students.

According to Mark Nicklaus, director of residence life, the college sees alcohol consumption as the right of any student above 21 years of age. The Ripon College student handbook says “Ripon College students who are at least 21 years of age may possess and consume alcoholic beverages in residence hall rooms as long as minors (persons under the ageof 21) are not present.” In addition to barring students from drinking in the presence of minors, the college’s policies also prevent the consumption of alcohol in public spaces, such as lounges, unless it is during a previously approved event.

“Our philosophy for underaged drinking is, we’ve got to follow the law; it’s as easy as that,” Nicklaus said. Not only can underaged students drink on campus, they are also not allowed to be in a room where others are drinking. Nicklaus explained the policy by saying “you can’t even be in a room where alcohol is because there is too much [of an] ambiguous situation going on.”

Enforcing these policies is mostly up to the residence assistants (RA), and campus security. While RAs are tasked with ensuring that students are following the school’s policies, Nicklaus made clear that their job isn’t to hunt rule breakers down. “People start losing respect if RAs are listening to the doors, putting the heads up to the doors and trying to listen for sound, or trying to look for trouble,” he said, “if we come across [a violation] were going to respond, but we’re not going to go seeking this stuff.”

When a student is caught violating the Ripon College alcohol policy, Nicklaus saidthat the administration’s focus is on education and preventing future offenses. The administration’s response to a policy violation starts with meetings between students and the Residence Life staff so that the staff may hear the student’s side of the story. “We don’t always want to assume that we know what happened because we see a report,” Nicklaus said, “we always know there are two sides to a story.”

If a student is found to have committed their first violation, Nicklaus said that administrators have a conversation with the students regarding liquor laws. Additionally the student is given a $50 fine, however, this fine is deferred for first offenses.
For a second offense, the student is fined $100 as well as made to pay the $50 fine from their last violation. Students are also given an educational sanction such as a reflection paper, community service, or online alcohol courses. “The problem with just doing fines is that it teaches [students] that if you have enough money you can get away with anything, and we don’t want that to be the educational component,” Nicklaus said, “so we do some educational sanctioning.”

According to Nicklaus, money from student fines goes into a “Dean’s Fine Account.” The money in this account is then put toward on campus events and programming. Nicklaus said that this is also part of the administration’s response to drinking on campus. “Oftentimes when we ask people ‘well why were you drinking tonight’ I would say nine times out of ten the reason is because people say there was nothing else for me to do,” he said.

According to the most recent campus safety report, which is released by Ripon College each year, the majority of alcohol violations are dealt with through the school administration. Out of 320 alcohol violations which took place since 2014, only 21 led to arrests. Nicklaus said that the school tries to avoid police involvement unless it is absolutely necessary. “We only want to get law enforcement involved if we feel that someone’s safety is in jeopardy or if there is some strong disrespect here it might escalate against the RAs or the college staff.” he said.

Whether or not a liquor law violation is handled by law enforcement also depends on who discovers the violation. “Law enforcement has jurisdiction on campus if they happened to be here and encounter a liquor law violation,” said Dean of Students Chris Ogle, “however the vast majority of the timeviolatios are confronted by the Residence Life Staff.”

The school’s approach stems from the desire to keep the respect of the students. “We want to gain the respect of the residents and we don’t want them to think that just because the RA is coming they’re going to get a DUI or MIP (minor in possession) or MIC (minor in consumption),” Niklaus said, “so we want to handle it in house if we can.”