Drinking Underage: Pacific University drinking culture revealed and explained

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The stairs leading into the house were crowded. Inside, music pulsated as Pacific University students packed into the first major party of the school year.

Students remember hearing shouts of “The cops are here!” echo above the sound of clinking glasses. The music stopped but people carried on with loud voices, ignoring the possible consequences awaiting them; police were out front asking for identification. Two underage sophomores who had been drinking decided to leave. Seeing the front door as a risk, the two women jumped five feet from the balcony into the backyard. But when they thought they had escaped around the corner, they met an officer with his flashlight.

“I remember him saying, ‘You guys look underage,’” said one of the women, who was then asked to take a breathalyzer test. “It made me mad because I felt like there were a lot of people getting away.”

The two women were later written a citation for an MIP, a minor in possession, along with 17 others at the party on Aug. 31, 2014.

Alcohol use on college campuses is not a new concern. However, universities and police departments are trying to combat the issue in new ways. Three years ago a federal grant was awarded to Washington County to target high- risk drinking areas and the city of Forest Grove and Pacific have used some of the money to gather new information about alcohol consumption.

Forest Grove Police Captain Mike Herb has noticed a spike in underage drinking throughout Forest Grove and other college communities. He said about 70 percent of the calls Forest Grove police are responding to, especially in the evenings, involve alcohol.

“I can go out on a shift on a typical night now and see more alcohol-related issues with young people than I did back in 1990 when I first started working as an officer here,” Herb said.

Herb, who was on the scene during last year’s beginning-of-school party remembers it being relatively orderly and calm except for the occasional attempts at escape.

Such action, Herb noted, is a signal to police that students may be dangerously drunk.

“If you’re going to jump out a window, jump over a fence or jump off a balcony, those are the folks that are going to attract our attention,” Herb said.

“It’s a risk you are taking; it’s a risk, first off, to your safety if you are going to do that. But, also, those are the folks that are exhibiting the dangerous behavior.”

Alcohol law is complicated and generally applies to the possession and consumption by people 21 and under. An MIP is a misdemeanor given to people under the age of 21 who possess or drink alcohol. It usually includes a trip to court with a large fine and/or community service.

According to the American College Health Association, 66 percent of undergraduate college students reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days during
the spring of 2014.

This percentage has been relatively stable over the last two years. Interestingly, there is a difference between what people actually report and what people perceive. College students perceived that 95.4 percent of students drank alcohol in the last 30 days.

Some college students will drink; some will drink legally and some won’t. The problem arises when binge drinking comes into play. According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined for women as typically consuming four or more drinks in about two hours. For men, it is consuming five or more drinks. Each brings the person’s blood alcohol concentration level to .08 or above in a short period of time. In the United States about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by people under the age of 21 is in the form of binge drinking.

“Binge drinking is a really huge public health issue nationwide,” Former Pacific Campus Wellness Coordinator Laura Siltanen said. “The good news is that statistically, most students either don’t drink or drink in moderation. It’s a really smallpercentage that is responsible for the majority of the drinking.”

According to Pacific’s alcohol policy students who are 21 and older can drink on campus, but only in their dorm rooms. Underage students may be in the same room only if they live there. Otherwise, students under 21 cannot drink or be around others who are drinking.

If an underage student is written up on campus for an alcohol violation, the Student Conduct Board considers the student’s history, behavior and the situation, along with other various factors, when determining the punishment. The first violation may include an online alcohol course with an administrative fee of $50 or more.

Repetitive sanctions will result in other punishments such as community service or housing probation. But if a person is written up on campus for underage drinking it does not go on their legal record like an MIP does.

Former Residence Life Director and Pacific Conduct Advisor Ryan Aiello thinks that most students at Pacific actually refrain from drinking or drink responsibly.

Even though a large portion of the student body may not be engaging in binge drinking, a lot of underage people still drink.

“Do I think there are students who put themselves at a higher risk?” Aiello said. “Absolutely.”

Over the past two years, Forest Grove police have cited an annual average of 107 minors, mostly college students, for possession of alcohol off campus.

On campus, alcohol violations have more than doubled since 2008, dramatically spiking in 2012 with 299 citations.

No one is sure what caused the spike, but Jerry Rice has a couple theories. Rice, lead supervising campus public safety officer, notes that it could be in part due to Pacific adding a football team in 2011.

By adding the team, it has increased the amount of males attending Pacific and the total enrollment of students. He also thinks the jump in citations could be caused by a handful of individuals. He remembers three students in 2012 that were each found in violation 12 times.

“There’s a cycle, every year seems to have its own theme,” Rice recalls. “We go through one or two years where underage drinking is a problem on campus and then part of the cycle is moving to off campus, and police tend to get a bump off campus when we don’t have as much of a problem here on campus.”


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