Associate Dean of Students Matthew Burns met with the Students’ Association Senate on Monday night to discuss UR’s public open alcohol container policy. Violations of this policy have recently increased, notably in Hill Court, leading to a renewed interest in the policy’s application and enforcement, as well as a query as to how aware students are of the policy. Burns showed that he intends to look into the issue further before rushing to increase security.
Addressing the Senate in an open meeting, Burns said that the increasing number of incidents this year, was brought to his attention by Melissia Schmidt of the Student Activities Office as well as Residential Life staff. The latter group includes Resident Advisors, who are able to give out alcohol violations. When asked if the issue was limited to Hill Court, Burns said that it is also a problem on the Fraternity Quad, but he does not know if it is more or less of an issue there than any other place on the River Campus.
Burns explained that there is in fact a city-wide ordinance that forbids open containers of alcohol in public places.
“The law specifies, ‘Any open container in any public area,'” Burns said. “That includes an open bottle of beer, a bottle of wine, any cup.” A number of Senators questioned if the city law even applies to the University, since the River Campus is private property; Burns said that he would look into it.
Burns made it clear that he does not necessarily want to change University policy before determining how big of a problem this actually is.
“One possible solution to any problem is to step up enforcement of the problem,” he said. “It’s usually a productive solution. But [doing that] is not the reaction I’ve come to. I certainly want to look into this more.”
As part of his job as associate dean, Burns takes on the role of Judicial Officer, under which capacity he meets with students who have discipline violations. He pointed out that only eight percent of the student body are sent to see him in a given year and only one quarter of those return because of a second offense. He said he is primarily concerned with that small contingent of students.
“The more breaking the rules, the more excessive behavior that goes on, the more we have to worry about that two percent,” he said.
Burns initially asked the Senators to address three questions – whether or not the students were indeed seeing that increase; if so, why was it happening; and finally, any suggestions to address the problem. Speaker of the Senate and senior Sam Lehman was pleased with how the meeting went.
“Dean Burns asked a few specific questions and got a few specific answers,” Lehman said.
A number of Senators gave their input on the issue. One senator was concerned that any policy change that would increase Security on the Fraternity Quad would lead to more students drinking in their rooms. This would lead to more dangerous situations and thus have an overall negative effect. In fact, many Senators brought up the fact that this issue is widespread already, because underage students are afraid of the very security officers that are protecting them. The idea was raised to hire a separate force for “social crimes” and other, more serious offenses.
Another point that was raised was that this increase in violations might have stemmed from stricter enforcement from Resident Advisors this year than in years past.
Many Senators agreed that students do not necessarily know about the open container rule. They suggested some sort of educational program.
“I think that peer-to-peer interactions are the most important,” Vice President and junior Janna Gewirtz said at a later date. “We need to implement an educational campaign before a disciplinary campaign.”
Lehman said that Burns’s next step is likely to approach students, both student government-affiliated and not, about the issue.
“I think what we saw from the meeting was that there are some aspects of student policy that students are not aware of,” he said.
Lehman agreed that rushing to step up enforcement or hire more security officers before bringing the problem to the students might not be advantageous.
“You can change the climate instead of changing the policy, and I think changing the climate is a little more efficacious,” he said.
Wrobel is a member of the class of 2010.