Gustavus students are part of a trend that is appearing in colleges across the nation—students are using alcohol, legally or illegally, and some are consuming dangerous amounts. The campus has been subject to recent changes in class size, residential housing and other factors that may affect the student body’s individual choices to drink or not. While some may perceive that alcohol-involved incidents are getting worse, Gustavus’s statistics tell a different story.
“I think that students are making wiser decisions themselves,” Director of Campus Safety Ray Thrower said. By the numbers, Gusties are choosing to avoid illegal drinking or are drinking responsibly. Since 2008, when there were 96 liquor violations documented by Campus Safety, the figure had dropped to 62 in 2009. The numbers do not all point to better decision making, though; 2009 also reflected the highest number of students being transported to Detox in recent years.
“We’re glad to see the numbers drop; it shows that more Gusties are choosing not to drink. With that said, we have a small percentage of students that is very alarming to us. We used to be concerned about students who would blow in a Breathalyzer and blow in the late teens [BAC] or low 0.2s. What we’re seeing now is in the high 0.2s and low 0.3s,” Thrower said. Chief of St. Peter Police Matt Peters has seen a similar trend among the cases the police department has responded to.
“Our concern is we’re not seeing more students drinking, but the students who are drinking are drinking more—they’re drinking to dangerous levels, and that’s certainly something that has to be taken seriously,” Peters said. Though the police have been involved with fewer house parties in the past year than they have in other years, they are still being called to deal with dangerous alcohol situations. “I think we’re getting called up to campus more now, and it’s for people who tend to be extremely intoxicated that we get involved,” Peters said.
From the police department’s figures, liquor law violations are up, but remain below the ten year average. Detox cases are also up and within the ten year average. The police department does not separate its figures between students and non-students, so their figures reflect their entire jurisdiction.
One clear example of over-consumption has become a heated topic with the campus community — the underground student event known as Case Day. During this day, students challenge each other to drink 24 beers in one day. In recent years, Case Day has taken on a much more public identity.
“I think it’s almost recognized,” one senior student said. “The professors know, the administration knows, everyone knows.”
“Everyone knows about it,” a first-year student said. Other first-years said siblings and upperclassmen told them about Case Day. The troubling reputation the event has comes with the tradition: “It’s fun, and not dangerous,” one first-year said.
Last Saturday, unofficially recognized as Case Day 2011 by participating students, may have been fun for some, but it certainly was not without its dangers for others. The St. Peter Police Department reported two student-involved Detox cases and one DUI arrest. As with any social situation involving high amounts of alcohol, the risks for violence, vandalism, sexual assault or other criminal behaviors are increased.
“My greatest fear is losing a student to alcohol poisoning,” Thrower said.
Obviously not all students participate in Case Day, and even some of those who do are doing so in less dangerous ways.
“I split a case with someone, and I know I’m not even going to finish that,” a first-year student said. Younger students choosing not to participate may be a credit to Gustavus’s system of alcohol education and support.
“If a student does get in trouble here, we have a phenomenal support system to carry those students through, whether it’s a first time offense, or if it’s a third time offense. I think we’re really aggressive in that area of follow-up care,” Thrower said.
Collegiate Fellows and Peer Assistants are some of the resources available to Gustavus students who are making decisions regarding alcohol.
“Our number one job is to keep people safe,” Junior Economics and Environmental Studies Major and current CF Andrew Lewis said. “We try to engage people and give them other options instead of drinking. A lot of the programs we put on and stuff we promote is about being connected on campus, so people can get involved and have better things to do with their time,” Lewis said.
Together, the CFs and PAs direct a great deal of education and programming that can help Gustavus students make informed decisions about alcohol.
“I think that students are making wiser decisions themselves. We’re doing the same things that we’ve been doing for years here—Campus Safety hasn’t changed its routine,” Thrower said.