By Tyler Hofmann-Reardon
Dr. Hollis’ Chemistry and Crime class, an Honors 250 course, recently conducted a study focusing on alcohol use here at Roanoke College. The study is part of a larger movement by the Honors Program here at Roanoke to complete community engagement projects as an expansion of the standard course curriculum. All Honors courses here at Roanoke engage in some sort of community engagement piece which helps distinguish students in the community and in the academic realm of Roanoke College. According to Dr. Morris, director of the Honors Program, these projects are designed to “turn academic lessons into real world skills that help better students’ careers and life desires, develop Distinction Projects that influence both scholarship and broader society,” and ensure that Honors students are, “learning while doing, and in the process learning what they live for.” These projects have already inspired, and developed, research in the Roanoke college community with studies of cheating and alcohol use, as well as studies that go beyond the Roanoke community to the nation of Palau among other locations across the globe.
The students in Dr. Hollis’ class began the project a few months ago by first compiling national data on alcohol use amongst college students and analyzing the data in class. After garnering an in-depth understanding of national trends, the class progressed through the IRB review process in order to begin conducting interviews of key individuals and organizations that have some connection with alcohol use at Roanoke. Once the class received IRB approval and created an interview model for the students to pursue, the students began conducting their interviews. Once interviews were complete and all necessary data was collected, the students shared their findings with the class and decided to use all of the data to create a series of posters to present in the Colket lobby at the close of the semester.
Concerning the results of the interviews, the students have found extensive information about alcohol use on campus, its various forms and impacts, and the College’s policies concerning alcohol. From the office of Dr. Brian Chisom, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, the students discovered a lot about alcohol use on campus and the student conduct code that deals with alcohol related punishments. The student conduct code in place at Roanoke College promotes education before punishment, and allows students multiple opportunities to clean up their act before serious punishments are administered. For all alcohol related offenses, the college allows at least two infractions before suspension is even considered, and in some cases up to four infections can be tolerated before a suspension is considered. These policies were recently reviewed by both an internal and external review board in recent years and, although comments were made about the apparent leniency of Roanoke’s policies, no changes have been made. The College feels that stricter punishments would compromise their mission of projecting education, understanding, and compassion towards Roanoke students.
On the statistical side, Roanoke has seen alcohol related violations of the student conduct policy reduce significantly over the past three academic years. The percentage of alcohol related violations has dropped from over 50% to 39% with the fall semester of 2014 registering 32%. This decrease seems to show improvement, yet Dr. Chisom is not convinced. For one, he believes this data is skewed by the increasing prevalence of marijuana use, which the college has recently back off on in terms of punishment based on “recent national trends.” Dr. Chisom also feels this decrease is due to the College’s recent push to have RA’s more involved instead of having campus safety called for every situation, which leads to more cases of RA’s are using “professional discretion” and not reporting all violations. He also noted that all fraternities have been on suspension at some point in the past few years, and it appears most of the alcohol violations involve an off campus drinking event sponsored by a fraternity. One fraternity, Pike, has continuously violated the student conduct policy over the past two years, and their national head of chapter is coming to Roanoke to talk to the “brothers” of the fraternity to sort out this unfortunate trend. The information from Dr. Chisom’s office seems to indicate that, while the percentage of alcohol violations is decreasing, the data may cover other realities and issues that are prevalent at Roanoke College.
Outside of the office of the Vice President of Student Affairs, students in Dr. Hollis’ class also interviewed the President of Roanoke College, Campus Safety, Health Services, Residence Life, and Student Government, to garner their views and information concerning alcohol consumption at Roanoke. One of the most prevalent similarities was the recognition and understanding that almost all sexual assault cases at Roanoke involve alcohol consumption. These groups agreed that there is no way to separate sexuals assault from alcohol and that alcohol policies directly affect sexual assault on campus. However, many noted that the amnesty policy at Roanoke allows student to report sexual assault without risk of being cited if they were intoxicated when the assault occurred. While this allows students to undoubtedly feel more comfortable reporting sexual assault, the data involving alcohol use and sexual assault becomes skewed and does not tell the full story. Additionally, many referenced the recent decrease in alcohol use at Roanoke College and expressed pleasure with this turn of events. While others like Dr. Chisom were not entirely convinced by the data, many believed that students seem to be getting quieter in terms of alcohol use. Whether or not this trend has any merit, these organizations expressed an interest in observing student tendencies to see if this is truly part of a larger change.
Overall, most of these institutions and individuals expressed similar sentiments concerning alcohol use on campus. Many felt that a big part of the problem is the national mindset that alcohol consumption is a right of passage for college students. They agreed that lowering the legal drinking age may result in less social stigma and a reduction the binge drinking culture. Along those lines, most expressed approval of Roanoke’s policies valuing education over sanctions, believing it is important to have open conversations with students about alcohol use. These groups seemed to value the leniency and, recognizing alcohol consumption is an indisputable part of college life, feel it is important to reduce stigma through education, understanding, and forgiveness.
The research Dr. Hollis’ class conducted certainly brings to light an accessible, more complete understanding of alcohol use at Roanoke College. Their community engagement project has shown the impact of numerous organizations and groups on campus, as well as their views and opinions concerning the alcohol culture here at Roanoke. The class will be conducting a poster session which will feature their full research and interview results in the Colket Center lobby on April 16th from 11:30AM to 1:00PM. Be sure to come by and observe the students’ in depth and comprehensive research.