Fines for alcohol violations, one year later

This spring, the last day of finals will mark the close of Marquette’s first academic year with an alcohol policy that uses monetary fines to penalize students for conduct violations. Students and administrators reflected on the policy’s effects so far.

Erin Lazzar, assistant dean of students, said the Office of Student Development, the university division that formulated the new policy, was pleased with how the policy was implemented and received by students. Lazzar said the new policy allowed for “tremendous transparency” and “tremendous consistency” in dispensing punishments to students.

“There certainly were students who had some constructive criticism for the policy,” Lazzar said. “We also had a number of students who really appreciated the idea that there were standardized sanctions that were listed. So students who were charged with violating parts of the policy, when they came to the conduct hearing, appreciated knowing what was going to happen.”

The new alcohol policy, which was implemented last fall, categorizes offenses by severity into four categories from least severe, A, to most severe, D. Fines range from $50 to $750 and increase with the seriousness of the offense and repeated violations. Students may also receive a university warning, probation or suspension, depending on the offense. Money collected from the fines will be used for university alcohol and drug-prevention programs, such as AlcoholEdu.

The university has not made hard data available about the number of violations this year or the funds accumulated as a result. However, Lazzar did say the number of alcohol violations was down from previous years at the end of the fall semester.

Lazzar said the policy change last fall was a reaction to student concern that the university was not cultivating an environment that “supported” students who chose not to drink. Creating consistent sanctions that would apply to all student conduct offenders was seen as a way to address these worries.

“We were getting a lot of feedback from students, saying ‘It seems like students are drinking all the time and there aren’t any consequences for that,'” Lazzar said. “And now for students who aren’t violating the policy, they know the university is responding in consistent ways.”

Student reaction, however, was mixed. The bulk of students interviewed said they did not yearn for punishment consistency. Instead, many students felt the fines negatively affected student safety and degraded the educational aspect of going through a student-conduct hearing because of its punitive nature.

Coordinator for Alcohol Programs Sara Johnson rebuked this idea as a misperception, saying students guilty of violating the policy will be assigned an educational component, such as a paper, in addition to the fine.

Some students, like Kevin Dolan, a junior in the College of Communication, said the new policy had an adverse effect on student safety.

“I think it’s done the job the university wanted, but I feel it is coming at the cost of student welfare,” Dolan said. “Underage drinking is going to happen anywhere, especially in Milwaukee where you can drink at 18 with parental supervision. I also think it is ridiculous that MPD and DPS are more concerned about busting over 100 students who aren’t hurting anybody … Gun violence is definitely a bigger issue than underage drinking on campus.”

Francisco Paredes, a freshman in the College of Engineering, said he also observed students compromising their well-being as a result of the new drinking policy.

“I personally don’t drink, but I feel that the drinking policy only causes students to put their safety at risk by going out into the neighborhoods surrounding Marquette and looking for a party, which can then result in students getting mugged or being out on the streets intoxicated,” Paredes said.

Daniella Castillo, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, agreed.

“I feel that it shows that Marquette is more concerned about profit than about the students’ health,” she said. “I’ve seen instances in which students have needed to go to the hospital because of how intoxicated they are, but their friends are too worried about getting in trouble or getting fined to report it so that they can get help.”

A sophomore in the College of Business Administration, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she felt the fines were unfair because those students who had previously been written up would not get a “clean slate” with the implementation of the new policy.

“I thought the alcohol policy was really inconsistent, and it was way too harsh on students because it retroactively looked at students’ previous misconduct,” she said.

Though the money accumulated from the fines will pay for university programs about alcohol and drugs, some students would like to see more transparency in where the revenue will go.

“My fine probably paid for Vander (Blue)’s iPad,” said Will Hollabaugh, a senior in the College of Health Sciences. “Which is probably with him in (California).”

If anything, Lazzar said she hoped the new policy change opened up a dialogue about drugs and alcohol on campus this year.

“When students are talking about it, it’s good,” Lazzar said. “If this is something students are talking about, the awareness is high.”