University Housing at Cal Poly strives to create an inclusive and safe environment to help students adjust to living on their own. However, the beginning of this quarter had a higher spike in residential alcohol abuse than housing has seen in previous years.
The night of Saturday, Jan. 9, University Housing had at least eight reported cases of students who were unconscious or had alcohol poisoning in residence halls.
Psychology junior and resident adviser (RA) Sierra Valdez said she hadn’t seen anything like this before.
“The beginning of this quarter was worse than it’s ever been,” she said. “Almost every community had over five incident reports this weekend alone, and that’s significantly higher than it was last year.”
Despite University Housing’s efforts to create a completely alcohol-free environment within residence halls, drinking is common in the on-campus living options. Coordinator of Student Development (CSD) Blaze Campbell described the disciplinary process for residents caught drinking in residence halls. The process includes an incident report being filled out by an RA, then a discussion between the residence hall’s CSD and the offender.
If the student is found responsible, they are given an educational and an administrative sanction. Educational sanctions require residents to attend a class put on by PULSE, write a paper or create a bulletin board. Administrative sanctions are considered probationary warnings.
If the student is written up again while on probation for a previous offense, they are given an administrative sanction equivalent to a second offense. Even with these disciplinary actions in place, drinking within residence halls is still frequent and dangerous.
Medical transports are rare, but the unusually high number last weekend is concerning to University Housing staff, especially the RAs.
“I’ve seen a couple residents who require emergency services, and that’s terrifying,” Valdez said.
So far, 80 incident reports have been made in 2016, which is more than was expected at this point in the year, Valdez said. However, not every IR is alcohol related. Some are for mental illness concerns, damaged or stolen property and other minor offenses. For 2015, there were 1,812 from January to December.
With all of the residents returning to campus, many feel they need to reunite with their friends and drink to catch up, Valdez said.
“For some, the first thing on their mind after coming back is ‘I have to go out with my friends,'” Valdez said.
Residents drinking not only has a negative effect on their own health, but it affects the relationships between residents and their RAs, Valdez said.
Graphic communication junior and RA Amanda Ornelas said her job is more than writing up residents.
“It’s about being role models and mentors, someone you can talk to if you have problems,” she said. “We are the first friends you make at college, the first connection here at Poly.”
Having to write a resident up can sometimes put a strain on the relationship between the RA and the residents.
“When a resident is written up, no one wins,” Valdez said.
University Housing holds events for all buildings to keep students safe and away from drinking. These are designed to provide options for residents to spend time with friends in substance-free events.
“We also try to keep reminding residents about the things they learned during Week of Welcome about safety and alcohol,” Valdez said.
The RAs biggest goal is to keep the residents safe, Ornelas said.
“We love all of our residents and we want to make sure they keep themselves safe and healthy,” she said.