Binge drinking leads to dance changes

By The Beacon | April 6, 2011 9:00pm

New dance policies require all students to be breathalyzed before the Dance of the Decades next year

(Photo illustration by Alexander Domingo -- The Beacon)

By Sarah Hansell, Staff Writer --

Binge drinking problems at the Dance of the Decades have triggered major changes to UP's dance policies: Every student will be breathalyzed before being allowed to board the bus to the dance.

Every student who wants to go to a UP dance must take the bus and next year's homecoming dance has been canceled replaced with a concert featuring a "major" performer to act as next year's homecoming event.

The binge drinking that went on before and during the Dance of the Decades on Jan. 29 caused three students to be hospitalized, one taken to a detoxification facility by the Portland Police, three sent back to campus and five minor in possession citations.

Campus Program Board (CPB), Public Safety, ASUP, Student Activities and Residence Life decided to take action to prevent similar problems in the future.

"We all just kind of discussed what the issues were and how to prevent it without destroying CPB's function of providing entertainment that is safe and fun," CPB Director Hillary White, a junior, said.

They decided to require all students to be breathalyzed on campus before boarding the bus to dances. Students under 21 must have a blood alcohol level of zero percent, and students 21 and over must have a blood alcohol level no higher than 0.08 percent, though that number is subject to change.

"That was actually a number that Harold (Burke-Sivers, the director of Public Safety) threw out," White said. "I think that number may be up to be changed."

Students who blow above these limits will not be allowed to board the bus, and students who are under 21 and blow above a zero will be dealt with by Public Safety.

"Since Public Safety will be the one administering the breathalyzer test, it will be under their control," White said.

No matter his or her age, every student who wants to attend a dance must ride the bus chartered by UP. After a student is breathalyzed and patted down, his or her ticket will be marked to grant admission to the dance, a system aimed at preventing students who are turned away from driving to the dance themselves and getting inside.

"Drinking has become such a risk that we needed to take these preventative measures," Dance of the Decades Coordinator and CPB Director-elect, Sean Ducey, a sophomore, said. "From a risk management perspective, we need to put something in place so that we can provide a safe environment for students to have fun."

The bar will still be open for students 21 and over at the dance. As before, additional breathalyzing at or after the dance will be conducted on a case-by-case basis.

The idea of breathalyzing every student came directly from student opinion. CPB emailed a survey to the entire student body after the Dance of the Decades asking for student feedback.

According to White, CPB received almost 1,000 surveys back, and about 20 percent of those respondents suggested breathalyzing everyone as a way to remedy the drinking problem.

"We took that feedback very seriously," White said.

Some students agree that this would be a good way to handle the alcohol-related issues that occurred at the dance, especially because they occurred at a venue other than UP.

"As it pertains to the breathalyzing, I definitely think Dance of the Decades was out of hand and was pretty disrespectful," sophomore Jeff Makjavich said. "So just whatever can cut down on the bad image that UP would portray from that belligerent behavior."

However, not all students are happy with this change.

"People are going to get drunk. Whether they do it at a school dance or somewhere else is irrelevant," freshman Ryan Belisle said. "I think breathalyzing everyone is going to the extreme."

Some students think this will decrease the popularity of the dance.

"I don't think people will go if you breathalyze every single person," freshman Corinne Hunt said.

Because of the policy changes, CPB decided to cancel next year's homecoming dance. The Dance of the Decades will still occur spring semester.

"We wanted to give those policies time to be implemented," White said. "Homecoming happens so, so soon at the beginning of the year."

The cancellation will give CPB and Public Safety more planning time.

"It's going to be a lot of planning," Assistant Director of Student Clubs Jillian Smith said. "It takes months, if not years, to plan these kinds of events."

Instead of planning the homecoming dance, CPB will host a concert in the Chiles Center featuring a major band still to be determined. While dance venues have a limited amount of space, the Chiles Center has enough room for the entire student body.

"Every student that wants to attend will be able to," White said.

Some students are happy that there will be a concert rather than a dance for the homecoming event next semester.

"I think a concert would be more like an event," sophomore Zach Peters said. "I think more people would go to a concert."

UP is not alone in trying to deal with binge drinking problems before and during campus events.

According to the March 17 issue of The Heights, Boston College's student newspaper, the college will no longer hold dances on Saturday nights due to problems with pre-dance drinking . Instead, they will be Friday nights.

At Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., senior events were canceled for the year due to intoxication and bad behavior at the kick-off dance for the seniors last fall.

CPB and the groups it collaborated with hope, through the measures they are enacting, to keep UP students safe without having to eliminate dances altogether.

"I hope overall there is an understanding that we are putting this stuff in place to keep students safe and to make sure that (they) still have the dances," Smith said.

Hillary White (The Beacon)

Sean Ducey (The Beacon)