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Underage students face probation and more for alcohol-related referrals
On a cool September night, a girl walked down Union Street, struggling with two cases of beer. Nick, making his way back to Jefferson Hall on East Green, decided to be a gentleman and help her.
But when an undercover state liquor-enforcement agent stepped out of the bushes in front of him, demanding to see ID, the Ohio University freshman studying business realized his etiquette was a terrible mistake.
“He cuffed me and the girl got to go because she was 21,” Nick said. “I was just trying to help her — I was not happy she just left.”
Although Nick wasn’t drinking at the time of his arrest, he was charged with possession, a first-degree misdemeanor.
He faced penalties from both Athens County Municipal Court, where he participated in the Underage Drinker’s Diversion Program to expunge his record, and OU’s Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility.
The September incident added Nick to the list of almost 300 students penalized by the office this school year. And the number of students going through the office for underage-related offenses has increased each year.
About 850 students walked through the office’s doors with underage-related offenses during the 2010–11 academic year, up from only 115 during the 2006–07 year.
Every time a student is cited for an underage-related offense, reports are collected from the officers involved, said Ardy Gonyer, the office’s assistant director.
If OU Police officers cite a student, they immediately send a report to the office, Chief Andrew Powers said.
An appointment is set with the student upon receipt of the report. Students can either admit or deny the violation; if they deny it, they must have a hearing with office officials, Gonyer said.
When Nick pulled open the door of the office for his appointment, he hoped someone would be lenient.
“I explained that I was trying to help a person out and that I hadn’t touched a drink yet,” Nick said. “The guy told me I could contest it in (the office’s) court but because I was in possession, I was in trouble.”
Nick received the minimum amount of probation — six months — meaning he has to be very careful until April. He also had to pay $200 and complete a five-hour alcohol-education class, Prime for Life.
His punishment was pretty standard. Gonyer said the normal amount of probation runs from six to nine months and offenders must serve a minimum of two hours of community service.
All requirements for the court’s diversion program do not apply, and if a student commits a second offense, he or she could be suspended for a quarter, Gonyer said.
But if a student’s life is in danger, the charge could be taken off his or her school record.
OU’s Medical Emergency Assistance Program started in 2008, making the university one of 93 colleges and universities throughout the country with a program like it, according to a 2010 University of Richmond study.
“If a student calls for help because they need to receive attention due to a drug or alcohol emergency, they can call for help without getting a violation,” Gonyer said.
A review of the incident report determines whether a student’s case applies, Gonyer said.
“If officers respond to a student passed out who’s taken to the hospital but the police still cite them, they’ll receive the court charge but are protected from the judicial charge,” he said.
Even though students are not put on probation, they are still required to take the alcohol class and to do community service, he added.
“This is a one-time only program,” he said. “But it could help save people’s lives.”