Underage possesion of alcohol much more severe at UGA in comparasion to other schools

By Sarah Proctor

Anna Thomas was finished with the two school she had been dreading. For Thomas, a junior from Atlanta, it seemed every test and paper fell within the last 10 school days. But now, her three quizzes, two tests and two papers were completed and turned in. Thomas, along with her friends, decided to spend her first free Saturday at a daytime fraternity party, sitting on the front lawn socializing with other students and listening to a band. Thomas was being cautious. She was with her friends, had not driven her car and was not partaking in the binge drinking taking place around her. She was, however, drinking beer. Thomas said if she had known what would happen later that afternoon; she would have never attended the party.
“I had consumed maybe four beers by the time we decided to leave,” Thomas said. “That was over a four plus hour time span. I felt a buzz, but in no way was I incoherent.”
But for Thomas, along with a multitude of other University of Georgia students, that didn’t matter. As soon Thomas stepped off the fraternity house’s property, she was approached by a nearby police officer that demanded to see her identification.
After it was discovered Thomas was only 20 years old, she was hand cuffed and taken to jail. No warning, no questions asked, no second chance.
Underage drinking in college is not uncommon. In a study by conducted by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it was discovered about 80% of all college students drink alcohol. It was also shown that nearly 60% of students are 18-20 years old.
For students at many colleges in Georgia, the headache ends after a citation is paid. But if one is charged with underage drinking in downtown Athens, they can expect much more than a fine; to start, they can expect to be hauled to jail just like Thomas—even if it’s their first offense.

“I personally think it’s a little dramatic I had to spend the night in jail,” Thomas said. “I understand what I did was wrong, but that’s an intense repercussion that’s going to be with me for a very long time.”
In an interview with the Red & Black, criminal defense attorney Christopher Adams agreed Athens has an unorthodox method for dealing with underage drinkers.
“I practice all over North Georgia, and I can tell you I have never run into another county where that was the case,” Adams said.
The implications after an underage alcohol possession can have a much greater impact on a UGA student than students at other colleges in Georgia.  If students graduate with an alcohol arrest on their record, future opportunities could be tainted.
“It’s something that can directly affect people’s ability in going to graduate school, law school and future employment,” Adams said.
Eric Hoffman, Assistant Dean and Director of Student Conduct at Emory said a tier system is employed at Emory where conduct officers have discretion as to how to treat each case. The first level consists of a warning and required completion of an online assessment. The student then meets with a health professional at the health center for a follow up. Only when the student reaches level four, most commonly meaning a fourth incident, do they receive a suspension.
“Where a particular student enters the sanctioning levels above depends on the severity of their incident,” Hoffman said.  “If a student has engaged in high risk behavior in their first incident, we generally sanction that student to a Level 2 sanction on a first offense because of the riskiness of their behavior. However, if a student violated our policies but only did so in a low risk way, the student generally receives a Level One type sanction.”
Many students throughout the state are required to appear before a student judicial board which sanctions their punishment. And although UGA does have a board, it is usually the least of a student’s worries.
“It’s pretty common for us to just issue a citation,” Scot Doner, the Director of University Police at Valdosta State University, said. “Now, if they need EMS we call them. Only if there’s a lot of extenuating circumstances like serious disorderly conduct, for example,  will go down to jail.”
Students at Valdosta State University must also appear before a student advisory board to determine if they will receive further punishment.
In 2010 at Valdosta State University, there were 25 total alcohol arrests, both underage and of legal age, according to records. At UGA the same year, there were 218 arrests for underage possession of alcohol, according to records. In 2009 at VSU there were 14 total alcohol relates arrests; at UGA there were 157 arrests or underage possession for alcohol, according to reports.
At Mercer University, before any punishment, students are sent directly to the student judicial affairs board, which will sanction their punishment.
“Usually a student is told to pick up trash, write a paper, something of that sort depending on varying degrees,” Gary Collins, the Chief of Police at Mercer University, said. “In some cases they must attended alcohol counseling or pay a fine.”
At Mercer in 2008 there were 241 total liquor law violations referred for campus disciplinary action and zero arrests.
“I definitely think we should receive warnings, or even citations,” Thomas said. “All my friends at other schools think it’s crazy I was arrested when I was with a group of friends after hanging out drinking beer. I do that at home with my parents!”

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