Shorter Welcome Week leads to decreased alcohol use

By Max Radwin, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 18, 2014

Like many freshmen during the 2014 Welcome Week, the first home game against Appalachian State University was not only first-year University President Mark Schlissel’s first exposure to Michigan football, but to the University’s culture of alcohol consumption on campus. And after seeing students drinking on rooftops and struggling to stand up, Schlissel said he was terrified.

Though Schlissel called increasing alcohol safety a long-term project, the University has already taken steps to limit the kind of unsafe alcohol activity he witnessed first-hand that takes place during Welcome Week, which is known for promoting an excessively unsafe drinking environment.

However, the University’s efforts to quell drinking this year had mixed results.

According to data compiled by the University’s Division of Public Safety and Security, this year’s Welcome Week saw a general decline in on-campus alcohol-related activity, but an uptick in off-campus neighborhoods. The discrepancy may not reflect a shift in drinking culture, but rather increased enforcement of underage drinking violations by the University police compounded with a shorter move-in period for on-campus residents.

During an October SACUA meeting, SACUA Chair Scott Masten, a professor of business economics and public policy in the Ross School of Business, echoed Schlissel’s sentiments regarding the experience many students have during Welcome Week.

“We want to make sure (new students’) first impressions are not football and alcohol,” he said. “It’s something more academic — a more positive side of the University.”

Masten’s sentiment is reflected in a variety of alcohol-related statistics compiled in a DPSS report regarding Welcome Week: the number of ambulance requests to University Housing facilities dropped from 46 in 2013 to 31. Calls to the DPSS Communications Center related to drinking, noise complaints, urinating in public and incapacitation declined from 106 to 85. Visits to University Emergency Departments, which the report deemed “the leading indicator” of alcohol activity, dropped from 100 to 76.

The report, dated Sept. 4 and titled “Student Move-in Alcohol Activities,” presents “preliminary” and “advisory” figures only. It was written for informational purposes for University officials and was not originally intended for public release. A spokesperson for the Ann Arbor Police said they were unaware of how the information regarding Ann Arbor Police activity was compiled.

The data encompasses all alcohol-related incidents between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2 of this year in comparison to Aug. 26 and Sept. 3 of 2013 — each spanning nine days. However, the move-in period for University housing residents was shortened this year from four days to two, and so the decline in alcohol activity is may partly be a result of students not being on campus to drink.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirmed the shortened Welcome Week was partly intended to cut down on the amount of unstructured time students had in dorms that was often filled by alcohol consumption.

While he said this year’s Welcome Week went well, Fitzgerald added that the University hasn’t yet decided on the Welcome Week timeline for next year.

E. Royster Harper, vice president of student life, said the University is also going to be rethinking its law enforcement strategies.

“There are just going to be more consequences for walking around with open containers, with loud music and everybody on the lawn obviously drinking,” she said.

The number of citations for a minor in possession by University police during welcome week increased from 27 to 40 between this year and last, despite the shortened move-in period.

According to the DPSS report, this was the result of a “grant-funded patrol (unit) targeting the enforcement of underage drinking violations,” performed by University Police and the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office.

Throughout the year, Washtenaw County receives funding from the state for targeted enforcement, which has previously included directed patrols toward the Click It or Ticket campaign and drunk-driving enforcement efforts.

A DPSS spokesperson said grants are often deployed during times of higher risk behavior, such as holidays or in this case, Welcome Week. The report’s numbers include one night of a two-night grant coordinated through the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department that provided additional officers to patrol nearby campus streets. Extra officers were not deployed in 2013.

The DPSS spokesperson said University police officers do not have quotas for giving out MIPs.

“Their primary focus is to ensure our community members are safe and then enforce laws as deemed appropriate.”

In light of the decline of on-campus alcohol activity, emergency calls to the Ann Arbor police from neighborhoods with student rental housing or properties adjacent to campus increased by 48 percent — from 241 calls to 358 — according to the University’s report. In addition, calls for assistance for an incapacitated person to Ann Arbor Police approximately doubled.

The spokesperson said the Ann Arbor Police have not received a grant for increased enforcement in the last two years at least, but they did have extra patrol during this Welcome Week.

“We work with Ann Arbor Police and the Washtenaw County Police and we are all equally concerned with the alcohol issues on campus,” an Ann Arbor Police spokesperson said. “We want students to be safe. We are aware that people drink, but we want them to do it responsibly.”

Similarly, Schlissel said the University will continue to emphasize safety as it develops strategies for combatting alcohol.

“I think it’s impractical to have as a goal that students wont drink on campus,” Schlissel said. “Even though most of students are drinking illegally, I don’t think that’s an enforceable law, but looking at it from the safety perspective is what I want to do.”