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RIC lectures target drinking among athletes

Some undergraduates express concern that student-athletes are unfairly singled out

As part of a forced three-day “hiatus” of the Rhode Island College athletics program following an “uptick” in alcohol-related incidents on campus, RIC Athletic Director Don Tencher hosted two mandatory alcohol education sessions for all student-athletes at the school earlier this month.

The alcohol education sessions brought lecturers from the State Police and Mothers Against Drunk Driving and were intended to “nip the behavior in the bud before it became a problem,” said Laura Hart, director of college communications and marketing at RIC.

The student-athletes were specifically targeted not only because they participated in some of the reported incidents, but also because the school hopes that “student-athletes will go on to promote responsible behavior among the whole student body,” Hart wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald.

The speakers who participated in the sessions stressed the health concerns associated with alcohol consumption and reminded the student-athletes of their responsibilities as “stewards” of the college in the public eye, said Stephen Lynch, Burrillville chief of police and former RIC soccer player in the school’s Hall of Fame.

“We know that students can obtain alcohol,” Lynch said. “We have to ask what’s important to them. Is it important to them that they get drunk or is it important that they stay in real good shape for their program?”

Looking past players’ commitments to their teams and their own athletic successes, lecturers reminded the student-athletes of their health and safety.

“They cannot assume this life-long idea that no dire consequences will follow them,” said Gabrielle Abbate, executive director of MADD Rhode Island, who was a guest lecturer at RIC last week.

While members of law enforcement and MADD applauded Tencher for hosting the forum, multiple news outlets reported that RIC students feel the athletes were unfairly singled out.

“I know plenty of people who party, and it’s not just athletes,” Audrey Lietar, a senior at RIC, told The Herald. “I don’t think taking away sports is effective as a punishment.”

On behalf of MADD Rhode Island, Abbate addressed legality as another angle of alcohol consumption on college campuses.

Though Rhode Island law strictly prohibits possession of alcohol by individuals who are underage, the law does not prohibit underage consumption. But the state’s relative lack of underage drinking exceptions compared to other states and recent efforts geared toward stricter social host laws combine to make Rhode Island’s drinking laws appear relatively stringent.

MADD has been pushing to decrease the loopholes in the social host law to make it harder for underage kids to get away with drinking, Abbate said.

“The goals of Rhode Island’s law in regards to alcohol consumption are designed to be adhered to,” Lynch said. “The question is how much do students really adhere to them.”

A recent study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 65 percent of Rhode Island residents ages 18 to 20 have used alcohol in the past month, and 47 percent indicated they have engaged in binge drinking in the past month.

High rates of underage alcohol use mean the laws are not being followed, which does not come as a surprise, Lynch said. “We know that the ability to obtain alcohol on college campuses is pretty prevalent across the country.”

This trend may result from the fact that underage students do not fear the legal consequences of drinking at college parties.

“Size and noise are the number one things that get parties shut down,” said Paul Shanley, deputy chief of police for Brown’s Department of Public Safety.

While the police who shut down college parties do consider underage drinking, they are more concerned with accessibility to means of exiting the building and neighbors’ sound sleep than with busting underage drinkers or “irresponsible social hosts,” he added.

The most common consequence of underage drinking at Brown is a mandatory appointment with a dean, Shanley said. The party hosts usually do not face any disciplinary action beyond a noise summons, which comes after multiple warnings, he added.


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