Lack of clear alcohol policy confuses some

Mai Hoang

Louisville junior Jason Brown didn’t know what to do.

During the Western vs. Kentucky State game last month, Brown, a resident assistant in McLean Hall was working the front desk when a group of tailgaters walked into the dorm carrying plastic cups.

And Brown smelled alcohol.

Brown said he was surprised someone walked into McLean with alcohol. That surprise soon turned into a sense of duty. He didn’t know if the group was made up of students, but for Brown, a person who says the Hilltopics handbook is his Bible, he thought he knew what he had to do.

According to Hilltopics, “In addition to federal, state and local laws governing the use and possession of alcoholic beverages, the university prohibits the possession, furnishing, or use of alcoholic beverages by all persons while on university owned or controlled property.”

During his resident assistant training, Brown was told he should discipline the violators and tell them to pour their drinks out.

“Any other day we would bust them on the spot,” Brown said.

But, he found he couldn’t.

Brown said his hall director told him that he could only ask the group to leave.

He couldn’t ask them to throw their drinks away or punish them by making them write a letter home to their parents as mandated in Hilltopics.

Since the incident that day, Brown said he is confused about how to enforce the policy in Hilltopics he thought he knew so well.

SUBHED: What is the policy?

Western has no blanket alcohol policy that clearly allows or prohibits alcohol on campus, and administrators say there are instances where alcohol is permitted at Western.

President Gary Ransdell said last month that any person, regardless of age, is prohibited from bringing alcohol into a residence hall. However, he said alcohol is allowed at university-authorized events at South Campus, the Alumni Center, the Faculty House and at tailgating.

In fact, Charley Pride, co-chairman of the Homecoming Committee, sent a letter to groups that included information about tents in the tailgating area, asking for the starting and ending times that “alcoholic beverages will be served.”

Ransdell said anyone, including students who are of drinking age, are allowed to have alcohol at tailgating, as long as they follow state law.

“If they’re over 21 and they’re not disruptive, that’s fine,” he said. “As long as they follow the laws of the state.”

But for Brown, that’s not good enough. He said he was told when he became an RA that alcohol was never permitted on university-controlled property, regardless of age.

“If they’re going to continue to have this policy, they need to change how it’s enforced,” he said.

Other administrators, including Howard Bailey, dean of Student Life, said having alcohol on campus during events like tailgating isn’t “prohibited.”

“There aren’t any absolutes on this campus or any other campus,” he said. “I don’t find Western’s activities involving tailgating unique.”

SUBHED: Other state universities

Tony Blanton, associate dean of students at the University of Kentucky, said that UK’s policy prohibits both students and non-students from having alcohol while tailgating in parking areas before sporting events.

But, Blanton said, alcohol is still regularly present at the events. He said UK’s policy is difficult to enforce because about 70,000 people attend tailgating before every game.

“If a group is causing problems, the police will respond and address the situation,” he said. “If a group is not causing problems, the police isn’t going to take a look at that.”

Blanton said UK experienced the same problems last year that Western faces now. He said tailgaters – with alcohol in their possession – regularly went into dorms.

This year, Blanton said, UK’s campus police prohibit tailgating in areas near dorms.

SUBHED: State law and non-students

Bailey said many tailgaters at Western are often non-students and, therefore, not subject to university policy. They are instead governed by state law which prohibits any open bottles or cans of alcohol in a public place.

Ransdell said students are also subject to state law during tailgating, but should also follow university policy in regard to the prohibition of alcohol in residence halls and academic buildings.

Brian Kuster, director of Housing and Residence Life, said if a non-student enters a dorm, staff can ask them to leave. If they are not cooperative, the violators can be prohibited from entering a dorm or be arrested for trespassing.

Kuster said students, whether or not they live in a residence hall, are bound to the policy in Hilltopics and would be disciplined in various ways.

But Brown believes the policy in Hilltopics should be enforced differently. The policy reads that the “possession, furnishing or use of alcoholic beverages BEGINITALby all personsENDITAL while on university owned or controlled property” is prohibited.

Brown said he always tried to enforce the policy in Hilltopics exactly the way it reads.

“If I’m going to enforce a policy, I want the university to stand behind me when I enforce it,” Brown said.

But Brown would find he is not on the same page as university officials.

Gene Tice, vice president for Student Affairs and Campus Services, said the policy written in Hilltopics is relevant only to students living in residence halls.

“Residence halls do not direct the policy for the university,” he said. “It’s the other way around.”

Tice said dorm staff members like Brown should not be concerned with tailgaters outside dorms unless they enter the building.

“We have plenty of laws,” he said. “If people would just follow the laws, we would solve 95 percent of alcohol policy on campus. We got all the policies . we’ve got to focus on those who break the laws and hold them accountable to the laws.”

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]