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Drinking Penalized

Students face consequences for alcohol consumption on school grounds

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05

   It was past midnight and as music pulsated through the air, there was a banging at the door followed by instant quiet. The worried silence of partygoers stems from the arrival of campus police investigating a noise complaint.

“The police came in, they saw the alcohol and they separated the party into two groups: over 21 and under 21,” said Alan Garcia, junior electrical and computer engineering major. “I believe they made the (apartment’s) residents throw away the alcohol. They also took down the information of everyone. After that, they released all the 21 year olds. ”On Dec. 29, 2012, Garcia was invited to a party at Miner Heights where alcohol was provided. According to a police report, officers found approximately 13 individuals (both UTEP students and visitors) inside an apartment. The party was shut down and the two residents, under the age of 21, were issued Class C citations for possession of alcohol by a minor.

Incidents involving students and alcohol use on campus property are reported to the conduct office. The student meets with a conduct officer, who explains the allegations, finds out the details of the situation and begins an investigation.

“It’s the discretion of the hearing officer to determine, based on policies, the level of offense and to render some sort of sanction. That sanction can be anything from

a warning on up,” said Gary Edens, vice president of student affairs.

Policy 1.2.15 under Student Conduct and Discipline in the UTEP Handbook of Operating Procedures states, “The University enforces all state and federal laws or regulations which regulate and control the sale or use of alcohol on campus, including those pertaining to the possession of alcohol by minors…residents of University Housing are authorized to possess and consume beer and wine in the privacy of their living quarters, if they are of legal age under State law. Students in violation of these policies will be subject to University discipline in addition to possible criminal prosecution by civil authorities.” When a call is made to the UTEP Police Department regarding alcohol consumption, they go to the scene to assess the situation.

“UTEP PD responds to these types of calls from a public-safety perspective and takes the appropriate action(s) in accordance with the Texas Alcohol Beverage Code, Texas Penal Code and Texas Code of Criminal Procedures to include university rules and policies,” said Clifton Walsh, UTEP police chief.

Although Garcia is 21, he received an appointment with the Office of Student Life to discuss his involvement in the matter.

“I went to student life and they explained to me that even though I was under my full legal right to consume alcoholic beverages, I was still on campus property and...there were (minors) at the party,” Garcia said. “Not that I provided the alcohol, but since there were people that were under 21 years old, it was still my responsibility to not be there. My involvement was just that, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Edens said UTEP follows state laws that apply to alcohol consumption under the age of 21 and include incidents on campus residencies.

“If you have a party at your house and you have a bunch of underage people drinking, you’re going to be in trouble and it’s the same here at the university. Depending on what we find out is happening, there would be some sort of investigation at the housing level,” Edens said. “There’s rules and regulations associated with drinking in the residence halls, so the student might be found in violation of those. There’s a whole range of sanctions that could be imposed.”

Walsh agrees that minors should adhere to state laws while on campus and said that UTEP PD enforces Texas Alcohol Beverage Code laws, which include minor in possession of alcohol, minor consuming alcohol, public intoxication and other related laws.

Because Garcia was only present at the party and did not provide any of the alcohol, he will face disciplinary probation until May 25, along with the other 13 students who were at the party. Garcia said this was the first time he received any type of disciplinary probation.

“(I’m) on probation and if I make a mistake, where I do something bad, the next time that I infringe on the school code of conduct, I will get a higher sanction than previously, depending on the situation,” Garcia said. “What they told me is in that type of situation where you know that there’s just one minor, just turn around. And even though you’re not providing everything, if you were just invited, you’re not really related to any of the situation, it’s still your responsibility as a 21 year old.”

According to Edens, the percentage of commuter students versus on-campus students gives UTEP fewer housing-related problems, compared to other universities. However, the upcoming increase in student housing will impact the situation.

“With the new housing, you’re going to increase the number of potential problems. We’re preparing our staff to be able to handle those situations. (To) better orient students when they come into the residence halls about the rules and policies,” Edens said. “We now have live-in staff members at each of the sites, we never had that before, so we’re trying to provide not only oversight, but also educational opportunities for students to understand this is what you can do, this is what you can’t do, so that they are fully aware of their rights, but also their responsibilities.”

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