EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – It's a report that's taken social media by storm; the University of Wisconsin System now considered one of the "booziest" and "druggiest" among colleges in America.
It’s based on a report from Rehabs.com, highlighting universities and colleges in the United States with the most drug and alcohol arrests per 1,000 students on-campus in year 2011.
Five UW campuses made the top 20 list for drug and alcohol arrests.
#1 – UW-Oshkosh
#2 – UW-Stout
#3 – UW-La Crosse
#17 – UW-Eau Claire
#18 – UW-Whitewater
For alcohol arrests alone, 10 UW schools made it on the top 50 list and for drug arrests alone, six UW schools were among the top 50.
But these rankings don't necessarily mean the problems of drugs and alcohol is limited to these schools. It could actually mean the universities are taking pro-active measures to put an end to the problem.
Three western Wisconsin schools made it on the top 20 list for drug and alcohol arrests. But students at UW-Stout, which ranked #2 say they’re not surprised.
“It’s not surprising because almost on every campus there are usually parties and people like to party,” said Amandeep Singh.
“I've always heard that Stout is a typical party school,” said student Jake Langevin. “It just didn't really come to a surprise to me what so ever.”
Erin Worner said typically, most colleges are labeled “party schools” because of its reputation.
“Because Stout had such a reputation for such a long time that’s probably why we're at number two,” said Worner.
But the universities aren’t surprised either.
Doug Mell is the UW-Stout executive director of university communications. He said in March 2010, Chancellor Charles Sorenson sent a memo to faculty and staff. The figures from Rehabs.com are based on data in 2011, just a year after.
“Chancellor Sorensen issued a challenge to campus basically saying that we were going to get serious about addressing high risk alcohol use. We had lost six students in the last two years (2008-2010), alcohol related incidents, and the chancellor said it was time for the campus to get serious about high risk alcohol use,” said Mell.
2010 is the same year 22-year-old Stout student Bradley Simon died when police say two other students assaulted him outside a bar in Menomonie, alcohol was a factor.
Mell said the chancellor’s plan had three components: Engagement, education and enforcement. Under the new plan, he said the school strengthened enforcement.
“We would consistently enforce the rules and regulations that we had in place, where sometimes in the past maybe we wouldn't. It’s inevitable that our citations went up,” said Mell.
About 30 miles down I-94, it’s a similar story at UW-Eau Claire. Chief David Sprick with the UW-Eau Claire Police Department said the numbers show the university officers are doing their job.
“I think one thing the report may tell us is university police agencies in the UW-system in Wisconsin are probably very thorough with their enforcement actions when needed,” said Sprick. “We feel we're very well prepared here at UW-Eau Claire to have a multifaceted, multipronged approach to offering resources, as well as the enforcement piece just to try to help people realize they've maybe crossed a line with their behavior, they've been fueled by alcohol misuse.”
Sprick said the "arrests" in the Rehabs.com report aren't necessarily "actual arrests".
“They’re going to be underage drinking tickets, they're going to be open container, they're going to be an OWI, operating while intoxicated first offense,” said Sprick. First offense for OWI is not a crime in Wisconsin whereas second offense is, he said.
That’s because the Office of Postsecondary Education includes simple citations under the umbrella of “arrest.”
Another piece to note is the arrest numbers are based specifically on “on-campus” arrests. So any OWI’s or underage drinking tickets that happen on campus property get counted in the data, whether it is a university student or not.
According to the OPE:
UW-Eau Claire had 123 alcohol arrests and 91 drug arrests in 2011.
UW-Eau Claire had 133 alcohol arrests and 160 drug arrests in 2012.
UW-Stout had 269 alcohol arrests and 59 drug arrests in 2011.
UW-Stout had 140 alcohol arrests and 45 drug arrests in 2012.
The “arrests” went up for Eau Claire and down for Stout.
UW-Eau Claire Center for Alcohol Studies and Education director Peggy O'Halloran said when citations and arrests go up on campus; it shows the enforcement part of the university’s strategy is working.
“We look at policy enforcement, we look at education, and we look at making sure the student is engaged with the university in positive ways. I think if that’s our strategy, then you would expect to see that you had some level of enforcement numbers that’s maybe higher than other places because it’s a priority here,” said O’Halloran.
O’Halloran said Wisconsin has higher drinking rates in the adult population and that may be an attributing factor too.
At UW-Stout, Mell said the decline from 2011 to 2012 shows chancellor Sorenson's plan is working. He said the latest survey through the university shows suspension numbers have also plummeted thanks to all of the changes.
“The students here have gotten the message, and the message is that we are serious about addressing high risk alcohol use on campus. They've gotten the message. The number of house parties is down, the number of people getting in trouble because of drinking is down,” said Mell.
But enforcement and arrests aren't the only answers.
“We have education programs so they might be assigned by a hall director to come to case and those are all peer led courses so students are a big part of all of our programs,” said O’Halloran.
And there's also the Eau Claire County Underage Drinking Diversion program for students with underage drinking tickets.
“It helps them retain their driving privileges and offers a class to help them become more aware of substance abuse issues and opportunity to sort of self-reflect on their own personal situation,” said Sprick.
And Mell says engaging students early on in their college career can make all the difference.
“That's getting students to talk about drinking and that starts in the dormitories our resident halls folks have done a great job,” said Mell.