Survey reveals students are unfamiliar with term in alcohol policy

By: Jim Vogel – Staff Writer & Byron Hoskinson – Staff Writer

The results of a recent survey conducted by the University of Dayton Student Government Association regarding the university’s alcohol policy have raised concerns about students’ knowledge of “mitigating circumstances.”

The term refers to the alcohol violation policy that provides protection from disciplinary action for students who “seek assistance for their fellow students who may be in medical danger” as well as for the student in need of care, according to the 2013-2014 UD Student Handbook.

The SGA survey, which was conducted via surveymonkey.com, asked students if they were “familiar with the definition of mitigating circumstances.” Of the 64 respondents, 25 percent replied “Yes” and 75 percent replied “No,” according to the survey.

Jessica Hoelting, conduct coordinator in Community Standards and Civility, said mitigating circumstances is outlined in the student handbook under the alcohol policy.

“Mitigating circumstances encourages students to call for assistance if their friend is in a state where they know that they need attention, most likely medical. The outcome of that call is that the student that calls [UD] Public Safety will not be documented should they appear to be intoxicated,” Hoelting said.

“The student that the caller sought attention for will be documented but any punitive monetary fees will be waived,” Hoelting said.

Hoelting explained while monetary fees are waived for the student being assisted, other behavioral consequences such as mandatory alcohol classes or hearings can still be enforced under the mitigating circumstances policy.

A fifth-year mechanical engineering major, who asked not to be identified, said he received a monetary fine after being transported to the hospital for an incident in October 2010. He said he received enough disciplinary points to place him on probation for the remainder of the year.

Hoelting explained that mitigating circumstances apply even if agencies other than Public Safety are called. She said the recipient of the call records the name of the student seeking assistance and uses that documentation to determine who called.

Flyer News surveyed a sample of 58 students, inquiring their familiarity with the mitigating circumstances policy, its terminology, and whether the potential for disciplinary action for alcohol violations have ever factored into a decision to call public safety for themselves or another.

Of those surveyed, 11 individuals, or 19 percent of respondents, immediately knew the meaning of the phrase “mitigating circumstances.” Of those, six were current or former resident assistants or student neighborhood fellows.
When the policy was briefly explained, 83 percent (48 of those surveyed), claimed to be acquainted with the policy, though they were unfamiliar with its administrative name. Of those unaware of the nature of the policy, eight were freshman and two were sophomores.

When asked if the possibility of disciplinary action ever influenced a decision to call public safety, 19 percent of respondents said it had. The SGA survey asked a similar question and received a similar response: The question, “Have you ever been afraid to help an intoxicated friend because you were afraid of consequences?” received a 23 percent positive and a 77 percent negative response.

Freshman international studies major Claire Sanfilippo said she was unaware of what the term meant by itself. However, she said she was aware of the policy with regard to calling for help for a friend while you yourself may be intoxicated.

“I was made aware of the policy with regard to alcohol by AlcoholEdu,” Sanfilippo said.
Chris Schramm, associate vice president of student development and dean of students, said she believes most students have a similar understanding of the policy.

“UD has been ahead of the curve with mitigating circumstances since 1994,” Schramm said. “It was unusual at this time to be a part of a student handbook.”

Schramm said the terminology was specific to the alcohol policy since its implementation and is not associated with any recent changes to alcohol policy on campus.

Schramm said the term is not limited to alcohol or alcohol policy enforcement.

“From the beginning the policy was meant to promote the safety and health of our students,” she said. “It speaks to our Marianist charisms and our duty to care for each other. It’s not at all a new notion for us. This policy, above others, really demonstrates our commitment to the health and safety of our students.”

Schramm also commented on the reaction of students to this policy over time.

“Students that I know and parents that I have spoken to have been appreciative of it. They see that this is a congruent practice that meets with our beliefs as a university. It has done nothing but help students,” Schramm said.
Schramm explained the policy is meant to reflect the university’s cognitive focus.

“Instead of tacking on more fees for being transported or treated, we want to work with students to make sure that they will not repeat the same offense and learn from the experience as much as possible.”

Schramm and Hoelting said the policy has been implemented on campus beyond the few sentences defining it in the student handbook. Schramm elaborated, pointing to its inclusion in the mandatory AlcoholEdu online class taken by freshmen students and its frequent discussion in many Community Health and Wellness programs.

“I think the fact that students are not aware of the term ‘mitigating circumstances’ is not because we haven’t done a good job talking about it. It’s just that it is so much a part of our landscape at UD that we do not notice it,” Schramm explained.