The University of Dayton issued more than 3,500 alcohol violations over a three-year period, outpacing much larger schools and raising questions about whether underage and excessive drinking is as much a part of the school as academics and basketball.
The university’s disciplinary referrals for drinking trailed only Ohio State among the state’s colleges, and easily surpassed Miami University and the University of Cincinnati, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.
Ohio University, which has nearly three times the number of students as UD and has long been known for its party scene, issued 1,682 alcohol referrals during the same period. The latest data available is from 2009-2011.
UD officials say the statistic is chiefly a product of the school’s layout and its efforts to control raucous behavior.
“The number of disciplinary referrals, in comparison to the other schools, does not reflect a more serious problem at the University of Dayton,” the university said in a statement. “Rather it indicates the commitment of the university’s residence life and public safety staffs to proactively address violations and take appropriate action to hold students accountable.”
UD’s rowdy reputation has been magnified in recent months by a No. 1 ranking from an entertainment website, which said the Dayton school has “the best college St. Patrick’s Day parties in the U.S.” This year’s revelry ended with police in riot gear clearing a mob-like crowd that included students.
As finals wrapped up last week, shirtless students played beer pong and volleyball in what is known as UD’s student ghetto. Students were not only looking forward to today’s graduation ceremonies, but this week’s post-graduation festivities in Daytona Beach, Fla. — a tradition known as “Dayton to Daytona” that debuted in 1977.
Some sported “No. 1 Party School” T-shirts, but others were uncomfortable with that designation.
“I don’t think we party any more than any other school,” said Zach Splain, a 22 year-old studying history. “I think we have a very social atmosphere, but I don’t think social necessarily means alcohol.”
The senior believes the number of alcohol referrals is higher because police are vigilant about cracking down on reckless behavior and because students tend to party on campus, where they live.
“We are a house party school,” Splain said. “We don’t have, like, the crazy bar scene.”
Universities are required by federal law to report crime statistics, including the number of arrests and disciplinary referrals for students caught or suspected of drinking or using drugs.
UD’s alcohol-related arrests and referrals have dipped slightly from 84 arrests and 1,204 referrals in 2009 to 77 arrests and 1,125 referrals in 2011. There were also 100 drug arrests and 85 referrals in 2009 compared to 54 arrests and 185 referrals for drugs in 2011.
Drugs or alcohol are believed to have played a role in 19-year-old Michael Fuchs’ April 20 fall from the sixth floor of his Marycrest dorm room that left him in critical condition for days. UD police say that incident is still under investigation.
While UD outpaces most Ohio public colleges in the number of referrals, it is comparable to other Catholic universities such as similarly sized Marquette and Villanova. UD, a private Marianist university, has an undergraduate enrollment of about 8,000.
“Typically what we see is that institutions that have large numbers … are institutions that have stronger enforcement,” said S. Daniel Carter, director of 32 National Campus Safety Initiative.
Alison Kiss, executive director of The Clery Center for Security On Campus, said, “When you have an institution that has a party culture, typically you’ll see higher numbers. I always say we need to look beyond the numbers. If there’s stringent enforcement, you’ll certainly see higher numbers.”
UD launched an effort in 2011 to curb the use of alcohol on campus. Its list of recommendations included increasing the number of students involved in alcohol education and asking parents to speak with students about drinking during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, according to the university’s most recent biennial review required by the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. UD also dedicated $21,000 for late-night, alcohol-free programming for students.
The university also offers many services for students, including opportunities to meet with alcohol and drug counselors. Alcohol advertising is banned on campus, as are kegs, though nearby convenience stores appear to do a robust beer business. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are available to students and they can assess their own alcohol and drug use using a self-guided Web survey.
UD officials said it is difficult to make apples-to-apples comparisons with alcohol referral stats because its campus “is one of the most unique campuses in the nation, with neighborhoods of student housing that extend the footprint of the university over a larger area.”
More than 90 percent of students live in the area considered “on campus” for reporting crimes federally, according to UD. “The Clery Act requires that schools report the number of incidents within those jurisdictional ‘on campus’ boundaries and excludes incidents that occur outside. The Clery reports do not distinguish which universities are highly residential versus which ones are not, so to simply look at the Clery data without understanding what that data means — and the residential nature of the campuses represented — is misleading.”
Tradition of drinking
The party culture at American colleges can be incredibly hard to change. Movies from “Animal House” to “American Pie” have glorified underage drinking and make it seem like a rite of passage, according to Reginald Stuart, a Maryland-based reporter who has written extensively about the issue.
“In college, you’re trying to show you’ve got the stuff and hold your liquor — that you can endure no sleep and excessive drinking, that you can endure a lot of excess,” he said. “A lot of those contests don’t end the right way. You don’t realize the consequences until it’s too late.”
Stuart added, “Universities can try to spread the gospel that this kind of partying can ruin your long-term career potential if not end your life, but in managing human behavior there is only so much you can do.”
Dan Reilly of the Missouri Partners in Prevention said campuses can change their culture by encouraging students to be proactive with peers and ensuring that students take part in alcohol education.
Reilly said universities are seeing success in educating students about social norms. New students often come to campus and think other students drink more than they do, he said.
“They’re usually incorrect in that perception, but at the same time, they’ll go to that campus and change their behavior to try to live up to it,” said Reilly.
Carter said institutions that have high numbers of violators could be vigorously enforcing their policies, “But it’s not having a significant impact on limiting the use or abuse of alcohol.”
While schools can suspend repeat offenders, “in terms of changing the overall culture, there’s just going to be another student to take their place coming in next year,” he said.
Many calls, few arrests
For UD police, the workday heats up after midnight, according to a Daily News analysis of university crime logs.
The logs are the minimal reporting required of private universities. They include no names or details, just the location, time, alleged crime and whether anyone was charged or referred for discipline. University police wouldn’t let reporters photograph the logs, so the Daily News transcribed the 190 most recent entries.
From April 11-28, UD police responded to 139 incidents reported as criminal in nature. Only 22 of these resulted in criminal charges. Another 19 were handed over to the university for disciplinary action, and 57 were resolved with no official action taken, which could mean a verbal warning.
Of these calls, 43 involved alcohol and seven involved drugs. Another 23 were noise violations and 24 were assisting another jurisdiction.
Seven alcohol-related incidents, including four involving underage consumption, led to a removal by ambulance. The underage consumption cases were referred for discipline.
Only 15 of the alcohol-related incidents resulted in charges being filed. Another 12 resulted in disciplinary action through the university and 16 led to no official action, which could have included a verbal warning. Like virtually all of the noise complaints, the largest number of alcohol incidents ended with no official action taken.
Still under investigation are two assaults, one identity theft, one rape and one theft.
Students under pressure
Students told the Daily News they know that if they get in trouble with campus police they are likely to get a warning or be required to go through a class on alcohol awareness or write a paper about what they learned from the incident. Arrests usually only happen if they argue with police.
UD alumnus Andrew Hunt said he’s not sure more severe penalties would help combat the party school image.
“On the one hand you could make punishments much harder, which may help stop the openness of the party culture,” he said. “On the other hand, though, all that would really do is take the same behavior, which is generally done in a semi-safe environment, and move it into a much more secret and dangerous situation.”
Pat Flanagan has had a barroom view of UD as owner of Flanagan’s Pub on Stewart Street for 37 years. He has seen changes. Students favor flavored vodka drinks and craft beers more than they used to. But partying is nothing new, and rarely gets out of hand.
“It’s just spring and they’re gonna party,” he said. But Flanagan doesn’t believe the parties are more raucous than in past years. What is different, he said, is the amount of pressure students are under.
“I think in the old days, you could get out with a C-plus or a B and get a real good job. And the job market’s so tight now, they want the top 10 percent of the class. And these kids really work at it,” he said. “And of course, at $44,000 a year, mom and dad want to make sure they get a good start in life.”
This sentiment was echoed by students in the ghetto last week.
“This is a work-hard, play-hard community,” said Jena Parish, a physical therapy major sunning herself in advance of this week’s trip to Daytona.
“We take the week seriously, but when the weekend comes, we need that,” agreed her friend Jordan Schemeri.
Next door on Lowes Street, a group of students relaxed on the front porch with a growing pile of empty Natural Light cans. Doug McIntyre, 22, also a graduating physical therapy major, said looking back over his years at UD he won’t remember the riots or other things gone wrong, he’ll miss hanging out in the afternoon with his friends.
“I’m not going to forget it,” he said of his time at UD. “I’m going to miss it like heck.”
Dayton Daily News reporter Mary McCarty and WHIO-TV reporter John Bedell contributed to this report.
Checking the details
Our reporters compiled crime statistics and talked to experts and students to determine the extent of the party culture at the University of Dayton.