College students are at the stage of developmental transition from adolescents to adults. For many, entering college also means moving away from their families and, as a result, fewer restrictions on their activities. For these reasons, the college experience can be associated with increased risk for a variety of psychosocial problems, such as substance abuse. As an additive behavior, alcohol and drug abuse increases the prevalence of campus violence, such as impaired driving, assault, fighting, dating violence, and bias-related violence. Additive behaviors, such as alcohol use and binge drinking, caused negative consequential problems. To limit or reduce alcohol-related harms on college, campuses often implement and enforce policies that restrict and punish use of alcohol (and drugs).
Colleges typically use state and federal laws as a basis for designing their own policies to deal with campus problems. The application of regulatory mandates to college alcohol and drug use started with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA) of 1989. The DFSCA, which applies to all U.S. colleges, specifies that “as a condition of receiving funds or any other form of financial assistance under any Federal program, an institution of higher education (IHE) must certify that it has adopted and implemented a drug [and alcohol] prevention program” (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). Therefore, to fulfill DFSCA requirements and retain funding, colleges must provide students with institutional standards of conduct that explicitly prohibit illicit drugs and illegal alcohol use, a description of potential legal and institutional sanctions for substance use violations, a description of health risks posed by drugs and alcohol, and a listing of available treatment options.
The DFSCA mandates that schools must make written drug and alcohol policy available to students on an annual basis, but it did not establish standards for concrete content of these policies. In turn, the contents of such policies vary significantly from institution to institution. In most colleges, alcohol and gambling policies are usually listed both on college websites and in students’ handbooks, which are distributed to all incoming freshmen. Generally, those policies include the following aspects:
- Underage drinking is strictly prohibited.
- There are rules about where on-campus students can drink and how much alcohol is available.
- Students with alcohol-related problems are mandated to enter recovery programs.
- Problematic drinkers can be forced to withdraw from college.
- College students and employees who commit other acts prohibited by college policy are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment or expulsion.
- College students and employees who commit crimes may be reported to law enforcement authorities.
The ultimate goal of college administrators is to provide a safe atmosphere for students. College punitive policies on alcohol use and other behaviors help control the level of binge drinking and related violence. The punitive reaction to college is also consistent with the American faith in the power of the law to correct bad behaviors. Through the practice of “boundary maintenance” via restrictive and punitive policies, colleges hope to promote a higher degree of conformity among students, while publicizing those behaviors that will not be tolerated. The idea is to deter students from involvement in dangerous behavior. Most campuses have also instituted punitive responses to sexual assault and harassment, with the intent of deterring incidents. Legislation such as the Federal Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act requires colleges and universities to develop appropriate sanctions for students who have committed sexual offenses.
Current college administrators have also noticed the limitations inherent in punitive policies, and many are working on implementing prevention-oriented programs to complement the punishment-oriented policies. Multiple stakeholders, including students, faculty, parents, and counselors, should be recruited to work together for preventing violence. Many campuses have turned to harm reduction campaigns in addition to punitive responses. These campaigns aim to educate students on the prevalence of socially injurious behavior, and to inform them of ways to reduce the impact of this behavior, such as the use of designated drivers. Nevertheless, some types of offenses, such as cyber-related bullying, harassment, and stalking, are less likely to be punished, because not all colleges and universities have kept pace in addressing the threat posed by new technologies.
- Fisher, B., & Sloan, J. (2007, Eds.). Campus crime: Legal, social, and policy perspectives (2nd ed.) Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
- Fronius, T., & Kyung-Shick, C. (2009). Analytical assessment on cybercrime deterrence among college students. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology.
- Potter, R., Krider, J., & McMahon, P. (2000). Examining elements of campus sexual violence policies: Is deterrence or health promotion favored? Violence Against Women, 6(12), 1245-1362.
- Shaffer, H., Donato, A., LaBrie, R., Kidman, R., & LaPlante, D. (2005, February 9). The epidemiology of college alcohol and gambling policies. Harm Reduction Journal, 2(1), 1-20.
- U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA) and drug and alcohol abuse prevention regulation.