By Aaniyah Hakeen
Reports of underage drinking rates are on the rise at Youngstown State University, which also correlates with the increase of on-campus housing, according to YSU Police Chief Shawn Varso.
“In the last five years, we’ve doubled our on-campus population. With the increase in students we get living here on campus, it goes up proportionately to the numbers of alcohol violations,” Varso said.
According to YSU’s 2019 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, there were 32 liquor law referrals in 2018, which is an increase from 30 referrals in 2017 and 25 referrals in 2016.
Varso said officers increased their presence and target areas during known party hours. He said students who live in the dorms tend to have more supervisors, while students who live in apartments have less direct supervision.
“With the dorms there’s a lot more rules and regulations in place with resident assistants patrolling the floors and strict enforcements of liquor laws and regulations on campus,” Varso said.
He said peer pressure is a big influence over whether a person is going to drink or not, and there is a lot more freedom at apartments such as The Enclave and University Edge, so more parties occur.
“There isn’t really someone over there constantly patrolling to see if alcohol is brought in. There’s a more open environment. With those you actually get an increase in underage drinking,” Varso said.
He said YSU prioritizes students’ health before any other circumstances.
“We’ve had several cases where we’ve taken students to the hospital because they’ve drank too much,” Varso said.
Occurrences of underage drinking raises concerns for college campuses, and YSU is taking steps to get a handle on these issues.
Mason Edmunds, YSU alumnus and prevention specialist at Meridian HealthCare, was sent to the university to develop new programs to discourage underage drinking.
“When you’re introducing alcohol to a still developing brain, something that is still scientifically undergoing biological changes, [it] can really influence and detract from their natural biological evolution,” Edmunds said. “In terms of how they’re growing up and how their brains are developing, it can really have a longer lasting effect than just ‘I made a bad decision the one night.’”
Edmunds said he wants to educate students on the negative effects of underage drinking.
“My primary function is to not only promote the existing services here at YSU but also new and interesting ones, too.”
He said drinking is seen as part of the college experience.
“Obviously when you’re underage we don’t condone that you drink, and we don’t think that you should,” Edmunds said. “With a college lifestyle and how that can go, especially with students that are of age, we try to teach a lesson of responsibility rather than abstinence.”
Ryan McNicholas, associate director of campus recreation, said in an attempt to manage their stress, students are turning to alcohol or other substances as a form of stress management.
“The repercussions of that are terrible, so we need to be teaching the younger age college students other ways to cope,” McNicholas said.
He said YSU is concerned with improving resources and decreasing risk factors, as well as the overall temptation.
“To Youngstown State’s credit, resources now are more prevalent than they were even two to three years ago,” McNicholas said. “We now have more resources like [Edmunds] on campus to assist with programs and to show students educational factors, dangers and give them alternatives to show them that they can have a good time without turning towards alcohol.”
He said the university has created numerous sober activities for students, including a pregame sober tailgate with the last two basketball and football seasons and multiple resources available at Student Counseling Services, Campus Recreation and Student Outreach and Support to educate and support students.
YSU faculty members and the police department are taking precautionary measures to stop underage drinking.
For more information on YSU outreach programs, visit: catalog.ysu.edu/undergraduate/general-information/student-services/university-community-outreach/.