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Wednesday December 6, 2000

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Drugs, alcohol in dorms not a severe problem so far

By Hillary Davis

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Although incidents occur, they are not abnormal, Residence Life official says

Despite some high-profile incidents, the amount of UA students getting caught with drugs or alcohol in the residence halls - especially the off-campus apartments - is not outside of the norm, officials said.

James Van Arsdel, University of Arizona director of Residence Life, said behavior so far this year - which has included several instances of minors in possession of alcohol and possession of marijuana - is similar to past years.

This gels with statistics kept by university police. Although numbers are not kept in a semester-by-semester breakdown, UAPD keeps track of how many students are arrested for illegal drug or alcohol possession in the dorms each year.

Cmdr. Brian Seastone said drug arrests have hovered between 20 to 24 each year since 1997, while alcohol-related arrests climbed from 10 to 18 between 1997 and 1999.

"We're not seeing an extreme increase at all," Seastone said.

Although several students have been cited for minor in possession of alcohol - notably in a November bust, which resulted in the arrest of 24 students at a UA freshman's home in Sky View Apartments, 1050 E. Eighth St.- the addition of the apartment complexes this year automatically increases the odds of violations, Seastone said. The apartments add about 500 more students to the system.

Sky View, along with Palm Shadows Apartments, 1815 E. Helen St., were added to the line-up of UA residence halls this semester. Last year, only a portion of Palm Shadows units were under the UA's control, along with Corleone Apartments, 1330 N. Park Ave., which have housed UA students for more than 10 years.

In addition to their mere existence, Van Arsdel said the physical set-up of the Sky View apartments - spacious units with cinder-block walls, which open to an inside hallway - allows more students to congregate.

Martha Castleberry, coordinator of apartment living for Residence Life, agreed.

"In some of the apartments, six friends is not that uncomfortable, so it's easy for people to gather in the apartments," she said, adding that this could have a positive community-building effect as well.

However, Van Arsdel admitted that some students may choose to live in the apartments with ulterior motives in mind.

"Those who want to be in apartments sometimes want to be in apartments because they want greater privacy - because they intend to engage in behaviors that they know are unacceptable," Van Arsdel said.

Van Arsdel said that historically, Coronado Residence Hall, 822 E. Fifth St., was a hotbed of inappropriate activity, for similar reasons.

"You just have more freedom in that environment, up to a point," he said.

Van Arsdel said he had hoped that students returning to the Residence Life system would flock to the apartments because of their maturity, opening up space in the regular halls for freshmen.

However, many older students who signed up to live in the apartments backed out, leaving officials to fill the much-desired spaces with new students.

"That's not by design, but that's sometimes the way things happen," he said.

Being a new student may also heighten a student's chances of running afoul of the law. Van Arsdel said the freshman year entails much novelty for new students, which may lead them to get into more trouble than they typically would.

"Since 80 percent of our residents are freshmen, the fall semester represents their first time on campus, and they learn a lot in that first time - so when they come back in the spring, they've already had that experience, and we see fewer problems," he said.

The consequences of these problems, when they occur, potentially go three ways, Van Arsdel said.

"(Students are) breaking the policy of their (residency) contract, so they take it to Residence Life. They break the campus code of conduct, that takes it to the dean of students. They break Arizona state laws, that takes it to the police," he said. "Those are three completely different and independent jurisdictions, if you will."

An underage person caught drinking in a residence hall can face consequences ranging from probation to expulsion from the Residence Life system.

After a first offense, Residence Life officials talk with the student and either have him or her attend the course students sent to the diversion program take or receive one-on-one counseling at Campus Health. The resident is also placed on a probationary status in his or her dorm and may be assigned a task such as writing a paper on the effects of alcohol.

"We're not going to hit people over the head, but we want them to be completely informed about the decisions they make," Van Arsdel said.

A second offense would result in being transferred to another residence hall across campus. Should a student be caught with alcohol a third time, he or she could be kicked out of the dorms altogether, which is a "hefty financial burden" since the student still must pay rent for the entire semester, Van Arsdel said.

The department has less tolerance for drugs, however.

Van Arsdel said that this is a reflection of the more critical societal view of drugs versus alcohol.

A typical response to any drug violation - marijuana and harder drugs - is to remove the student from the housing system, although for marijuana violations, if it is a first time and not in conjunction with any other violation such as alcohol, and the student is honest and cooperative, the resident is transferred to a new hall.

Van Arsdel said the Residence Life staff attends to drug and alcohol rules with "great vigilance" and would not toughen enforcement for avoidance of a kind of policing atmosphere.

"We want the primary responsibility of RAs (resident assistants) to be community-builders, not rule-enforcers."

And a sense of community is of great importance, Van Arsdel and Castleberry agreed.

Castleberry added that the students who live in the apartments understand that the incidents that occur in their buildings are not reflective of the spirit of the hall.

"I think at Sky View, the students there have already developed a great community," she said. "It's been a very friendly place for a lot of students to be."

Van Arsdel also said most off-campus residents steer clear of drugs and alcohol, using Sky View as an example.

"Regardless of the number of problems we have had in the building this year, understand that breaks the norm for students who handle this well," Van Arsdel said.

Hillary Davis can be reached at



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