By Julie Pike, Editor-in-Chief
From 2015 to 2017 the reports of liquor violations on the Gorham campus decreased by 51.8 percent, according to the Annual Security Report from USM Public Safety. Part of the decrease in violations is due to cases of over reporting Clery statistics, Christina Lowery, Director of Housing and Residential Life said. However, Lowery said that a big factor is the increase in programs aimed at helping students.
The reported number of drug violations decreased as well, by 61.1 percent, the report said.
There were only eight reported liquor law arrests in 2017, as compared to 16 in 2015. No drug law arrests were reported in 2017, compared to the 18 in 2015.
Two years ago the Recovery Oriented Campus Center (ROCC) opened in Portland, which provides students with support on substance use and mental health. The ROCC has assisted residential life during orientation, providing training for residential assistants (RAs), said Anna Gardner, the Collegiate Recovery Program Coordinator at the ROCC.
“Our RAs are better trained than ever on different intervention techniques to help students make good decisions around alcohol,” said Lowery. The ROCC collaborates with residential life to make support services and resources known to RAs, who can then inform their students, she said.
Last year residential life increased the number of RAs by four to keep up with the rising housing numbers. Lowery said that there is one RA to every 34 residential students, with 1,350 students in total and 40 RAs.
The ROCC is located in Portland, so Gardner said there is some distance between residential students and the resources they offer. But, she said, that having residential life staff aware of the resources available for students helps make that connection easier.
“We’re trying to strengthen the connection with residential life and making sure that students know that the ROCC is here to support students that are struggling with substance use and mental health, it’s an additional resource for them to give students,” said Gardner.
The ROCC, Gardner said, is based on providing peer-to-peer support. They have a variety of support groups that meet each week, all facilitated by student peers, which are “students that are in recovery of substance use disorder or mental health disorders that want to help their fellow peers in recovery,” she said. Currently the ROCC has 30 student peers, who go through student peer orientation and make a commitment to being peers for fellow students.
Part of the decrease in liquor violations reported is due to changes in reporting, said Ronald Saindon, Police Captain for USM Public Safety.
D. Stafford & Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in campus safety and security, had reviewed the way reports were being made to make sure that Clery stats were being counted correctly, Saindon said. The Clery Act is a federal statute signed in 1990 that requires colleges and universities that have federal financial aid programs to report campus crime statistics and security information.
Changes to Maine’s marijuana laws last year legalized recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older, who can possess up to 2.5 ounces of it. Marijuana summonses is still against campus policy, Saindon said, but it is now counted as civil, not a crime, and therefore isn’t reported in the Clery stats. If it’s considered civil, Saindon said, that would only include a fine, whereas misdemeanor crimes, Class E and above, would have to be reported under the Clery Act, such as the unlawful furnishing of alcohol to a minor.
Saindon said that he doesn’t want to give the impression that Public Safety were doing anything wrong, if anything they were over counting in their reports. He said that crimes were down anyway due to the shift to prevention and education programming.
“It’s clear that the whole residential life prevention and education programming has had an impact,” he said.
Lowery, who has been director of residential life for the past year and a half, said that their tactic is more developmental, to help students work through what is going on and get any help they need.
“We want students to have honest conversations about what is really impacting their life,” she said. They focus on finding the motivations behind a student’s use of alcohol or drugs and helping them find better alternatives.
Lowery said that it’s better both for the community and the students when disciplinary actions are taken care of in-house when it comes to situations such as alcohol or drug use. It allows them to focus on being developmental, she added.
“We’re more about trying to connect people to resources and helping keep up community standards at the school more than trying to discipline somebody,” said Lowery.
Lowery also thinks that students have shifted their focus in college to being more academically minded, those who are more focused in reaching academic goals than the social drinking and drug use.
First year residential students have Living Learning Communities, a program where they attend a course with the other students they are living with, encouraging more interactions among students, Lowery said.
“We’ve done a lot more closer ties with academics, which helps try to keep that academic focus in the residence halls,” said Lowery. “I also think our students are looking for an environment that benefits their education.”
Lowery said that studies have shown that living on campus has a positive impact on GPA, retention and persistence to graduate.
“Students are taking the investment of living on campus more seriously,” she said.