According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, most college students find the first six weeks of their first year to be a common time to consume alcohol. This holds true at UNC, where the majority of alcohol violations occur in traditionally first-year residence halls.
Between October 2015 and October 2022, 580 alcohol violations in dormitories were reported to Chapel Hill Police Department. Hinton James Residence Hall, which holds 11 percent of the on-campus student population on average, was the site of approximately 19 percent of these violations.
Senior Grace Ingledue’s introduction to drinking occurred in her first year, when she met a 20-year-old Tinder date on campus who offered to bring a bottle of red wine to her dorm room. Ingledue said that she and her date could have gotten in trouble.
“I was like ‘Yeah, I want to try drinking! I’m an adult now, I can do what I want!’” she said. “I got a tattoo that same month. We drank a bottle of red wine and watched cartoons. It was a good vibe, but I was definitely very, very young.”
While students who violate the campus alcohol policy may be subject to disciplinary sanctions, UNC’s current policy focuses on mitigating the harms of alcohol abuse in the student body.
Dean Blackburn, who serves as director of UNC Student Wellness Services, spoke about the creation of an alcohol policy that focused on recovery and safety before punitive measures.
“A public health approach is by its nature an interdisciplinary, interventive approach – a lot of intervention, a lot of education, a lot of skill building,” Blackburn said. “There can be levels of accountability, but accountability isn’t the driving force in that. The driving force would be ‘What do we want our students to learn – both ahead of time, to make good decisions, or shortly after potentially making a mistake?’”
With the knowledge that many students will choose to drink on campus during their first year, Blackburn emphasized three major rules to drinking safely at UNC and avoiding dangerous situations: staying active and healthy, bringing your own drinks and traveling in a group with at least one dedicated sober person.
The first point is especially important, as sleep deprivation, hunger and dehydration can cause alcohol to affect students at “even twice the rate it normally would,” he said.
“What we do know is that about one in eight students may develop a dependence, and that’s significant when you think about 30,000 undergrad and grad students,” he said. “4,000 or 4,200 could be struggling with levels of consumption that look like dependence.”
Alcohol abuse among students is linked to thousands of cases of assault, injury and death every year nationwide and frequent binge drinking is especially common in Greek life on college campuses. Granville Towers, a housing option commonly occupied by first-years and closest to Fraternity Court, has the second-highest proportion of alcohol violations on campus — with 18 percent of total violations.
One first-year sorority member, who asked that they remain anonymous for their safety, recalled an incident on Halloween weekend in which they felt pressured to drink at a sorority function.
“I struggled to set boundaries with people like my bigs, because they’re people directly above me who I’m expected to be really close with,” the student said. “I felt like I had to do what they were doing to fit in with my sorority family, and because of that, I ended up drinking when I wasn’t really comfortable doing it, and when I really didn’t want to.”
Blackburn said that students who may be binge drinking need community support, especially if their alcohol consumption is affecting their personal life and relationships. In many cases, a close friend’s concern can help someone who is struggling with addiction.
“I’ve been in this field for a really long time, and what we know is that shaming a friend doesn’t work, trying to control a friend doesn’t work,” he said. “What works is being as loving and supporting as possible – expressing, without editorial and without emotion, exactly what behaviors the person was doing that concerned you.”
Student Wellness provides confidential counseling for alcohol and substance abuse, which students can access by calling (919) 962-9355 or emailing email@example.com. The Carolina Recovery Community, a collegiate recovery program for students who want to remain sober, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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