Swat’s numbers of alcohol-related incidents remain low

Alcohol-related incidents at Swarthmore have remained remarkably low for the past few years, and this trend seems likely to continue. According to the Clery Report, available to all students from Public Safety, the number of liquor law arrests has been around 20 to 30 per calendar year, and the number of referrals for liquor law issues, in which a dean speaks to the offender, has been between 10 to 30 a year going back to 2008. The number of hospitalizations for alcohol-related issues has also been consistently around 40 per school year over the past few years, according to Worth Health Center Director Beth Kotarski.

Myrt Westphal, Associate Dean for Student Life, recalled recently discussing these statistics with deans visiting from other schools. “They were astonished at how low they were,” Westphal said. Compared to similarly sized schools, Swarthmore’s numbers of citations and referrals due to alcohol consumption appear to be far lower.

However, Westphal was mindful of the fact that that the statistics available don’t give the entire picture. “Focusing on numbers alone … doesn’t tell you how severe each of the cases are, and the numbers don’t tell you how many repeat people we have,” she said.

Numbers that aren’t reported include students who go to Worth Health Center who are deemed well enough to stay overnight without going to the hospital and those students who are able to receive help before a major incident takes place.

The anonymous nature of seeking help at Worth Health Center while intoxicated is a unique feature of Swarthmore’s support system. “A majority of colleges don’t have a service where students can go to stay,” Kotarski said.

“Even those places that do have overnight services don’t admit drunk students.” Other colleges and universities have shied away from providing overnight care for intoxicated students, but Swarthmore has maintained that it is important for students to have somewhere to turn for health concerns without necessarily risking a citation for their friends or themselves.

“If somebody gets to the health center without a public safety report or a police report, then the health center will refer them to drug and alcohol counseling [but will not punish them],” Westphal said. “Our primary goal is health and safety.”

Tom Elverson ’75, Alcohol Intervention and Education specialist, also operates as a resource that can be used anonymously for students before an incident occurs.

In addition, Elverson works with the Swarthmore Drug and Alcohol Resource Team (DART) to assist students on campus with alcohol-related issues.

“I think the [Party Associate] and DART programs have been very visible and, from what students have told me, very supportive,” Elverson said. According to him, many students are encouraged by PAs, DART team members and RAs to see him if they notice someone who is abusing alcohol or substances.

The ultimate goal of providing these resources is to educate the student body and provide them resources to further reduce the numbers of alcohol-related incidents on campus. “I and the DART team really extenuate education, vigilance — along with PA coordinators — in order to make that number smaller and smaller every year,” Elverson said.

Numbers have again been low this year. “At this point we have kept about 15 students [overnight] and sent out 5 from the health center [to the hospital]. That’s on pace to be about 40 a year, which is usually what we send,” said Kotarski.

The recent Halloween Party has historically been a night when these statistics are high. “[The numbers] used to spike around the Halloween party … when it was in ML, the students would be walking back through the neighborhood and pick up people who were visibly intoxicated,” Elverson recalled.

This year, thanks in part to the work of the 14 PAs and public safety officers patrolling outside Sharples, the party was kept under control. According to Kotarski, there were two students sent to the hospital that night.

However, Westphal is mindful that there are many potential cases that end up not becoming statistics due to the education and vigilance the Swarthmore community provides.

“I think the environment that Swarthmore has of taking care of people helps a lot. People will all help friends, because they know that the ‘getting help issue’ is more important than the ‘getting in trouble’ issue.”

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