OXFORD —The City of Oxford and Miami University came together on Friday, Feb. 24, to address Oxford’s drinking issue, a problem which has existed for years, but has recently garnered a lot of media attention following the death of a freshman student in January.
The Town Gown Initiatives Team and I am Miami Committee co-hosted the event at Miami’s Shriver Center. Entitled Building a Better Community by Confronting High-Risk Alcohol Consumption, the forum featured a presentation by Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Michael Curme.
While the drinking problem in Oxford is well known, this new focus came as a result of several recent developments — the most disturbing being the death of freshman Erica Buschick, who was found dead in a dorm room in Morris Hall on Jan. 20.
The young college student started her Thursday night partying by drinking two bottles of champagne. That set the precedent for the night, where she followed up her champagne with straight vodka, according to Curme. By the time she made it to Brick Street Bar, she was already too intoxicated and was not admitted entrance.
Buschick and her roommate Reilley Graves called a taxi, driven by Jason Colwell, who took the two women back to their dorm. He reported she fell when she got out of the cab. He then helped her up to her room on the second floor, where she fell asleep.
The next morning, Graves found Buschick still asleep and called the police.
Buschick died from alcohol poisoning on Jan. 20, and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.347, more than four times the legal driving limit in Ohio. She also tested positive for anti-depressants. Her death was ruled an accident.
As tragic as it was, Buschick’s death is not the only drinking related issue which has placed a greater focus on this problem. From Thursday, Feb. 9, to Sunday, Feb. 12, Oxford Fire Department made 21 alcohol-related runs near Miami University. Out of the 21 runs, 11 were made in under three hours. All but two were underage.
Thursday was the end of rush week, when the university’s fraternities and sororities consider new members. During this week, the fraternities and sororities prohibit drinking.
The ER surge might be due to the University’s “Good Samaritan” policy, which urges students to seek emergency treatment for alcohol or drug related issues and promises them they will not face punishment, according to officials.
In response to these two developments, police arrested 17 people on Friday, Feb. 17, at Johnny’s Campus Deli after they used fake ID cards to buy beer.
According to Oxford Police Chief John Jones, from Jan. 1 to Feb. 19, there have been 59 underage alcohol arrests, 23 OVI, and 25 disorderly conduct arrests.
Curme spoke about ways Miami University is working to stop the issue and things the town can do to help out.
He said he believes working with the students is the key. Drinking is the “norm” for these students and Curme wants to find a way to “change the norms.”
He also discussed how state rules can affect the drinking environment. Legally, as long as a student is 18 years of age, they are allowed to enter a drinking establishment. Municipality rule in regard to alcohol laws is restricted. Curme added, “To some degree, what we can do is limited by what Ohio allows us to do.”
In Oxford, the drinking issue is due to the “peculiar geography” of the city. The university is located extremely close to a plethora of bars/clubs and not much else. This has inspired the university to work toward the addition of alcohol free programming. Late night programming has become popular at the university. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights there is always something planned for students to take part in, according to Curme.
This issue may seem like a college issue, like something that all college students do, but the problem is that in recent months the environment in the community has become extremely unsafe.
“College students are going to party. We have no objection to college students partying,” Curme said, but he added, the university wants to make the parties safer.
The main type of party the university wants to target is “front yard parties.”
When driving through Oxford, if it is a nice day, one will find numerous college students out on their front lawn, or even on their roofs, drinking. It becomes a mass of students. Often the students throwing these parties are of drinking age, but many of the attendees are not. They offer a popular beverage called “jungle juice” because it is easy to make a large quantity for a minimum amount of money.
“Jungle juice” is like alcoholic punch, according to officials. What is in it differs according to each recipe, but normally it is composed of a liberal amount of Everclear, vodka (or other available liquors) and powdered juice drink (or fruit juices). Sometimes it even contains alcohol soaked fruit. The alcohol content can consist of nearly 20 percent alcohol, according to officials.
The general assumption is that one cupful of the drink is equal to “five or six shots.”
Basically, when these students attend the parties with “jungle juice” they do not know what is in their drink, and they do not know how much they are actually drinking, Curme said.
These parties with open access to alcohol are what the university is trying to target.
University officials work with the Oxford Police Department in utilizing city litter and noise ordinances to fine the students. If OPD sees a party of this type, they will write a violation of said ordinances, which in turn goes back to Miami University for disciplinary action.
For a first offense, the university will send out a letter (signed by the mayor and Miami’s Dean of Students) addressing the issue. For a second offense, the student is brought to a meeting for a sit down discussion. Normally, that will stop the student from having any additional offense, according to officials.
For the occasional third offense, the students are held accountable in the Miami judicial process for violating the law.
This is only one of the ways the university is working to stop the drinking problem.
Sixty percent of Miami students come into the university as non-drinkers, according to Curme. There are now programs to encourage them to stay that way, including alcohol-free dorms. Alcohol is prohibited in all dorms, but these specific dorms are ones populated with students who have chosen to live in an alcohol-free environment.
The university is working to stop this problem and will continue to develop additional ideas to put to use, Curme said. They plan to continue this collaboration with the City of Oxford and OPD to work on a prevention plan.
“OPD takes a comprehensive approach that includes education, prevention, and enforcement,” Chief Jones added. “We work with various segments of the community, including Miami University, on task forces and committees to develop strategies. Obviously our main role is enforcement.
“Our approach includes uniformed bar checks and uptown foot patrol to maximize our visibility, addressing large house parties through quality of life violations such as litter, noise, and disorderly conduct, traffic and OVI enforcement, and retail compliance enforcement to include ‘Cops in Shops’ and sending underage operatives in to purchase alcohol from retail establishments,” Jones said.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH