UWRF crime stats reveal a sobering trend and a new lease on life

Posted October 9, 2017

Michelle Denney, junior at UW-River Falls, standing outside of Stratton Hall, the residence building she was forced to vacate during her freshman year. Nathan Lukasavitz/Falcon News Service

Getting caught drinking underage is not always as devastating as the consequences suggest, and in the case of Michelle Denney, who is currently a junior at UW-River Falls, it was an experience that led to a college career of rewarding academic success.

“It was not a fun phone call to my parents,” Denney said. “They were not proud of me, but they said, ‘Michelle, this isn’t the end of the world. You can pick yourself up, and you can move forward.’”

That difficult and disappointing phone call that students make to their parents when they get caught drinking is a call that appears to be becoming a much less common occurrence for students on campus at UW-River Falls, according to the 2017-2018 UWRF Annual Security Report.

In 2014, there were 297 disciplinary referrals issued for alcohol-related incidents, according to the UWRF campus crime statistics. However, in 2015 the number of disciplinary referrals for alcohol fell to 204. An even larger decrease was seen the year following, 2016, in which only 100 referrals for alcohol were issued.

“There’s nothing specific that would say this is the specific reason why the numbers have dropped,” said Karl Fleury, chief of campus police. “Every year you get a different group of individuals that are coming to campus because we’re always constantly turning over students in the sense that we get a new freshman class every year.”

In addition to student turnover, the resident assistants on campus also play a major role in what determines the overall number of disciplinary referrals, according to Denney.

“I think it depends on the RA. They can either be pretty strict on the rules, or they can be pretty lenient,” Denney said. “I think a lot of the RAs really take their job seriously, and I think they really try and crack down on the underage drinking here on campus.”

When an RA is confronted with a scenario where cracking down is necessary, it affects not only the community aspect, but it also affects the way that residents perceive their RA, according to Resident Assistant Chris Rost.

“It was kind of like everybody was stepping on eggshells for a little bit because it’s like ‘Oh, that RA’s a hard-ass kind of thing,’” Rost said. “It was kind of like a taboo subject for about a week. Then after a while it was like ‘Oh yeah, remember when this happened.’”

Depending where on campus the student is living, getting caught drinking can mean having to pack-up all of their belongings, saying goodbye to their roommate and relocating to an alternative building.

“It definitely took a toll on my finals,” Denney said, “because I had to pack-up all my stuff during finals week, because that was when I got written up, and they told me I had to leave.”

Having to change residence halls, however, is not the only consequence that students face.

“You also have to take a $65 class at the restorative justice center downtown,” Denney said. “There’s a speaker, and they talk about their experience with drinking and other drugs, and you kind of give your own little reasons about why you were drinking and what you think you should be doing with your life instead of drinking.”

Instead of drinking, Denney did a lot with her life, in regard to her academics, beginning immediately upon returning to campus the following semester.

“I really focused on my studies, and I had a better environment to work in in May (Hall) because there were a lot of distractions from where I was previously living,” Denney recalled. “I really focused on my major, and I got a good group of friends, and I made the dean’s list the past three semesters. I was really proud of that.”

Ultimately, getting caught drinking can be a good thing for a student’s academic success but only if the student chooses the right perspective on it.

“You can use it as a learning experience,” Denney said, “or you can not heed the warning that it gives you.”

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