UW-Madison students who violate university drinking policies do not have any choice but to take Choices about Alcohol, a two session course that teaches students about the dangers of alcohol abuse.
Choices about Alcohol, commonly referred to as Choices, requires students who have first-offense violations relating to alcohol to take two 90-minute sessions facilitated by professional substance abuse counselors. Participants fill out worksheets, learn facts about substances and their risks and have open discussions about their behaviors with the group of no more than 12 other students.
However, students who have participated in Choices have claimed it has no effect on their drinking habits. UW-Madison junior Jake Prine participated in the program his freshman year after he got caught drinking in his residence hall. He said Choices is not educational, but simply a way to scare students from drinking.
“When it comes down to it I think that Choices is making first-year students uncomfortable in their home,” Prine said. “My personal view on college as an institution is to educate me and prepare me for the real world. Patronizing a student like that is just showing them to be scared of institutions and really not how to discover themselves as people.”
Adelaide Fenton, a former House Fellow, said she documented students for alcohol violations because she was hired to do so. Choices was assigned to students on a case-by-case basis, so she was not aware who she would be sending to the program. She most frequently heard negative feedback from students who were required to participate in the program. Fenton said many felt as though the information was common sense, however, she said some students benefited from it.
“For many people Choices is the first time they hear that information [about alcohol], or it clears up questions they had and were nervous or embarrassed to ask,” Fenton said in an email. “Though maybe not a direct reaction to the program, I saw the positive effects of it while I interacted with students that I was documenting for alcohol violations.”
If a student violates policy again after taking Choices, or has a more serious violation such as being taken to detox or an emergency room, they are required to take Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students. Students in the program attend two one-on-one sessions with a substance abuse counselor from either Connections Counseling or Tellurian UCAN, Inc. and evaluate their drinking behaviors.
Another problem Prine had with the program was the cost. Participants in both Choices and BASICS must pay a $125 fee, in addition to any court-ordered fines. Prine said he researched financial aid options for the course and none were available.
“College isn’t cheap, so tacking on that extra $125 to a freshman in college is not really something to occupy their time with,” Prine said. “But the options are take the class by this date or you can’t enroll, which is terrifying.”
Fenton said while many students feel as though Choices and BASICS are pointless, they have benefits for some students and contribute to maintaining a safe environment in residence halls.
“When house fellows document incidents, the intention isn't to get students in trouble or make them upset,” Fenton said. “We are there to ensure safety and help students make educated decisions about alcohol. Choices is just one way that Housing helps promote that.”