Regulations for clubs, athletics attempt to limit alcohol use

The university is combating “high-risk behaviors” associated with alcohol by stressing the short and long-term consequences for the general student body, particularly students involved in clubs and athletics.

Students involved in student organizations, clubs or athletics are required to follow the policies and procedures mandated by the South Dakota State University and, if they are an athlete, the Student Athlete Code of Conduct.

“The message of our institution is an educational one. An education along the lines of avoiding high-risk behaviors whether it’s in a club setting or a social setting,” said Doug Wermedal, the interim vice president for student affairs. “I see these behaviors every year cause the end, at least temporarily, of college careers.”

According to Wermedal, binge drinking is considered a “high-risk behavior” because it can lead to more extreme actions, including but not limited to: assault, sexual assault and theft.

The university “prohibitions aim at supporting South Dakota codified law,” Wermedal said. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol.

Rules and regulations that apply to the entire student body also apply to clubs and organizations.

If an organization is found to have alcohol, university officials would document the incident and try to solve the problem through educating the group, putting the club on probation, not allowing the recruitment of new members and, in extreme cases, would no longer recognize them as a student organization, Wermedal said.

“That almost never happens. We’re almost always able to affect the education we want at those lower levels and typically students are very responsive to those sorts of efforts to change behavior,” Wermedal said.

Students over the legal age of 21 are able to drink alcohol, but not on SDSU’s campus due to it being a dry campus. However, on trips for an organization they are legally able to purchase and drink alcohol.

“It is an inherently legal activity that is age constrained, so if you are of age and you are not representing the university, then it’s an inherently legal activity,” Wermedal said. “If you’re not of age and you’re on a university sponsored trip, then that’s never OK. It’s never going to be OK for you to indulge because you are representing the university while you’re on that whole trip.”

Sarah Mayes, a senior animal science major, is a member of the meats judging team. This team travels across the nation for competitions. The coach for meats judging enforced no alcohol before competitions, but after a competition if a student was 21 then it was allowed.

“Our team by themselves…weren’t a party kind of team and that was partly because of our coach,” Mayes said. “We’re not going to [drink] unless we can do that together and our coach is very strict on who drinks and who cannot drink.”

Wermedal said teams and clubs don’t want to contribute to giving SDSU a bad reputation. “Students typically make good choices because they understand that travel for these clubs is a privilege and not a right,” Wermedal said. 

The policies and procedures are similar for student athletes. In addition to following the code of conduct for all students, athletes also have to follow the Student Athlete Handbook.

All athletes are required to agree and comply with the handbook also known as the Code of Conduct.

If student athletes have an alcohol violation or break the Code of Conduct, they have to meet with Kathy Heylens, the senior associate athletic director for compliance and senior women’s administrator.

“The reason that we have this in place is that it doesn’t matter if you’re quarterback on the football team or if you’re a walk-on in swimming,” Heylens said. “The penalties or the sanctions need to be the same versus you’re a walk on or if you’re on a full scholarship.”

Each semester Heylens has about six or seven violations of the Code of Conduct. There are two types of violations that can be made: level one and level two.

Level one violations are more severe acts, including sexual assault, DUI or felony. Heylens said there are very few level one violations, but there are more level two, which are disorderly conduct and minors.

“In addition to this, teams, individual teams, coaches also have their sanctions that they can impose,” Heylens said. “[The Code of Conduct] is just minimum. This is what everybody has to do.”

Coaches and teams are able to require players to complete additional consequences on top of the ones in the Athletic Code of Conduct. Lang Wedemeyer, head coach of women’s soccer, found that harsh consequences did not eliminate poor choices. 

“We don’t have a lot of problems but it seems that the culture sometimes does not allow college age students in general, not just student athletes, to think clearly in those moments about the repercussions they may or may not suffer,” Wedemeyer said.

Instead, he created a group made up of the leaders from each class. The leaders then set the rules regarding alcohol, times for meetings and activities for the group.

“We found that that creates a greater buy in and they become more accountable to one another rather than just to the coaches,” Wedemeyer said.

Other teams can impose other types of sanctions in addition to the Code of Conduct, but the penalties are reviewed to make sure they are consistent and match the offense.

“All student athletes are held accountable by everyone else on the team so that if they make a poor decision it impacts the whole team,” Heylens said.  “A poor choice you’ve made for yourself, this is a reflection of our whole team and where our goals are we’re trying to meet as a team.”

Whether the alcohol violation is made by a member of a student organization or an athlete, Wermedal’s goal is to have all students graduate.

“It is all about the diploma and the behaviors that we’ve seen stand in the way of good, talented, bright students and that awesome outcome of getting a diploma and going onto a career that they love and have an affection for,” Wermedal said. “Don’t turn your back on the opportunity of a lifetime for 20 minutes of fun on some isolated Friday.”