VCU is home to more than 30,000 students. Figuratively speaking, that is.
In reality, the university struggles to house all of the thousands of students who want to live on campus. It’s no surprise, then, that the university is expanding its housing. New dorms, West Grace Street at Harrison Street and West Broad Street at Ryland, will be completed in Aug. 2015 to the benefit of 411 students.
With this good, however, comes a potential bad. The new dorms are being built directly beside a well-known liquor store run by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Kendall Crawford, a former VCU dorm security guard, understands the potential risks.
“I’ve seen students getting in trouble for drinking in dorms or coming home drunk. I have friends who’ve gone through bad situations where alcohol has played a role. A new dorm right there is easier access to drinks and the potential for mistakes can go up,” she said.
Students of legal age might be tempted to take advantage of the nearness and buy alcohol for underage friends or make more frequent trips to make purchases.
There will be nearly 200,000 square feet of upper-class residential space. More students will be accommodated and research shows that students living on-campus show greater academic success and have more chances to meet friends.
Still, the proximity to the liquor store has the potential to intensify risky alcohol behaviors in students living so close. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), many students come to colleges with established drinking habits. and campus environment can exacerbate the problem. The NIAAA states that for students between 18 and 24, an estimated 599,000 are unintentionally injured while under the influence annually, 696,000 are assaulted by another student who was drinking, and 97,000 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault.
Angelica Watts, a student living at the Lofts at Capital Garage nearby the construction, worries about the already problematic area.
“Right now, it is already very noisy, especially on the weekends with the club being right there. [Is] a new dorm going to make it worse and with easy access to alcohol? The police are going to be here all of the time,” Watts said.
Officer Greg Felton of the VCU Police Department agrees that drinking, underage or otherwise, poses a significant risk for students.
“The consequences for most people are and can be a lot higher than they actually counted on. You’re talking academic ramifications. Ramifications about where you live and you’ve got your criminal situation,” Felton said.
The potential consequences do seem abundant and calls into question how VCU currently handles alcohol abuse on campus. Several resources and awareness campaigns exist on campus to educate students, such as The Well and Win or Lose Cruiser. With these, there is hope that informed new residents won’t be too negatively affected by their placement.
Officer Felton, however, doesn’t see the new location posing a significant increase in alcohol related dangers.
“I think our challenge is unchanged,” he said. “I think prevention is about sharing information, informing, educating, and for us to do our job. Folks need to remember what the law is. Regardless of where you live, if you don’t want to have an issue with consumption or possession of alcohol, don’t drink until you’re 21.”
The ABC store in question was unavailable for comment.