It is 9:30 p.m. and Resident Assistant Staci Kohen of Glen Complex Tower D on the Towson University Campus is sitting at the Community Center desk checking students in alongside of her co-workers. Students walk into the building and flash their student Ids and walk over to the elevators.
It is almost time for the RAs on duty tonight Kohen and Brandon Austin to go on their second set of rounds for the night. It is their job to keep the building’s residents in line. This usually means knocking on red painted metal doors and telling those inside to quiet down but sometimes it means dealing with underage drinking.
Drinking underage is a problem in many places including dorms, bars and restaurants. All of these places are looking for ways to identify who is breaking the law and to keep it from happening.
Right now most residents are getting ready to go out for their Saturday night. Girls come into the white cinder block lobby with lace tights and red lipstick on as their friends with half curled hair rush off the elevators to check them in. Young men lag behind wearing strong cologne and smirking lips.
Kohen greets them and they all smile back on their way to the elevator.
She describes herself as one of the more social RAs of Tower D. As students walk in she says hi to them and cracks an inside joke or if Kohen doesn’t know them by name she is aware of their face by this point in the year.
“I tend to make relationships with all the people,” Kohen says dragging out the L’s in all.
It is almost 10:15 now and Kohen gets up from her seat. “You coming with me Brandon?” He is the other RA on duty. “I guess,” he says sarcastically with a shrug. Kohen rolls her eyes.
Nick Harris is a good-looking kid. At 18-years-old, he stands roughly 6’2” with jet-black hair, a lean frame and a face usually reserved for Hollywood. He would appear, outwardly, to be the type of guy that people are drawn to. And in getting to know the guy, that’s the type of person Harris actually is. He’s a good kid. But even good kids can get into trouble.
The parking lot at the Harford Mall is about half-full on this particular Tuesday afternoon and Nick is walking to his car when I run into him.
“Hey Paul, what’s up man?” Nick asks.
“Not much bro, heading into work. What are you up to? You working tonight?” I respond.
“Nah dude, I gotta head down to Towson. I have a hearing,” Nick chuckles. “Dude, I got banned from Towson University.”
“What? They can do that? What happened?”
“Dude, okay, so I was hanging out down there with my buddy Kevin about a month ago and we started drinking around, like, nine. So around one, Kevin gets sick in the bathroom and he was completely blacked out, so we all carried him to the elevator to take him to his room. Well, the RA sees us carrying him and calls the police and EMT. They took Kev to St. Joe’s and his parents had to come pick him up in the morning. The cops took me and a few friends out to their cars to write a police report and issued us a denial of access, which basically bans us from university property until we appeal it with the police. So I’m headed to that hearing right now.”
For Harris, a freshman at Harford Community College, Towson was and still is an attractive option for school in the next two years. But when you get busted drinking underage, there are consequences. According to Corporal Kia Williams of Towson University Police, each underage drinking citation is sent to the Office of Student Conduct on campus where the case is reviewed by, amongst others, Assistant Director Spencer Bennett, after which proper disciplinary action is taken by the university.
Bennett says, “Each citation is handled on a case-by-case basis. One student’s citation may not result in the same discipline as another’s. It really depends on the severity.”
Bennett also says that discipline is progressive at the university, meaning that if a student has multiple incidents, punishment can range from a fine to probation to suspension. In the case of a non-Towson student like Nick Harris, punishment was banishment from the university. His case is still under review.
The silver elevator door slides open. Kohen and Austin step in, turn towards the front and hit the 14th floor’s button.
“We usually go up the elevator to the 14th floor and then come down the building. We’ll walk all the halls from door to door,” she says.
Kohen and Austin step off the elevator into the Halloween ready halls. Systematically they walk the loop around the floors glass pane surrounded common room looking for those breaking the student code of conduct. This usually means drinking underage.
On each door the names of those living inside are usually written on characters from the theme the RA of the floor has chosen. Spaced between these doors each hall has a bulletin board with facts on various topics.
“Our bulletin boards can be related to what we think our floor needs. If we sense a lot of underage drinking we can put alcohol facts like, ‘this is how much alcohol is in wine,’ ‘this is how much in beer,’” Kohen says.
“A lot of our information is, just please be smart. It is illegal!”
Kohen knows that underage drinking is happening both inside and outside of her tower. Though when it is in her cement poured building she has more control. Kohen is prepared to search rooms though she would rather not invade the person’s privacy. According to her it is part of their training as RAs to learn the procedure.
Kohen knocks on a noisy resident’s door. “Hey guys can you keep it down?”
“Sure, actually could you shut our door?” Two young men are sitting on bean bags across the floor.
“Yes that would be perfect,” Kohen says and pulls the heavy red door closed with a thud.
Kohen and Austin continue walking down the carpet covered cement floors checking for noise in the rest of the halls in Tower D.
Bars and restaurants have a legal obligation when it comes to alcohol. Whoever’s name is on the liquor license has to go through a series of classes and pass a 10-question test based on roughly 90 pages of information administered by the liquor board.
Upon completion, the person on the license is responsible for ensuring that nobody is over-served or gets drunk and then gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. They are also responsible for taking measures to ensure that no minors are served in their establishment. At the Bonefish Grill in Bel Air, MD, that person is kitchen manager Matt Walker.
Today is Tuesday around 3:30 and Walker is sitting in booth 410 near the front of the restaurant. He is dressed in black chef attire with an orange Bonefish hat, a culinary uniform required by the company. The restaurant is empty as the doors won’t open for another 30 minutes. Bonefish is a fresh fish, dinner concept. The preparation that the seafood requires makes lunch hours nearly impossible.
Walker is holding a folder stuffed with papers and documents all about the alcohol policies in the state of Maryland.
“Underage drinking is and has been a problem for some time, if it’s not properly managed,” Walker says. “A good way we prevent this is proper ID-ing.”
Walker pulls out a packet on how to identify a fake ID. Methods include the obvious things like birthdates, expiration dates, and of course the picture. But there are also other things that most people wouldn’t look for.
“As a company, we do not accept vertical IDs. This is something that can pose a problem when you have cross-state IDs, such as Delaware. Their ID’s don’t expire when somebody becomes 21, so they could be 23, 24 and still have a vertical ID and it would be a valid ID. This is when you bring on maybe a manager or the liquor license holder to determine whether it is real or not.”
While it is not Bonefish Grill’s policy to confiscate the IDs, a lot of other places in the state will take the fake IDs and turn them into the liquor board, where they will be photographed and put into a handbook on how to properly identify a fraudulent ID.
The rule in Maryland is if the person looks under 30, you must ID them.
It is 11 p.m. and by now a string of blue cabs has lined up outside of the Glen Tower Complex. Girls come off the elevator and walk across the black rug on the tiled floor. Their ankles are shaking in the straps of their platform heels.
“Love you make good decisions. Bye girls,” Kohen says.
“Bye,” the girls half giggle in response.
The outside tower doors slide open and the girls walk out into the slightly windy night.
“We know that when they go out they’re going to go drink, it’s inevitable,” Kohen says.
“You’re stupid to think that everyone underage isn’t drinking. We know that it’s going to happen but if it comes to a point where it’s unsafe for them and we see it than it becomes our problem.”
The lights behind the desk now are shut off and the security guard is in charge of signing people in. The Resident Assistants must stay up. Music is put on as the three guys crowded behind the counter sing. Kohen laughs and peels open her jack-o-lantern faced clementine.
They now must pass the time in the dark. Kohen’s face is lit up by her laptop screen. In the dead time between rounds she finds doing her homework passes the hours, but Facebook and social media make it go by faster.
Two more rounds left to kill, one at midnight and another at 2. According to Kohen these seem to be the common hours of return for the residents that had gone out. Rounds during these times see more problems than the earlier ones.
Kohen won’t know if tonight will be a problem night yet. There is nothing left to do but wait.