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Students drinking alcohol wando's file photo

People wait in a line to get inside Wando's at the corner of University Avenue and North Francis Street in Madison in this 2007 file photo.

In what marks a major shift in the way UW-Madison handles problem drinking, officials are now requiring most students who get an underage drinking ticket or some other alcohol-related citation to take a course on the risks of alcohol abuse. 

Students pay $78 for two group sessions or $200 for two one-on-one sessions with a professional substance-abuse counselor. That's in addition to the cost of the ticket — $263.50 for a first-offense underage drinking citation, according to the UW-Madison Police Department.

Previously, the university did not have a consistent approach to dealing with alcohol-related issues, said Tom Sieger, prevention director at University Health Services (UHS). Students would be referred to counseling if they caught the eye of a staff member or could be kicked out of the dorms if they violated the alcohol policy, Sieger said.

"This is our attempt to bring systematic, evidence-based, educational approaches to alcohol problems on campus," Sieger said.

The program is called BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students). Widely used across college campuses, Sieger described it as an "educational intervention."

Sieger said he estimates about 800 to 1,000 students will participate in the program each year.

Here's how it works: If a student commits an alcohol-related violation — whether it results in an underage drinking ticket, a trip to detox, or an alcohol-fueled disorderly conduct citation — he or she is required to enroll in the program. Most students will be flagged by UW police but some students could be referred by Madison police officers.

For first offenses, students would take two 90-minute sessions in a group consisting of eight to 12 other students. For subsequent offenses — or if a staff member is particularly concerned about a student — he or she would get one-one-one counseling. The classes will be offered on campus but led by professionals at Tellurian UCAN or Connections Counseling.

The changes were approved by the Chancellor's Alcohol Policy Group, co-chaired by Lori Berquam, dean of students, and Sarah Van Orman, executive director of UHS. 

The group also approved new "Responsible Action Guidelines." Essentially, the guidelines say that a student will have amnesty from sanctions if he or she helps others in an emergency situation, such as calling 911 for a friend with alcohol poisoning. 

The intent is that a student won't fear getting an underage drinking ticket or another citation, said Hannah Somers, a member of UW-Madison student government.

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