An increasing number of student and nonstudent participants have caused UCSB’s College Alcohol & Substance Education (CASE) program to vacate its Student Health offices in favor of a central Isla Vista location.

Currently serving more than 700 individuals, the nearly two-year-old program has outgrown its humble beginnings and has moved into a more spacious plot on the second floor of Embarcadero Hall on Embarcadero Del Norte.

The relocation will further open up the program to the Isla Vista community, and will facilitate its new focus of being more than a punishment for students who have been written up in the residence halls for alcohol infractions or who have been handed a minor-in-possession ticket in I.V. Organizers hope it can also function as a voluntary alcohol and drug education option.

“We have hopes of assuming a bigger presence in Isla Vista,” said CASE Program Manager Jackie Kurta. “We want to engage with the community and have more voluntary participation, not just a punitive program.”

Since the program’s inception in 2005, the number of counseling groups offered has doubled to 16. There have been a total of 593 UCSB students referred since August 2006, with other participants coming from the local court system after being convicted of public intoxication, minor in possession of alcohol, marijuana or false identification offences. An additional 40 UCSB students have been referred to the Skills, Awareness and Motivation (SAM) group due to a second infraction in the residence halls.

If the program receives a $300,000 U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools grant, Kurta said it would be able to enhance the current CASE offerings in Santa Barbara and possibly spread to other campuses.

Kurta, who is also an alcohol and drug counselor, said the program does not seek to deny the existence of alcohol and drug use on a college campus. Rather, she said it utilizes a realistic alternative to traditional educational methods that emphasize abstinence, which she considers an unrealistic strategy.

“There is a philosophical difference between abstinence [and our approach], it is our belief that this philosophy limits dialogue,” Kurta said. “We reiterate laws, and are not condoning illegal behavior, but we recognize students may choose to use alcohol and drugs. We want them to be as safe as they can.”

CASE was born in August 2005 through a partnership with the Office of Residential Life. It initiates efforts in the community to preempt alcohol abuse and drug addiction among college students.

During the five-week program, students attend weekly group discussions, take home assignments and attend individual follow-up meetings with specialized counselors. Individuals referred to CASE are required to pay a $75 fee. As a supplement, the program also provides online resources such as e-CHUG and e-TOKE, which both assess student substance trends and habits to promote safer and more informed behavior.

The second-tier SAM, which costs $50, is a six- to eight-week individual program that involves screening and diagnostic assessment as well as meetings with law enforcement and potential community service.

Associate Dean of Students Deborah Fleming said the university initially recognized the need for a punitive program when the Residence Halls encountered repeat violations.

“There was a need for more consistency when students violated policy,” Fleming said. “The Residence Halls felt like an island when the students got out of hand, they came to us looking to forge a connection.”

Typically, CASE attendees include students living in the residence halls who have violated alcohol and drug policies, as well as other minors who have received alcohol and drug related infractions.

Following the launch of CASE, the District Attorney’s Office considered using the program as a more practical alternative to the Santa Barbara Court’s Youth Offender Program, Fleming said. Zona Seca, a $165 prevention program, is traditionally the only option offered by the Santa Barbara courts for minors convicted of public intoxication, minor in possession of alcohol, marijuana or false identification infractions.

Completion of this program requires minors to attend a four-hour introduction meeting, three community support meetings – such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Marijuana Anonymous – and a two-hour final session meeting.

“Zona Seca does expose our clients to community-based support meetings which do advocate abstinence,” said Ashleigh Johnston-Barton, a therapist for Zona Seca. “The purpose of this is inclusive of witnessing drug or alcohol use that has gone beyond the recreational level and to become aware of the potential impact it has on individuals.”

The District Attorneys Office now allows violators to choose between the traditional Zona Seca program and CASE, which recently incorporated a consolidated curriculum for court cases and has since admitted 164 offenders into the program, who are also subject to $165 fees.

Unlike Zona Seca, Kurta said CASE provides students specialized attention necessary to suit individual circumstances.

“The difference between Zona Seca and CASE is that we do a thorough assessment of every student referred by the Residence Halls or by the courts,” said Kurta. “We assess students to find out what they really need.”

In addition, CASE Manager and Alcohol and Drug Counselor Jackie Kurta said CASE also enrolls students from the Greek system and athletic programs.

“We have had Presidents in the Greek system voice concerns about a particular member and refer them to our program and coaches who have also come forward with concerns for athletes who have violated team policy and had these students enrolled due to these referrals,” Kurta said.

However, some students subject to this newly implemented regulation feel the consequences are too drastic and often unnecessary, particularly when inflicted for a single violation.

Justin Scott, who is currently enrolled in CASE due to an alcohol write up in the Santa Rosa dorms, said he feels a single violation should not warrant such a stern punishment.

“Maybe if the program was administered after a couple of times, and you first received a warning,” said Scott, a first-year chemical engineering major. “But being administered after the first time and having to pay is extensive. Even if you’re in a room with somebody who is drinking you can be written up, which I feel hurts the social experience.”

Matt Connolly, a Santa Cruz resident who was referred to CASE for talking to an RA while drunk in the hall bathroom, said the program proved ineffective in altering his habits regarding substance abuse.

“CASE was kind of OK because half the people in the class were my friends and we had a good time, but it consumed a lot of time and wasn’t effective in changing my drinking,” he said.

For some students, the open and non-judgmental environment CASE strives to provide permits drug- and alcohol-specific dialogue that is unattainable elsewhere and pertinent to a college student’s experiences.

Carla Perez, a second-year sociology and women’s studies major, said her experience in CASE was extremely beneficial and informative.

“I had a really good experience and a very knowledgeable counselor. I learned a lot that I didn’t know,” Perez said. “I learned things about my body and social situations and why people feel more pressured to drink in certain settings. I would go to a party and blackout and be like ‘oh that’s why that happened.'”