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Archive for Wednesday, May 13, 1998

CAMPUSES GRAPPLE WITH ALCOHOL ABUSE

May 13, 1998

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University officials are increasingly becoming concerned about the role alcohol plays on campuses across the nation, including Kansas University.

Many campuses have had a difficult, even tragic, year with alcohol.

At Louisiana State University, one student died and three others were hospitalized last fall after an all-night drinking binge. They were found passed out on the floor of a fraternity house. The student who died apparently had consumed 24 drinks in just a few hours.

Not long after that incident, a student died of an alcohol overdose at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was found lying in vomit in a fraternity house.

At the University of Virginia, a student from Reston, Va., died last fall after she drank too much and fell down a flight of stairs.

Kansas University and the Lawrence community have weathered their share of problems concerning alcohol and the student population.

Earlier this year, two taverns popular with KU students -- Bullwinkle's and the Jayhawk Cafe -- were temporarily closed by the state for multiple underage drinking violations.

And on March 31, a 19-year-old Kansas University freshman who had been drinking was hit by a car and killed trying to cross Tennessee Street outside Bullwinkle's, 1344 Tenn. The driver, another KU student, also had been drinking and according to preliminary reports was above the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent.

Generally, arrests for operating under the influence jumped from 91 in 1996 to 120 in 1997, according to KU police statistics.

Outside campus, Lawrence police often assign patrol cars to make bar checks during weekends. And last month, Douglas County officials estimated that more than 10 percent of felony and misdemeanor cases filed this year involved fake IDs.

The growing student protests against new limits or bans on drinking also are startling college officials. But some students say the aggressive anti-drinking campaigns should be targeted more at alcohol abuse, not just alcohol.

In February, KU Student Senate voted 21-20 in favor of a resolution supporting the lowering of Kansas' legal drinking age, which has been 21 since 1985.

``There are strong differences in opinion on how to deal with this, so the tensions are coming to the forefront,'' said Al Park, the president of the Interfraternity Council at the University of Virginia. ``Colleges should be looking more at the root causes of alcohol abuse. Sometimes, a ban is not really the best solution.''

At Ohio University last month, hundreds of students rowdily took over streets near the campus. They were furious that bars there had stopped serving alcohol an hour earlier than usual because clocks had to be changed for daylight-saving time.

At Michigan State, a disturbance erupted after the university announced it would no longer allow alcohol on a campus field. Some students attempted to protest the new policy peacefully, but others dragged an old couch onto the field, torched it, and through the night ignored many police demands to leave.

``We had to act because the behavior there just kept getting worse,'' said Peter McPherson, Michigan State's president. ``Police were having a hard time controlling the crowds.''

It took police in Oxford, Ohio, nearly an hour early Saturday morning to control an unruly crowd of 200 Miami University students who threw bottles at officers after bars closed at 2 a.m. Police said 16 people were arrested, and the university threatened to suspend or expel those students and 23 others arrested following a similar incident Friday night.

The rise in alcohol arrests is another revealing measure of the problem. It appears to be just as serious on some Ivy League campuses as it is at massive state universities.

Last year, Michigan State tallied 574 alcohol arrests, more than any university in the nation. The University of California's Berkeley campus, home to many academically elite students, had 523 arrests, the second-highest tally. But Dartmouth, with 73 arrests, had the highest rate per student because its enrollment is much smaller. On most campuses, alcohol arrests are rising much faster than drug arrests.

College officials are spending more time in orientation programs warning new students about alcohol abuse, but many doubt that the pleas are making a difference. Too many students, they say, are being lured into an intense culture of drinking that begins on a Thursday night and does not end until Sunday.

``A lot of it just comes down to peer pressure,'' said Brian Roinestad, a junior at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. ``Freshmen come in with the image that drinking is what college is all about, and they fall right into it.''

Even some fraternities, which for generations have helped fuel the party culture on many campuses, are acknowledging the severity of student alcohol abuse and taking controversial steps to address it. By the year 2000, more than 1,000 fraternity chapters nationwide intend to ban alcohol from their houses.

``For years we've tried to educate students about responsible behavior, but now we're trying to change the environment,'' said Jonathan Brant, the executive director of the National Fraternity Conference. ``It's out of sheer frustration. This just seems like the right thing to do. But we honestly don't know how effective it will be.''

Four fraternities at KU are aiming for alcohol-free houses by 2000.

``Our national (chapter) doesn't agree with it,'' said Shaun Stoker, KU junior and treasurer for Tau Kappa Epsilon, 1911 Stewart, which last week announced its own alcohol ban. ``We decided we weren't going to wait for them. We decided it was the right thing to do.''

Stoker added that while drinking isn't ``a huge problem at KU,'' it's pervasive enough to merit a much harder look at policies and attitudes.

Still, skeptics of the new alcohol bans say the restrictions may put students at even greater risk by forcing them onto the road much more often in a desperate search for alcohol.

``That's a great concern,'' Brant said. ``But what's the alternative? We can't say we will keep allowing them to be involved in high-risk drinking in a house, either. Neither choice is an easy one. But we're trying to wake up to how bad this problem is.''

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