Overconsumption of alcohol has claimed another victim. This case hits close to home because it took the life of a 19-year-old Kansas University student.
Autopsy results have not been released, but the father of Jason Wren has cited mounting evidence that a night of excessive drinking cost his son his life. Jason reportedly consumed multiple margaritas at a local restaurant, followed by up to a dozen beers and some whiskey after he returned to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, where he had lived for about a week.
The loss of a young student in such a senseless way is beyond tragic. It is a symptom of a broader problem that has stubbornly defied solutions at KU and other college campuses across the country. What can be done to eliminate this scourge?
A number of legal remedies could be applied. For instance, why was a local restaurant serving margaritas to a 19-year-old? Were employees fooled by a fake ID or did they not ask to see one? Increased enforcement of laws against underage drinking is one strategy.
Fraternities and sororities aren’t the only campus locations where drinking takes place, but they get a lot of the attention. They could attack the problem by making their houses alcohol-free zones and actively discouraging drinking, especially among under-age members.
The biggest hurdle in attacking this problem may be a college culture that often celebrates inebriation. Drinking to the point of passing out is viewed as fun and acceptable behavior. In the wake of Jason Wren’s death, the university newspaper ran on its front page information about how to recognize alcohol poisoning and what to do if a friend appears to be in physical danger after consuming too much alcohol. This may be practical information for college students to have, but wouldn’t it be a lot better for a “friend” to step in before someone consumes a dangerous amount of alcohol?
Perhaps figuring out a way to notify parents about a problem drinker would help, but there’s only so much parents can do for a child living away from home. It has to be a matter of personal responsibility for students and their peers.
The problem is widespread. A study presented Wednesday at a Seattle conference for student affairs officials reported that nearly half of college freshmen who drank alcohol spend more time drinking each week than they do studying. The study drew its figures from more than 30,000 students who took an online alcohol education course last fall. Students who said they had had at least one drink in the past two weeks, said they spent 10.2 hours a week drinking and an average of 8.4 hours a week studying. Of the 70 percent of respondents who said they drink, almost half spent more time drinking than studying.
It would be nice to think they were exaggerating their drinking, but the death of Jason Wren and other anecdotal evidence lends credence to the frightening figures.
The executive director of the Student Affairs Administrators of Higher Education said the group hopes the study would motivate campus and community leaders to help administrators “redouble our efforts to de-emphasize the role of alcohol in college life.”
It’s no small task, but it’s a worthy goal. There is so much more to college — and to life — than drinking oneself into oblivion. Perhaps the untimely death of Jason Wren will help drive that point home.