Alcohol-awareness gathering honors memory of KU students

The alcohol-related deaths of two Kansas University students in March and April of 2009 were remembered Friday night at an event designed to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

The Kansas University chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity worked with the KU chapter of Delta Gamma sorority to present the first Jason Wren Initiative: Underage Drinking Educational Seminar.

Wren was a member of the SAE house. He died in March 2009 after a night of heavy drinking.

“The chapter, immediately following Jason’s passing, we decided that we were going to do something to honor him out of respect and out of love for one of our fellow members, so we decided then and there that we were going to put on an education event,” said Chaz Rumage, a KU senior and member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

Hundreds of KU students attended Friday’s free event at Budig Auditorium that provided students with the chance to openly discuss the problems with alcohol consumption in Lawrence and ways to prevent alcohol accidents among college-aged kids.

One of the guest speakers was Erica Upshaw, a Delta Gamma alumna and Ohio State University graduate, who is a nationally renowned speaker on drug and alcohol abuse. She speaks weekly across the country to college students about the importance of helping out their friends.

“I’m not here to tell Kansas students to not drink at all. That’s really not my place,” Upshaw said. “If they choose to do that, that is wonderful — it’s a great decision, it’s a safe decision — but I’m here tonight to talk about partying smart and to look out for each other.”

Upshaw lost her brother, Joey, to alcohol abuse. She started Keep Friendship Alive in 2005, and since then has spoken to some 25,000 high school and college-aged students.

Upshaw said 1,700 college students die in alcohol-related incidents each year. She says the vast majority of them die while drinking in the company of friends.

Also speaking Friday night was retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and a native of Kansas City, Kan. Myers retired as the 15th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after serving 40 years in the U.S. Air Force.

“This is the cream of the crop in our country, these folks at the university level,” Myers said. “They don’t need to create road bumps for them by abusing alcohol and making it difficult for them to ever be what they’re striving to be.”

Students in attendance said they hoped that an open dialogue about the responsible use of alcohol by college students of legal age will prevent future alcohol accidents.

“With an event like this, as long as we get through to one person, it was successful,” Rumage said.

Wren’s death last year reminded the KU community that alcohol use can have serious consequences.

Wren’s father, Jay Wren of Littleton, Colo., has said that his son had multiple margaritas with friends at a local Mexican restaurant, followed by drinking 10 to 12 beers and carrying around a bottle of liquor at the SAE house.

According to an autopsy, Wren’s blood alcohol concentration was .362 percent at the time of his death — more than four times the state’s legal limit for operating a motor vehicle, .08 percent.

KU freshman Dalton Hawkins fell from the roof of a scholarship hall on April 24, 2009. He also had alcohol in his system.