Hundreds of Kansas University students gathered Tuesday to listen to hear a message on drinking responsibly while honoring Jason Wren, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge.
It was the second Jason Wren Initiative, an event that remembers Wren, who died in his bed at the fraternity house after a night of heavy drinking.
Chaz Rumage, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon member, helped organize the event. He knew there would be skeptics in the crowd, but he said he hoped the message would ring true for at least one person and would help prevent at least one incident of dangerous drinking in the future.
He knew Wren personally, he said, probably the best of anyone at the fraternity.
“I decided that I’m going to make it a personal goal of mine to stay involved and prevent this from happening to anyone else,” Rumage said.
Rick Barnes, a former university administrator from Texas who today travels the country giving presentations on the dangers of alcohol, was light-hearted, often interspersing mild swear words into his speech, and told humorous anecdotes. For people who felt pressured to drink, he suggested mixing a glass of ice, tonic water and a lime, and sloshing it on people occasionally at parties.
“Don’t let those pressures sucker you in,” he said.
But he didn’t say not to drink — he suggested that students do so in a more responsible manner. That meant less bragging about drunken idiocy and quitting complaining about being bored and having nothing else to do.
“If you’re bored in college, you’re probably not mature enough to be there yet,” he said.
Sarah Nettles, of Sigma Kappa sorority, is a sophomore from Leawood. She was at last year’s event, too, and she said that Barnes was more laid-back than last year’s presenters and that he seemed to connect with more students, while making clear that bad choices can have serious consequences, even death.
“Especially talking to a group of college students, it’s the elephant in the room that no one talks about,” she said.
Still, Rumage said he’s aware that many won’t take it to heart. It’s a tricky problem — he doesn’t drink hard alcohol anymore after Wren’s death and other events in his life, but knows he can’t force good decisions on others.
“You can’t scare people into doing the right thing,” he said. “You have to provide people with the information and hope they do the best they can.”