Alcohol-related deaths of students have brought drinking to the forefront. Part three of four The alarming headline swept across colleges and universities throughout the country one November morning in 1997 -- a Massachusetts Institute of Technology freshman had died from alcohol poisoning. Eighteen-year-old Scott Krueger, who died after spending three days in an alcohol-induced coma, had a blood alcohol level about five times higher than the state's legal limit for drivers while drinking heavily at a fraternity pledge event. Krueger's death was just one in a string of high-profile alcohol-related incidents that have struck colleges nationwide over the past few years -- incidents that have pushed the issue of alcohol abuse to the forefront at hundreds of schools. At Penn, the death a year ago this week of 1994 Penn alumnus Michael Tobin after a night of drinking at a Phi Gamma Delta annual reunion weekend hit close to home. The incident prompted officials to re-examine the University's social climate -- temporarily enforcing a mostly dry campus and ultimately overhauling the policy altogether. Many institutions are engaged in similar ongoing battles against excessive drinking, and even schools untouched by alcohol-related catastrophes are, like Penn, examining and revamping their alcohol policies and beefing up non-alcoholic social options. Yet administrators agree that the problem of alcohol abuse among college students cannot be solved easily. "As much as we're doing, it's conceivable that another tragedy could happen, if not here, then somewhere else," said Noah Bartolucci, a spokesman for Duke University, which saw an alcohol-related student death last fall. MIT spokesman Robert Sales agreed. "Binge drinking is a societal problem. I think MIT is doing as much as you can do as an institution." Following Krueger's death, MIT expelled the fraternity he was pledging and established a system of progressive sanctions on alcohol violations, ranging from calling a student into the dean's office about a minor first infraction to fines of up to $1,500 and expulsion. The Cambridge, Mass., school is also revamping its undergraduate housing system by discouraging freshmen from living in fraternity houses, as was the custom before Krueger's death. Last fall, student alcohol abuse made headlines once again when a Duke junior died from alcohol poisoning. Raheem Bath died of aspiration pneumonia in November several days after he consumed large quantities of alcohol, passed out and inhaled his own vomit -- which caused the fatal bacterial infection to form in his lungs. Duke initially did not disclose the involvement of alcohol in Bath's death due to privacy concerns of his family. However, after Bath's mother mentioned at a December memorial service that her son's death involved alcohol, administrators began to discuss the issue with student leaders and trustees. And officials have since appointed a task force of administrators, faculty and students to explore ways to improve Duke's alcohol policy. Tragedy also struck Michigan State University when a student there died after excessive drinking in 1998. Bradley McCue died on his 21st birthday when he participated in a school tradition by trying to drink 21 shots of alcohol to celebrate his birthday. He consumed 23 and subsequently died. With the assistance of McCue's parents, MSU now shows two videos on the dangers of excessive drinking during freshman orientation to both the students and their parents. According to MSU's Associate Director of Student Life Marie Hansen, the vignettes have given rise to discussions on alcohol between parents and their children. "For the first time, they're talking about the issue in a manner that is more forthright and less parental," Hansen said. Still, the reality of alcohol abuse again echoed throughout the MSU campus last spring when nearly 100 students were arrested for alcohol possession and disruptive behavior after a riot broke out when the school's basketball team made the Final Four. In response to this incident and to a similar riot that took place the previous spring, MSU President Peter McPherson brought city officials and residents together with MSU administrators and students to find ways to curb excessive drinking. According to Hansen, MSU officials are aiming "to eliminate high-risk drinking rather than prevent all drinking." She added that according to a recent school survey, 71 percent of MSU students have zero to five drinks per week, an amount she said is reasonable. Dartmouth College is also revamping its alcohol policy since incidents of overconsumption of alcohol -- especially in the Greek community -- surfaced on its campus. Dartmouth's Student Life Committee recommended revisions to the alcohol policy, and the suggestions, which include a mandatory education program during freshman orientation, are currently being reviewed. The small Hanover, N.H., is also close to eliminating its Greek system altogether. Margaret Smith, the coordinator of alcohol and other drug education at Dartmouth, said the changes have been in the making for at least 30 years. "[Dartmouth] is trying to be proactive," Smith said. "Alcohol abuse has become an issue on many campuses? and it can't be side-stepped." Smith added that administrators, faculty and students alike agree that amendments to the alcohol policy are necessary. "The change is what's being debated," she said. "We're going to try to make our policies very developmental? something to grow from and not to be taken lightly." Though free from high-profile alcohol-related incidents in recent years, Brown University has had a group in place to review its alcohol policy since 1996. "No particular incidents, no catastrophe prompted the review [of the alcohol policy]," Brown spokeswoman Tracie Sweeney said. But she added that an incident in 1998 emphasized the need to curb alcohol abuse. An undercover reporter for The Providence Journal went drinking with a group of students at a gathering at a student social center on campus and then wrote an article about the high level of underage drinking at the event. In response, police entered the center one night and found the reporter's story to be true. Brown temporarily closed the center, where students must now scan ID cards that identify minors.Comments powered by Disqus
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