Girl Trouble

When CU students take the Delta Delta Delta pledge, they take it very seriously.

That week, every Tri Delta member and pledge had completed AlcoholEdu, a three-hour online alcohol-education course designed to curtail high-risk drinking. As of this year, the national office of Delta Delta Delta requires that all members and prospective members take the course. "Tri Delta wants its members to have factual information about the effects of alcohol so they are able to make informed decisions when placed in a situation where alcohol may be present," says Michelle Popp Shimberg, national president of Delta Delta Delta. "Helping young women make better decisions about the use of alcohol is an important way we can contribute to a better college environment and community."

At the sleepover, CU's Tri Delta pledges and members all made informed decisions about alcohol. They were informed that it was available, and most of them decided to drink it.

The bus transported the pledges to a private home in Littleton owned by the parents of Keira O'Dell, the Tri Delta officer in charge of new-member education. Also in attendance was the president of Delta Delta Delta's Boulder chapter. Soon after the pledges arrived at the O'Dell home, she distributed several plastic jugs of vodka and eight boxes of wine, describing the alcohol as "a special treat to get them loosened up."

The month before, another CU freshman, Lynn Gordie Bailey Jr., had died of alcohol poisoning after a night of binge drinking that was part of a Chi Psi fraternity initiation rite. Bailey's death made national news, as did the alcohol overdose earlier in September of Colorado State University sophomore Samantha Spady, found long dead in the "boom-boom room," a second-floor bedroom in the back of the Sigma Pi frat house in Fort Collins.

This fall became a time of tough talk about underage drinking on Colorado's college campuses. Following Spady's death, Colorado State University president Larry Penley asked Jane Norton, Colorado's lieutenant governor, to lead a task force on binge and underage drinking by college students, especially those in the Greek system. The lieutenant governor's Alcohol Task Force held a series of public hearings this fall and is scheduled to release a report containing specific suggestions on February 1. Those suggestions will include implanting computer chips in beer kegs sold in college towns, so that if a keg is discovered at a party where there are underage drinkers, it can be traced back to its purchaser, according to Norton's spokeswoman, Amber O'Connor. While no University of Colorado officials are on the task force, she adds, "they've been in the audience, and when the recommendations are complete, we'll be sharing them with all the universities in Colorado, as well as many nationwide."

In his September 28 "State of the Campus Address" to CU-Boulder faculty and staff, Chancellor Richard Byyny declared: "We are determined to do everything we can to prevent another tragedy such as those that recently occurred both at CSU and CU. We must do more, and our students must do more, to address issues related to alcohol abuse, underage drinking, and our relationship with the Greek system."

Byyny then announced a series of "immediate actions related to Greek life" that would be part of a "concerted attack" on alcohol abuse.

First he called for the national office of Chi Psi to revoke the Boulder chapter's charter, which it did. Byyny also announced that "we have initiated discussions with fraternity and sorority leaders to assess all aspects of Greek life. In particular, we plan to articulate a set of expectations for local chapters, addressing such issues as abuse of alcohol and drugs, membership recruitment of freshman students, hazing and personal safety at social events." He also demanded that rush week be delayed until second semester, if not sophomore year, to give students more time to adjust to campus life.

One month after Byyny's proclamations, Tri Delta held its pledge-class sleepover.

There, according to investigative reports, Keira O'Dell gave a presentation on how CU sororities and fraternities conspire to circumvent no-drinking house rules. She then offered suggestions for "how to get wasted before getting on the bus" for the November 13 Delta Delta Delta formal in Denver. She, the sorority president and another Tri Delta officer then encouraged the pledges to get their drink on.

AlcoholEdu defines "heavy episodic drinking" as four or more shots of alcohol, beers or glasses of wine consumed at one occasion by a young woman, five by a young man. The pledges drank so much at the sleepover that over the course of the night, a number of girls vomited and several passed out. Party attendees told investigators that O'Dell's parents and the Tri Delta officers monitored the unconscious pledges to make sure they kept breathing.

The website of Delta Delta Delta's national office claims that AlcholEdu has been proven to "increase the number of students who abstain from alcohol by 35 percent." The sobriety ratio among the recent AlcoholEdu graduates at the sleepover was quite a bit lower, but a few of the pledges abstained. One of them was Lili Armstrong, who later told police that she pretended to go to sleep early in the evening in order to escape the pressure to drink.

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