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Life of the Party

For drunk CU students, SEMS volunteers lend a helping hand.

He sees this sort of consulting as a natural evolution of SEMS's original objective. "Our mission as a nonprofit has to supersede our goal of establishing a SEMS program at a school," he says. "Our mission is to save lives, and if you are not interested in our specific program, then let us help you design something that would be the most effective for your campus."

"We believe that our program here is a success, and we know that it can be a success at other universities," Young adds. "Because schools just don't know what to do with the problem of binge drinking. It is epidemic, and sometimes it requires interventions that they have not thought of. We think our program is innovative, comprehensive and can help them make their campuses safer."

Coors Brewing Company believes; it partnered with SEMS this past June. And Coors is helping steer the group toward other companies that might provide financial assistance. Rossi, who once had ambitions of becoming a doctor, has entered a master's program in business administration at the University of Colorado at Denver so that he can become the leader he thinks SEMS needs.

"My initial aspirations were medically oriented, but I came upon this idea that I'm passionate about, and I want to see it through," he says. "I wanted to be a doctor to save lives, and we're developing a concept that has the opportunity to save lives that doctors can't because they don't have access to them. We are creating our own industry that is so unique, and it's really exciting. I've always said I wanted to do something that will benefit people's lives, and I really think with SEMS we're doing that."

This past April, Jesse Gomez, an eighteen-year-old CU student, was found dead in his dorm room after attending a Theta Xi party staffed by SEMS members. A toxicology test determined that Gomez did not have any drugs in his system and that his blood alcohol level was 0.159 -- over the legal limit but not high enough to account for his death, according to the Boulder coroner. Though all of Gomez's friends reported that he'd seemed normal that night, the news of his death still hit SEMS hard.

"It was really tough when I heard about that," Rossi remembers. "If he had gone down at that party, maybe he would still be here today. But we can't be everywhere; we can't be Superman. We're not going to be able to save every life, and our staff members and doctors need to understand that. But the more we are able to educate the friends of people like Jesse, the more we can create awareness, be it directly or indirectly, and the more lives we can save."

They have their work cut out for them. Despite a concerted effort by the university to increase alcohol-education awareness -- including new student groups and a strict "Two Strike Policy" that, after a second offense, sends a student to a workshop focusing on smart decision-making regarding alcohol -- CU's binge-drinking hasn't really diminished. "I would love to think we've made some progress," says committee chair Maust, "but I would expect that it has stayed the same. The Harvard School of Public Health shows that there has been no real change in the binge-drinking rate in the last decade."

That's one reason Maust feels that a program like SEMS is crucial on today's campuses.

"I think SEMS is a marvelous expression of what we need," he says. "If we're going to change a student culture, then we need the students to change it."

The hour has grown late, and the sorority formal continues to rage. Many of the coeds have moved on from the dining room and are now strolling through the back halls of the darkened event space, away from prying eyes.

"Kelly!" a young man yells loudly, peering out from his hiding place around a corner. "Kelly! Get the fuck over here and make out with me!"

A restaurant in the facility is still open, and while many parents continue to dine inside, their children run and leap and shriek their way through the hallways, darting in and out of the CU students sipping on small flasks or dry-humping each other against support beams. It's the circle of life.

But the SEMS team has no time to appreciate it. They're busy tending to another felled sister, this one having gone face down in a plate of pilaf. They moved her to a bathroom, where she puked up a small reservoir, and now she, too, sits on the couch of shame, resting her head on Feldman's shoulder. It's clear that she's much further gone than the first woman they dealt with this evening, and the SEMS volunteers are in their element. They take vital signs every couple of minutes, making sure they don't waver -- a sign of alcohol poisoning -- and Speidel hurries the paperwork in case paramedics need to be called.

After a half hour, vital signs are stable, but the girl is still wrecked. The team makes a call to a senior SEMS officer, then determines that the best course of action is to send the girl back to Boulder in a cab, accompanied by two sober sisters. For these three, the night is over -- but for the three SEMS members, it's just beginning. Several hours remain before the CU students are scheduled to clamber back aboard their chartered buses, and in the meantime, there's an entire party full of drunk people to monitor.

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