Peer Pressure

Last week, in a splendid illustration of the intertwined relationship between booze and campus life, the University of Colorado hosted an alcohol-education program at Coors Events Center. When a speaker asked how many people had attended an anti-binge drinking presentation before, everyone in the audience of roughly 700 students raised their hands. Fittingly, the evening featured a video entitled "Tell Me Something I Don't Know," which gave a self-conscious nod to lame dangers-of-drinking campaigns before describing in frank medical detail the events leading to the 1997 drinking death of Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Scott Krueger.

The circumstances were very similar to those that resulted in the death of CU student Lynn Gordon "Gordie" Bailey in September. Both were out-of-state freshman pledges who drank large amounts of liquor provided by their older fraternity brothers during initiation rituals; their deaths subsequently inspired activism on the part of their former brethren. The March 1 gathering was organized by members of the now disbanded Chi Psi fraternity, where Bailey died, who've started a campaign called Guidelines and Objectives of Responsible Drinking, with a mission of educating students about alcohol poisoning. GORD is also selling carabiner keychains on campuses for $2, with the net proceeds going to the Gordie Foundation, started by Bailey's parents in Dallas.

After Samantha Spady died in Colorado State University's Sigma Pi house last fall, members of the soon-banned fraternity put together the Ace of Spades campaign, which distributes business card-size tutorials on the symptoms of alcohol poisoning. They also work with the SAM Spady Foundation, started by the Spady family.

University administrators have launched their own educational efforts. Back in 1997, CU introduced "A Matter of Degree" to track and report alcohol-related offenses among students and provide information about the school's three-strikes policy for repeat alcohol offenders; that program was amended last fall to a two-strikes approach. Parental notification, alcohol-awareness classes, community service and probation now occur after the first slip-up, and come a second offense, a student gets slapped with a one-semester suspension and is referred to the City of Boulder's "Second Offender Program." CU has also proposed postponing rush.

In the wake of Spady's death, Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, a CSU alum, was appointed to head an alcohol task force that issued a report with 43 recommendations on February 1. In response, CSU President Larry Penley committed to an expansion of existing drug-and-alcohol projects as well as development of a transition program for students moving from the dorms to off-campus housing.

The Colorado Legislature has also gotten involved. On March 2, the House approved a bill sponsored by Representative Angie Paccione of Fort Collins that will raise the maximum fine for an underage drinking bust from $100 to $1,000, and the maximum penalty for providing alcohol to minors from $1,000 to $5,000. This proposal, which now moves to the Senate, would also provide for a legal safe haven for underage drinkers who call medical personnel for dangerously hammered friends.

But the college student groups hope their students-educating-students approach will have a greater impact than initiatives introduced by authority figures. They have their work cut out for them: One of the countless alcohol studies commissioned by universities in recent years concluded that 20 percent of the students do 80 percent of the drinking -- and that minority is the hardest to reach with any campaign.


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