Friday, December 7, 2007

Killing the Demons of Campus Alcohol

The demon of campus drinking has possessed our students, faculty and administrators, as campus culture has gotten out of control. Administrators turn a blind eye, def ears and plugged nostrils to the problems, just assuming that this is part of normal campus life. I am not one to judge other people’s choices, but whoever decided that drinking till you puke every weekend is fun or cool really needs to get slapped. They should also tell you the other side of drinking, which says that the 20 year old getting “twisted” at the party becomes the 40 year old sitting up in the Betty Ford Clinic with no liver in his body.

College campuses are proficient at producing leaders and geniuses. But they can be equally proficient at producing alcoholics, AIDS patients, rape victims and members of gamblers anonymous. As a professor at many “party schools”, I’ve watched 14 years of campus atrocities being committed every weekend with the primary suspect being a student named Jack Daniels. The word “moderation” is rarely used, and over the top behavior is embraced, endorsed, accepted and expected.

When I saw the scandal that plagued Duke University, I didn’t try to figure out if someone was raped. My first question was, “What IN THE HELL were 19 year olds doing at a party with 27 year old strippers?” I’m not one to hate on a good party, but damn. If there had been no rape allegations, it appears that everything would have been A-OK to the administrators. The climate creates the storm, and this was Hurricane Katrina. So, while we chastise Duke University, there are many campuses that are nothing more than a Duke waiting to happen.

My good friend is a prosecutor who deals with drunk driving cases. Many of her defendants are college students who don’t know any better, some of them after killing their best friends. She helped me compose a list of actions campuses can take to exorcise the drunken demon from their university. I don’t want to tell students what to do. But it’s sad when they do the wrong thing because the adults around them did not have the courage to warn them of the dangers. I am not trying to soap box....but I will pull out the Irish Spring for just one second.

1) How about having a former student come to campus and tell some of their horror stories? - Nearly every college graduate (or non-graduate) can tell a story about something terrible that happened to one of their friends in the middle of some alcohol-laden environment. The more you care about the students, the more you will allow the dialogue to be raw and realistic. The University of Life holds no punches when giving lessons, you shouldn’t either. The frightening tales of the past that haunt university walls should be used to benefit future students.

2) There is nothing that a good lawsuit won’t fix. On-going lawsuits at Colgate University and other campuses are stark reminders that the courts are now starting to hold some campuses liable for their missing eyeballs. Choking the purse strings is a good way to make these administrative Stevie Wonders gain 20/20 vision. Perhaps administrators should be legally educated about the consequences of “letting kids be kids”? I do not want them to get sued; I would rather just have them realize that this is a possibility.

3) What about a revolution in parenting? I find myself leaning over the toilet every semester, as I see more and more parents sending their children to campus as “Little Paris Hiltons”, being provided for like middle class welfare recipients. Every minor expense is fully paid, and the words “get a job” might as well be Mandarin Chinese. So, you then have an energetic, horny 19 year old with 80 hours of free time on their hands. Are they going to spend that time studying or memorizing the locations of the local bars? What’s worse is that the student has left home a child and returned a child, never gaining any sense of personal responsibility. If you give someone a wheelchair before they learn to walk, then they will never bother to learn to use their legs.

As I sat flipping through my mental rolodex, I felt sadness for my peers who were deceived by the drunken demon. I thought about the deaths, prison sentences, divorces, drop outs and middle age alcoholics, all created right before my eyes. My friends and I arrived on campus with clean slates, clear consciences and bright futures, only to have our lives complicated in ways that we never imagined. Our parents, teachers and mentors never warned us of these realities, allowing the University of Life to be our abusive boarding school. I searched for the “rewind” button in my mental
VCR, knowing I wouldn’t find one. So instead, I confronted the demon head on, hoping to make a difference.

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