Campus Life

Dry Frat Rush at Penn State

This news is primarily for parents. Of course, aspiring college students who long for the good times that fraternities promise may also be interested in this.

Amid ever-increasing pressure on colleges and, especially, Greek organizations to put and end to alcohol-related injuries and even death, Penn State's University Park fraternities have pledged to conduct an alcohol-free rush period this year.

Here's the story from the Centre Daily Times:

Fraternities at Penn State University plan to prohibit alcohol at all recruitment events starting next week.

The school's Interfraternity Council says the new policy is aimed at keeping new recruits safe.

The policy says that during the recruitment process chapters may hold alcohol-free recruitment events during specified times.

Chapters will be allowed to host one last recruitment event on Feb. 8; bids will be extended Feb. 9 and must be accepted by Feb. 11.

The fine for violating the alcohol-free rule is $1,000 per event.

State College police say they are pleased with the move. Capt. Dana Leonard says it's a step in the right direction.

Why this sudden change of policy? Another news item may explain:

Joseph Dado, 18, was found dead Monday in a concrete stairwell. He was last seen at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.

The Centre County coroner ruled his death an accident, but police are still investigating whether alcohol played a role in his death.The council said that the suspension is standard procedure for a case that goes before the peer review board.Fraternities are being asked to refrain from holding social events and serving alcohol until Oct. 2. The move is out of respect for Dado.

What does Penn State's president think about alcohol on campus?

Underage Drinking

by Graham Spanier

One of the questions I am asked repeatedly is, "What is the most pressing problem facing higher education today?" My inquisitors expect me to speak about budgets, information technology, federal research policy, or public opinion. My answer is that the most fundamental problem facing colleges and universities throughout America today is the challenge of developing character, conscience, citizenship, and social responsibility in a society that sometimes gives the impression that such virtues are optional.

In my view, no aspect of this challenge is greater for our young adults today than the excessive consumption of alcohol and the behaviors that surround it. Surveys have adequately demonstrated that excessive alcohol consumption has become normative among college and university students.

Many of today's undergraduates come to us as experienced drinkers--nearly one third of college students were binge drinkers in high school. Moreover, binge drinking-- defined as the consumption of five or more drinks in one sitting by a male or at least four drinks by a female--has become a popular activity among today's college students. And while drinking in college has always been with us, the difference today is that more young people binge drink, and those who binge drink do so more often.

According to a national survey on college drinking, more than 40 percent of today's college students engage in binge drinking. Twenty percent of students binge drink three or more times in a given two-week period. More than half of students who use alcohol said they drink to get drunk.

As you know, there are unmistakable consequences of such behavioral patterns. Among the respondents in the survey, frequent binge drinkers were 22 times more likely than non-binge drinkers to report having had five or more problems such as doing something they regretted, missing a class, forgetting where they were, getting behind in school work, arguing with friends, engaging in unplanned sexual activity, getting hurt, damaging property, and so on. Three out of four who did not binge drink reported problems due to binging by others.

The toll of these behaviors is substantial, academically, financially, and socially. Alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of all academic problems and 28 percent of all dropouts. College students spend in excess of $5 billion annually on alcohol. Alcohol is the number one health risk to college students. About 50 students die each year from drinking-related causes. Approximately 300,000 of today's students will eventually die of alcohol and other drug-related causes. Nearly all violent campus crimes involve the use of alcohol.

Ten years ago, a survey of college and university presidents reported 67 percent considered alcohol abuse to be a problem on their campuses. Not much change occurred until recently, however. But in the last few years the level of attention being given to this problem by university presidents has accelerated.

Penn State's main campus at University Park is especially vulnerable to excessive alcohol consumption. There are about 40,000 students at University Park in rural central Pennsylvania. About 13,000 of those students live on campus and about 14,000 in apartments within a mile radius of campus. There are two dozen bars and restaurants that sell alcohol within a half mile of the campus. We have 86 fraternities and sororities at University Park. Such a profile is conducive to excessive student drinking.

Half of all of our students are heavy users of alcohol. We have had two tragic deaths related to alcohol. And last summer, there was a riot in the downtown area that was fueled by drinking.

I am very concerned about the impact of this environment on the health, safety, and personal and academic development of our students at Penn State. Let me add that while many of our efforts to address excessive alcohol consumption are focused on University Park because of the size of the campus, this is an issue for all of Penn State's 24 locations throughout Pennsylvania.

I can report to you that tangible progress can be made in reducing those mechanisms that institutionalize excessive alcohol consumption and socialize students to give such behavior a high priority and peer recognition. In the last few years at Penn State, we have mounted a campaign to promote academic and social responsibility among students with visible success. Our objective is not to eliminate alcohol, but to change the norms of behavior from excessive and underage drinking to new norms of academic and social responsibility. We want our students to engage fully in their studies, particularly during the school week. We also want them to have healthy social and recreational opportunities. We want a civil and caring community at Penn State as well.

Let me share with you some of the efforts we are making at Penn State.

Working with student government leaders to provide an attractive and constructive alternative to social events centered on alcohol, we have opened the HUB, our student union building at University Park, twenty-four hours a day with expanded late-night programming on the weekends. This initiative is almost entirely student supported through funding allocated through a student-run activities committee. HUB late-night has been an overwhelming success attracting more than 40,000 students last year to a wide variety of entertainment and recreational activities. In a survey of University Park students, more than 70 percent said that this program does result in less drinking among students and even more said that the program is a good example of having fun without alcohol.

I am proud to say Penn State's fraternities and sororities are providing outstanding leadership on alcohol issues. Our Interfraternity Council has worked with local chapters to implement a number of policy changes that promote academics and de-emphasize the use of alcohol. Eight fraternities have announced plans to be alcohol free by the year 2000.

Our students are involved in many other ways as well. They serve as peer educators and counselors for intervention and awareness programs. With funding from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, students in advertising classes have developed ads and videos for college-age audiences to deliver messages about the consequences of excessive drinking. Posters developed through this service learning experience were so effective that the Liquor Control Board planned to print 30,000 of them for distribution to Pennsylvania colleges and universities.

Efforts to raise awareness of alcohol issues come from a wide variety of sources including the staff in our Office of Health Promotion and Education and posters and fliers in the residence halls. In cooperation with Intercollegiate Athletics, alcohol education messages have been delivered on scoreboards in Penn State's stadium and arena. Many student organizations have provided alcohol awareness programs as well.

Our faculty also are involved. A survey conducted at Penn State reported that 28 percent of students who had heard a message about alcohol heard it from one of the faculty. The Faculty Senate has raised awareness through a number of reports related to student drinking. Several courses in our College of Health and Human Development provide alcohol education. Faculty members are contributing through research and program evaluation efforts as well.

I now write to all incoming freshmen about the issues surrounding alcohol use in college and have incorporated a strong message on this point in my remarks at the freshmen orientation.

Among other activities, Penn State's offices of Judicial Affairs, Health Promotion and Education, and Residence Life are working with local police and district justices to coordinate interdiction and intervention efforts of our campuses and communities.

An Alcohol Intervention Program, delivered by peer counselors and an addiction specialist from our counseling center, is the first line of education and treatment for those referred for violations of liquor laws on- and off-campus. Last year, nearly 900 students were referred to the program.

Several of our campuses have established a Life House in their residence halls. These substance-free dorms for students are proving tremendously popular.

Leadership for many of these efforts at all Penn State locations is provided by the Commission for the Prevention of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Abuse, composed of faculty, staff, and students from across the university.

Another important source of leadership is our Partnership for Prevention in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. With funding from the PLCB, twenty campus-community coalitions have been formed at University locations throughout the state to guide research and educational efforts to curb underage and excessive drinking. The University Park Campus Community Partnership involves 45 member organizations.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's Bureau of Enforcement also is working with Penn State and eight other colleges and universities in the state to develop community partnerships that promote education and enforcement to reduce the harmful consequences of underage and binge drinking.

With all of these efforts and more, we are beginning to see a change at Penn State.

We are absolutely committed to the long term effort that is necessary for real change to occur.

There are some who have been critical of Penn State's efforts in this area. Both students and alumni have accused us of interfering with what they consider to be a rite of passage and one of the greatest college traditions. A handful of businesses have complained that our efforts are hurting their livelihood. But the overwhelming response among students, their families, alumni, and our local communities has been positive. I have had dozens of letters from parents thanking me for Penn State's response and even more notes from students about the difficulties they have encountered as a result the culture of campus drinking and their enthusiasm for Penn State's efforts to address this problem.

I believe the vast majority of students welcome the chance to be responsible. They need and must have our active encouragement and support.

President Spanier's stand is one held by almost every college president. Let's hope that you parents can get your current or future college students to assume that same outlook on this nationally troubling issue.


Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.