To drink or not to drink

Oct. 16, 2013 @ 03:57 PM

The Herald-Sun newspaper of Oct. 8  had two articles that showed opposing attitudes about college drinking.
The first article was about a dorm on the campus of Troy University in Alabama.  The students living in the dorm adhere to a strict non-drinking policy.  They also do community service work and must have a minimum grade-point average.  It is called the Newman Center.
Eureka!!  An island of sanity in a sea of troubles!!
The dorm is open to all, but is also faith-based, with students sitting in common areas reading the Bible. Religious material is posted on the walls.  It consists of two large buildings with rooms for 376 students.
The second article was about David Shannon, a UNC freshman.  He died on Oct. 27, 2012, after climbing to the top of the Ready-Mixed Concrete plant in Carrboro and then falling about 30 feet.  The findings of the autopsy report indicated that he had a blood alcohol content of .22 percent in his blood at the time of his death.  This was nearly three times the maximum allowed for drivers in North Carolina.    He was a pledge in the Chi Phi fraternity.
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In the early morning hours of May 12, 1996, there was a fire at the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity in Chapel Hill.  Four of the five victims had enough alcohol in their systems to affect their ability to escape.  There is no doubt in my mind that alcohol played a major role in this tragedy.
My hope then was that the university would take some strong steps to discourage students from drinking and that they would crack down on drinking at fraternities.
Some good work was done to these ends, but the most attention was given to the installation of automatic sprinkler systems.  This was a worthy suggestion, but it missed the main point: excessive drinking at UNC fraternities.  On the night before the early morning fire, there was a graduation party at the Phi Gamma Delta house attended by 250 to 300 students and parents.
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The problem of student drinking at UNC has existed since the university was first opened.  It is insidious – and very hard to deal with.  The problem is most notable in our fraternities.
Back in the l960s to 1980s, the university was inclined to look away from the problem.  Some would say “Boys will be boys.”  Over the years this attitude has declined, and there have been serious attempts to curtail drinking by students.   Nevertheless, the problem persists. 
Perhaps the death of David Shannon and the announcement of his blood-alcohol content will invigorate the UNC administration so that they will give fresh attention to the problem of student drinking.
One problem that stands in the way of reforming fraternities is the ignorance of the parents of students.  They have not been advised of the degree of drinking at fraternities. The tragedy of David Shannon can help them to understand.
One simple and effective solution of drinking by fraternity members would be to close all the UNC fraternities.  This sounds implausible, given the long-standing tradition of fraternities  – and the hue and cry that would ensue from many alumni and faculty.  Yet it has happened: Williams College abolished fraternities in 1968, and Amherst and Colby followed suit during the 1980s.
Since this solution is unlikely, what is needed are fresh ideas.   Hugh Shannon, the father of David Shannon, plans to talk with fraternity members and pledges at the university about the dangers of drinking.  I applaud his effort.
We need to address the problem on a larger scale.  We can show that there is a better way to enjoy university life than to join fraternities.  This can be done by following the lead of Troy University.  We can open a dorm at UNC where drinking is forbidden.
Whatever is done in response to drinking by fraternity students, it should be done now.   It should be a new, vigorous and sustained policy.