Banning School Spirits

Last week, following a disgraceful racial utterance by a White female TV anchorwoman in Cleveland, I called for a national referendum on racist language in the workplace, and suggested that perpetrators should be immediately fired from their job if heard speaking a racial or ethnic slur. No sooner had the ink dried on that column, came news of a racist rant by Sigma Alpha Epsilon frat boys at the University of Oklahoma.

The ringleader was expelled as he should have been, but now we have something else to be concerned about. The expelled student, Parker Rice, said that his racial slurs were “fueled by alcohol.” Of course that’s a pretty lame excuse for being a racist, but it’s an explanation that cannot be dismissed totally out of hand. According to a Harvard study, students more likely to binge drink are white, age 23 or younger, and are residents of a  fraternity or sorority. That describes the busload of racist Oklahoma students to a tee. It is also consistent with a study published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) which reported that college Presidents say binge drinking “is their most serious problem on campus.”

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that drinking itself isn’t the problem, but rather it is the negative consequences that result from binge drink ing, a condition which NIAAA defines as having 5 drinks or more in a two hour period or less.

So just how serious is the problem of binge drinking on campus? NIAAA and CSPI provide us with a litany of consequences:

* 7.2 million students are binge drinkers * 44% of students attending a 4-year college drink at binge levels * Each year over 1800 college students die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries.

* Nearly 700,000 college age students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

* Nearly 100,000 college students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

* 600,000 college students receive unintentional injuries while under the influence of alcohol.

* 30,000 college students require medical attention after binge drinking * About 25% of all college students have academic problems due to alcohol use, including missing class and receiving poor grades.

* And, each year, more than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem, which includes suicide attempts. Penn State professor Jeff Hayes expands upon that statistic, saying, “students who are binge drinkers are more suicidal … they also have greater mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety.”

Clearly, alcohol use and abuse among college students has reached epidemic proportions, so what’s the solution?

At Frostberg State University, city police are allowed to patrol campus and keep an eye out for binge drinking. I suppose that makes sense because CSPI says students are less likely to binge drink on campus where alcohol control policies have been put in place. Then there’s the UVA student government spokesperson who recently suggested that alcohol-related sexual assaults could be eliminated by making all frat houses co-ed.

Maybe I’m missing something, but if you really want to stop binge drinking on campus, then why not ban all drinking on campus? Young people will, no doubt bristle at my suggestion, claiming that they are adults, and need no one to tell them what or when to drink. The problem is that freedom to binge doesn’t just translate to health risks for the individual who drinks. It also often affects other people, either directly or indirectly, whether victims of a drunk driver, sexual assault, racist rants, or as surviving loved ones of a binge drinker who dies as a result of his consumption and reckless behavior.

Just as we need a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual assaults and racial slurs, we also need the same approach to binge drinking, and that means banning all spirits from all campuses. Students found in possession of alcohol would then be expelled and not allowed to re-enter any college for two years. Of course that policy proposal begs the question, what about binge drinking off campus? Bar owners are already responsible for cutting off binge drinkers, less they lose their liquor license, so that means stiffer punishment is needed for those who serve alcohol to college students in a private setting, such as at a party or picnic.

Some say that drinking alcohol is a rite of passage, but perhaps the time has come for us to take a prohibitive stand on college drinking in total, in order to prevent binge drinking in specific. The rite of passage is one thing.

The right to pass out is another. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).