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Fraternity death comes despite campus steps to control drinking

Wynne graphic August 27, 1997
Web posted at: 2:01 p.m. EDT (1801 GMT)

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (CNN) -- The drinking death of an underage Louisiana State University student comes as campuses nationwide take steps to control or ban excessive drinking.

Several fraternities, many of which have reputations for hard partying, are trying to change their ways. For example, Sigma Nu and Phi Delta Theta have promised to ban alcohol at all chapter houses beginning in 2000.

But administrators are finding that despite these efforts, students are consuming beer and hard liquor off campus at alarming rates, sometimes with fatal results. It is estimated that nearly half of all college students, or roughly 3 million, binge drink.

"What is frustrating is that there is no way to manage (students) off campus," LSU Chancellor William Jenkins said. "It is difficult enough managing on campus." icon (103K/9 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Early Tuesday, police found a dozen students passed out on the floor of a LSU fraternity house, some of whom had apparently celebrated bids to join Sigma Alpha Epsilon with heavy drinking.

Benjamin Wynne, 20, was found dead with a blood-alcohol level of 0.588 -- nearly six times the legal limit for automobile drivers. Officials believe he consumed about 24 drinks. The legal drinking age in Louisiana is 21.

Jenkins said police have no evidence the students were forced to drink as part of a hazing ritual.

'Party school' list criticized

Pete Stevenson, communications director for Sigma Alpha Epsilon, agrees with Jenkins.

"You can put a lot of controls down, but (students) then go off campus, and it's hard to control those actions," he told CNN. icon (295K/27 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Stevenson lashed out at the Princeton Review, no relation to Princeton University, for its annual list of party schools, which was released last week. He said it glorifies drinking. LSU was ranked 10th, even though administrators recently pushed through a campus-wide alcohol ban that also applies to fraternity and sorority houses.

"We continue to glorify in the media and press the party schools, and there are some other things that we can emphasize," Stevenson said.

Since Wynne's death, the national chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has suspended the LSU chapter, which has 130 members and recruits, and launched an investigation. So far, police have found no evidence the students were forced to drink.

Doctors consider binge drinking extremely dangerous. When alcohol is consumed rapidly, such as what happens when someone drinks shots of hard liquor, nearly every system in the body is affected, physicians say, especially the heart, head and the ability to breathe.

Erasing the 'Animal House' image

The student's death was a staggering blow to universities and fraternities, which have struggled for years with an "Animal House" image of wild parties.

In the past year alone, fraternities have been suspended and sued over deaths linked to alcohol. Last month, Lambda Chi Alpha suspended a University of California-Los Angeles chapter after two members drowned at Lake Mead. Criminal charges have been filed.

Campuses throughout the country are trying to become more vigilant.

At Oklahoma State University, officials have conducted surprise sweeps of fraternity houses for drugs and alcohol. Atlanta's Emory University has hired extra health educators to warn against heavy consumption of alcohol.

A crackdown on underage drinking at the University of Colorado last spring led to riots, with students torching off-campus businesses and pelting police with rocks. About 90 CU students were placed on probation under the new rules.

But despite heightened awareness, some students at LSU weren't surprised by the alcohol-related death.

"When they go to a party, it's not socially acceptable to just sit there and have a couple of drinks," one student said. "You have to drink as many as you can, especially around the time you want to get into a fraternity."

Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.

 
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