Fraternity death comes despite campus steps to control drinking
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."
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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
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
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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
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.