March 8, 1999
EAST LANSING, Michigan (CNN) -- Drinking alcohol is as much a part of college life as going to the big game or studying all night for exams. But one university town in Michigan, struggling with the recent memories of a student death and campus riot, has taken some unusual steps to challenge the risky rite of passage.
Known as a party school with a tradition rich in distilled spirits, Michigan State University has established a vigorous anti-alcohol campaign, driven in large part by the students. Greek social clubs, often considered bulwarks of campus boozing, have led the way.
At the Lambda Chi House, members of fraternities and sororities recently discussed their support for a voluntary 30-day ban on alcohol at chapter houses. They spoke of the need to "refocus our values" and "understand there's a problem."
The "problem" was dramatized last autumn when student Bradley McCue died from alcohol poisoning after a binge at an East Lansing bar. Then in May, a student riot broke out, fueled in part by alcohol.
Following the incidents, some Greek organizations have sobered up. Phi Delta Theta was hit with an alcohol ban for disciplinary reasons, but the fraternity decided to make the prohibition indefinite.
"Our overall living conditions improved. It was a quieter place to live. Our overall academic (grade point average) went up," member Ben Glime said.
The temperance movement is widespread. The entire Greek system is considering a permanent ban on alcohol. And some students find refuge in Rather Hall, an alcohol-free dormitory.
"We find alternative things to do like going to the circus," said Jessica Schulte.
Town, campus working together
Kate Giannone doesn't need to be convinced. The student almost died after draining a fifth of vodka. "The next thing I remember I was in the hospital, and I had no clue how I got there."
The town of East Lansing has joined the university to reduce the flow of beer, wine and liquor.
Community and business leaders joined students, faculty and administrators to create a team called ACTION. The 33-member group quickly realized it couldn't wipe out alcohol use completely, so it decided on a narrower target: binge drinkers.
"The 10 percent of the students we have found are drinking about 70 percent of the alcohol," said ACTION executive director Jinny Haas.
One longtime bar owner said binge drinking among the college crowd is the worst he's seen in his 25 years in business.
"I don't remember it ever being quite like this," said Vaughn Schneider. "I think we need to really change the mindset of young people."
The ACTION group has produced 33 recommendations to increase student awareness. They include supporting students who choose not to drink, providing harm reduction programs for students who drink heavily, and establishing Safe Ride, a bus system to prevent drunk students from driving. Bar and restaurant owners also curbed happy hours and other promotions providing cheap booze.
"We think having a liquor license carries with it a responsibility of public trust," Schneider said.
Telling others what happened to her, Giannone now has a warning for a particular group of students: "The ones that don't know when to stop. The ones that think passing out is fun."
She tells them it's not. They may not wake up.
Alcohol still top health risk to college students
Michigan State University
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