Dear Muhlenberg Students:
In the past three weeks two Muhlenberg students have nearly died from alcohol abuse. This year the number of students transported to local hospitals to date has reached twenty-six, almost quadruple the seven students hospitalized for over consumption of alcohol at this time last year. In some of these cases the hospitalized student has consumed substantial amounts of hard liquor in a short period of time and in isolation. In other instances, students have drunk amounts of beer or hard liquor at private parties as a result of drinking games. Some times their intent may have been to "pre-game" before another party or campus event; at other times the intent seems simply to get drunk or pass out. Whatever the cause, these students' lives might have been lost had friends not sensed the potential danger and called Campus Safety to make sure that their classmates received medical attention. Most of these students have not been previously identified as having a problem with alcohol or behavior. Most of them are students just like you.
It is no secret that alcohol use is a common occurrence on our nation's college campuses. This is hardly surprising when we realize that approximately 80% of high school seniors have consumed alcohol before going away to college. Nonetheless, I believe that the overwhelming majority of Muhlenberg students do not drink irresponsibly. If you are one of the many students who choose not to drink, or who drink only in moderation, you represent the norm for our campus and you have my respect. Unfortunately, it is the highly visible minority who cannot or will not curb their alcohol consumption who pose a risk to themselves and to our community.
Of course there is a long tradition of college drinking, immortalized in countless movies, drinking songs, and traditions. Some Muhlenberg students may think that a little student drinking is no big deal. It's important for you to know, however, that things have changed. Binge drinking, drinking to get drunk, drinking to the point of blacking out, drinking to the point that students must be conveyed to emergency rooms because excess alcohol consumption threatens their lives - are behaviors that have now become an epidemic on many campuses. And the data shows that most hurtful behavior on college campuses (sexual assault, vandalism, etc.) is linked to alcohol abuse by a minority of students. Though Muhlenberg has been better than most campuses in this regard, we must be honest with each other that we have a problem, and that we need to do something about it.
This letter might have announced the death of one of your friends. Fortunately, it does not. If we continue on this path, however, we will inevitably experience tragedy.
This is a community problem, and we must respond to it as a community. So far we have been fortunate: through their vigilance and caring, our students have saved the lives of their classmates by notifying authorities when they saw friends in trouble. But we may not always be so lucky. Here is how I propose that we respond, as a community:
- First, I have drafted a letter to your parents asking them to talk candidly with you about their expectations and their standards. You can read this letter on my website at: http://www.muhlenberg.edu/main/aboutus/president/ (click on the "Letters" icon). You may also be interested in reading the unabridged version of the essay I published in the Muhlenberg Weekly's Focus section on February 5th . It too is available on line at: http://www.muhlenberg.edu/main/aboutus/president/communique/essays/essay3.html .
- Second, I will be meeting with College staff and student leaders to consider ways to discourage students from irresponsible drinking behavior.
- Third, I will be assembling a community task force to examine the evolving problem of binge drinking on our campus and make recommendations for strengthening our policies, procedures, and educational programs.
- Fourth, I will be consulting with a number of faculty, staff, and students about organizing various outreach programs (collectively called "days of dialogue") in which all of us can learn more about the neurological, physiological, psychological, ethical, and social implications of alcohol abuse. I anticipate that students, faculty, staff, coaches, chaplains, alumni, and parents will be involved in this effort.
- Fifth, and finally, there is an important role for you to play. Let me acknowledge freely that administrative action alone cannot eliminate abusive drinking behavior. I do not want our community response to this problem to be an escalating game of cops and robbers, with the administration cracking down and students increasingly drinking underground. First, if you choose to drink, do so responsibly. Don't inflict on your friends the unpleasant responsibility of confronting you with your dangerous behavior. Second, I urge all of you to keep an eye out for each other. We know that two of our friends might now be dead if their fellow students had not intervened. We also know that such interventions are awkward and difficult, and require courage. But they are the truest measure of friendship and community. Make sure there is always a designated driver. Actively intervene when friends are drinking too much. Call Campus Safety when things seem to have gone too far. Better to risk a moment of confrontation with a friend than to risk your friend's life. None of us wants to spend the rest of our life regretting that we could have saved a friend's life, but chickened out.
I am hopeful that by working together to address this difficult and serious problem, we can avoid a pointless, needless, heart-breaking tragedy.
All best wishes,