In recent weeks, the nation has been shocked by several alcohol-related student deaths. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology freshman collapsed into a coma at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house after drinking what police said was the equivalent of 20 shots of liquor in one hour; he died three days later. At Louisiana State University, a 20-year-old fraternity pledge died from alcohol poisoning. Alcohol consumption has long been recognized as a problem on college campuses. But a 1994 study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. showed that binge drinking--consuming five or more sequential drinks for men, four or more for women--was higher at fraternity houses. The national survey found that 86% of fraternity members were binge drinkers, compared with 44% of college students.
ANNA MARIE STOLLEY spoke with students at UCLA and USC about the extent of alcohol consumption and whether the Greek system is to be blamed for excessive drinking.
24, senior, UCLA
I am a fifth-year student, with one course left to take. I transferred from San Diego State two years ago. I joined a fraternity, Theta Xi, the first week I got here. My friends and I were shocked when we heard about the guy who drank himself to death at MIT. We couldn't figure out how a person could keep drinking that much. Usually if you drink too much, you throw up or pass out. How do you keep going that far? We drink all the time, and nobody comes near to something like that.
Underage drinking? It happens, of course. In fraternities, alcohol is a little more accessible to people under 21. The school tries to crack down on drinking, but you can always find ways around the rules if you want to. Actually, it's kind of sad that the drinking age is 21 when you can die for your country at age 18.
In my fraternity, we do not force pledges to drink. But when I was at San Diego, I know there were fraternities that hazed people a lot--making them drink against their will. I know two guys at my house who don't drink at all. And then there are guys that drink every day.
Do I know people with alcohol problems? Well, in my opinion they drink too much, but in their opinion, they don't, and they still get 4.0 grade point averages and take care of their business.
Fraternities at UCLA are not allowed to have keg parties, but people in fraternities drink. People not in fraternities drink. It's not that big of a deal. How can you blame the fraternity system for society's drinking problems? Most people start drinking in high school, so if you want to find the problem, you should go to the real source of it, which would be kids and curiosity, and that every other second there's a beer commercial on TV.
19, sophomore, USC
I heard about the alcohol poisoning at MIT, and, to be honest, something like that could happen on our campus. I have no problem with people drinking, but I do have a problem when people do it irresponsibly.
I am not part of a fraternity, but I believe that the brothers or sisters might try to convince a pledge to act irresponsibly, to do something like binge drinking. I was recently at a frat party where the brothers were downing beer like it was candy. I was the designated driver that night and didn't drink. I personally felt no pressure to drink, but then again, I wasn't a member of that fraternity and didn't feel like I had to pay homage to my fraternity brothers or whatever.
I've had friends tell me that in fraternities there's an attitude of "let's see how much we can drink or get someone to drink in an hour." I just don't condone behavior like that.
Fraternities and sororities have a lot of influence on the amount of drinking that goes on on campus, especially during rush week. There are all the parties at Greek houses and people feel like they need to drink a lot. The Greek system has always been and will always be an integral part of the system of alcoholic consumption on campus.
We don't need to get rid of the Greek system, but they need to monitor themselves. For example, I was at a fraternity party where you could only get a drink if you had proof that you were over 21. That's good.
Members should be aware that each person has a different tolerance level, and maybe older brothers and sisters should look out for younger ones. That freshman at MIT? Maybe that was his first time drinking heavily, and he hadn't built up tolerance yet. Also the pledge should remember that his life is more important than proving himself to a fraternity he wants to join.
23, graduate student, UCLA
I spent five years here as an undergraduate, finished up last year, then started my graduate studies in the public health department. I remember they told us during freshman orientation that drinking went on and showed us videos about how to be smart about it. I followed that advice.
I didn't go to that many parties, honestly, but I went to some in the dorms, and yes, there was a lot of drinking. It's just pretty much, you're out of your home and you have access to alcohol. Drinking games are definitely going on at UCLA, like any other school. People throw up. There are Jello shots and a keg in the kitchen.
But I was never pressured to drink. At a lot of the parties, I would stay dry the whole time.
I've read in the papers that there seems to be a lot of binge drinking going on at different schools. That's kind of scary. I never saw anything like that.
There's definitely drinking at fraternity parties at UCLA, that's why people go to them. But I think that fraternities have this stereotype that that's where you go if you want to get drunk. Before you come to college, you see movies like "Animal House" and you think that fraternities are just about partying and misbehaving. But then when you get to college, you meet people in fraternities and they do a lot more than party. They are involved in tutoring programs and charity work.
I don't think the alcohol-related deaths I read about are isolated cases. Freshmen can often drink too much, but I wouldn't blame fraternities for that.
18, freshman, UCLA
I went to high school in Upland and did not go to parties that had drinking. I've only been here a few weeks, and already my friend dragged me to a party, held in Anaheim by a UC Irvine fraternity. It was a "girls get in before 11 p.m. free" kind of thing. I've never seen anything like it. There were all these people drinking. They did not check identification. I saw girls throwing up in the bathroom and people were acting pretty wild. I was not drinking. My friend was going to have a sip, but I just looked at her and reminded her that she was driving. Neither of us ended up drinking anything.
Pressure to drink? Well, everybody else is drinking and you're just standing there not drinking. People offer you drinks and you feel pretty stupid when you say "no." But I did. The party made me feel uncomfortable and I would not go to another like that again.
I've heard that the fraternities at UCLA also have wild parties. I was thinking about joining a sorority, but I don't think I will. I think at parties like that, they should provide soda, water, nonalcoholic drinks. During orientation, they said that drinking is discouraged. Alcohol once in a while is, I think, fine, but that's not why you're in school. You're supposed to be studying.