Thursday, August 28, 1997
Drunken frat parties a fight
we can win

The Cincinnati Enquirer

They think they're grown up, these children we are sending off to college. They think they're adults, and we're pleased when they sometimes act as though this is a possibility. Pleased and surprised. Because we know in our hearts that they still have a lot to learn.

Otherwise, why would we mortgage our houses and ravage our 401Ks to finance this adventure in higher education?

And don't we pray there will be some adults on those campuses who will be a little bit like a parent? Oh, not in the sense that they will do laundry or deposit money in overdrawn checking accounts. But in the sense of keeping our children safe.

The party school

I wonder what Benjamin Wynne's parents thought when they dropped him off at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Did they know that this college was widely regarded as a party school?

A party school. Well, that won't kill you, will it?

Of course, in Benjamin's case, it did. The 20-year-old drank himself to death. More than two dozen drinks in less than an hour.

Thomas Risch, LSU's dean of students, said in a televised interview: ''Students will tend to drink too much. We should try to educate these young people.'' I wanted to reach though the television screen and educate him with a thump on the head.

Educate? As though the average college student is unaware of the properties of alcohol. As though this is some unpredictable drug like angel dust or crack. Educate them? Why don't we punish them?

There were 11 other kids found passed out on the floor with Benjamin Wynne. Three were hospitalized. This is a twisted and familiar ritual. Pledging a fraternity.

''What is frustrating is that there is no way to manage them off campus,'' LSU Chancellor William Jenkins said. ''It is difficult managing on campus.''

So share some of the burden, your chancellorship.

And find a way.

Henry Wechler of the Harvard School of Public Health says 86 percent of fraternity members nationwide have engaged in binge drinking. This compares with 44 percent of all students. So we know where the greatest problem lies.

Most universities have a fraternity council. Challenge them to clean up this mess. They might welcome some support and the chance to supervise their own reform. It would be educational. Let the good boys pressure the bad boys. And if they don't, throw the fraternities out. All of them.

You don't find fraternities in the middle of cornfields. Fraternities need colleges and universities to survive. So those institutions can make them play by their rules. And it seems as if the first rule might be to prohibit poisoning each other.

Use peer pressure

Off campus? Surely the university board and administration and faculty and alumni have some clout with the community. Put the pressure on places that promote 10-cent beer nights. This kid was 20 years old and, according to LSU officials, he got drunk off campus. Where are the police? Liquor control agents?

There are so many dangerous things out there that make us afraid to let our kids out of sight. Drugs, guns, diseases, accidents. Things we don't understand, that are complicated and hidden.

Binge drinking is not one of those. We know where it is. The good fraternities know which ones are bad. C'mon. This is one we can win. For once, we are not powerless.

Mr. Wechler cited ''tremendous peer pressure.'' Terrific. Let's use it. On their peers. And ours.

Let's pressure our peers who own bars and package-goods places. They know whom they're selling to. They don't need to be educated either. The rules are there. If they break them, lower the boom.

We parents can serve notice to the institutions that we expect higher learning from them. We do not expect a course in Alcohol 101. We expect the adults to act like adults, even like stern parents if necessary.

If they don't, we will not give them our money. And we won't let them have our children.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8493. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and is a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.