Our View: College drinking a serious problem


The adage that kids will be kids cannot be allowed to excuse away deadly games that are being played with alcohol on many college campuses.

We’re not harboring jejune ideas about drinking among students. Nationally, about 80 percent of college students drink. Unlike the “Animal House” perception glamorized in film, studies show 70 percent of students who drink are not binge drinkers, meaning they consume five or more drinks in one sitting.

Just as encouraging is a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week. It says drinking — particularly binge drinking — is on the decline among high school students as well.

What is worrisome is that those who admit binge drinking point to a growing intensity in the level of dangerous alcohol consumption. It is not gender-specific, either, with more and more women admitting to excessive alcohol use.

On too many campuses, there is a disturbing laissez-faire attitude about — and in some cases, a condoning of — student drinking. It is not a rite of passage to engage in a practice that facilitates physical harm and gives rise to regrettable decisions such as unsafe sex or criminal acts such as driving under the influence and property damage.

School administrators need to take the lead, and have done so at a lot of schools. That watchful prevention can only go so far, though.

It takes individual and group responsibility, traits that fade quickly when fueled by alcohol.

Perhaps it could have saved the life of Tim Piazza, whose death at 19 in February followed a drunken fall at a Penn State University fraternity house.

The story emerging about what happened inside Beta Theta Pi fraternity that night — details being provided by prosecutors after a grand jury filed charges against 18 people and the fraternity in Piazza’s death — are saddening and sickening.

Centre County (Pennsylvania) District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said students were taking part in a fraternity initiation that involved running a gauntlet and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

“His blood alcohol, after it was over in a matter of minutes, reached almost 0.40,” Miller said during a news conference. “Essentially it was a fatal amount of alcohol and it led to him falling down a set of stairs.”

Then, despite being visibly injured, the young man was moved to a couch, eventually getting up after several unsuccessful attempts and falling down stairs a second time.

Still, no one called for help, according to prosecutors. Instead, several people at the party searched online for how to treat head injuries. By the time medical attention was sought 40 minutes later, the damage was irreversible.

The biggest concern of some of the students was not about Piazza, but rather about what would happen to the fraternity, which had been disciplined in the past for allowing excessive drinking.

Jim Piazza, Tim Piazza’s father, speaking on the program “Today,” said his son was treated like “road kill.”

“This wasn’t boys being boys,” he said. “This was men who intended to force feed lethal amounts of alcohol into other young men.”

It shouldn’t take having to see the tears of grieving parents and hearing the stomach-turning details of a young student’s final hours to realize there must be a change in culture, and that starts with parents and students.

Unfortunately, that dialogue only seems to come in the face of tragedy.