MU tries to temper spring drinking
BY BRETT HAMBRIGHT, Staff Writer
Spring flings are designed as stress reducers for college students dreading their upcoming final exams.
But there's a fine line, school officials say, between venting a semester's worth of steam and engaging in dangerous behavior -- mainly, drinking in excess.
That's why officials are hoping students take it easy during what some kids call the last party week of the school year.
"It can be a high-risk time for the 17.5-to-23-year-old crowd," says Pete Anders, Millersville University's police chief.
At campuses across the country, officials say, welcoming the warm weather sometimes includes partying hard.
"We do see a bit of a spike" in that activity, says Aminta Breaux, MU's vice president for student affairs. "That does seem to happen on other campuses as well. Students want to have a good time and let off some steam."
MU's Superfest -- its version of a spring fling -- kicks off today with a variety of activities aimed at cooling off the urge to drink. Planned by the student activities board, Superfest features cookouts, karaoke contests and a red-carpet event.
"We realize there is opportunity for them to pull in wrong directions," Breaux said. "It's a battle we have with students."
Students need look no further than Temple University for a celebration gone tragically wrong. On April 17, a Conestoga Valley High School graduate fell 40 feet to her death while attending a roof-top party near Temple.
Police have not said whether alcohol played a role in the death of 19-year-old Ali Fausnaught's death, but her boyfriend told officers she and other students were drinking.
"It's a reality that exists," Anders said. "I talk very openly with our students about alcohol-related deaths on other campuses."
Unfortunately, he has plenty of stories to tell.
At least six local students since 2005 have died in incidents related to alcohol either at local campuses or at out-of-county schools, according to newspaper records and Com pelledtoAct.com, a database for college drinking deaths. One victim was a recent Franklin & Marshall College graduate visiting his alma mater in 2008.
Many area campuses have suffered similar tragedies.
Drinking-related deaths have happened recently at Villanova, Kuztown, Penn State and California (Pa.) universities, just to name a few. York College and Montgomery County Community College also are on Compelledto Act.com's list, compiled from police and media reports.
"I'm very attuned to what's happened," says Anders, a longtime Lancaster city police officer. "We're proactive on those issues."
The heightened vigilance already thwarted several underage and excessive drinkers at Friday's spring concert with rapper Ludacris at Pucillo Gymnasium, considered by MU students as the unofficial start to Superfest.
Police issued 16 citations for public drunkenness and underage drinking to 10 people who tried to get into the concert, according to Janet Kacskos, a university spokeswoman. Kacskos said all 10 were college-aged and five attended MU. There were no issues inside the concert, attended by 1,900 people, mostly college students.
John Baltzer, a drug-and-alcohol counselor on campus, said looming final exams are only part of the impulse to party this week.
"Add to that the tradition of the event, spring is in the air and high-risk drinkers not needing much of a reason to drink, and you have a perfect storm," Baltzer says.
"(They) don't need much of an excuse to get together to drink."
MU students say Superfest, this year's is Hollywood-themed, is traditionally well-attended. Officials are concerned, however, about the celebrations that can continue after the official event is over. MU is a dry campus, meaning even students of legal age can't drink on school grounds.
"We recognize there are students who will say, 'Hey, there is a party here,' " Breaux says. "That's part of experimentation at this age."
Baltzer says underclassmen are most vulnerable to drinking too much.
"Freshmen are very high-risk," he says. "Alcohol is near the center of how many freshmen and sophomores socialize. They are risk-takers to begin with."
Athletes and students involved in Greek life at fraternities and sororities also are more likely to drink, Baltzer says, based on students he's treated.
"Some of the highest blood-alcohol contents and the largest number of drinks consumed I see here at MU come from these two groups of wonderfully athletic, highly social, risk-taking, competitive men and women," he says. "Our gifts are always a double-edged sword."
At Elizabethtown College, about one-third of the student-enrollment size of MU, T.G.I.S. (Thank Goodness It's Spring) was held last weekend. The Las Vegas-themed event included movies, food and music as healthy alternatives to drinking.
"(We) understand that this time of the year can be dangerous, as many students choose to attend parties and participate in drinking," said Elly McCarthy, an Elizabethtown senior who helped plan T.G.I.S. as a member of the Office of Student Activities.
"We try to provide activities that keep students entertained during the majority of the weekend in order to deter them from attending those parties."
Franklin & Marshall has no version of a spring fling, according to Julia Ferrante, director of media relations.