Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The culture of drinking at the University of Virginia: Enough already?

This is important, and I hope you will keep reading.

Yesterday I went for a walk on the grounds at the University of Virginia and I came upon these flags (in photo) planted in the lawn in front of the library. I was dumbstruck by what it represents.

Each flag is planted in the ground for a young adult who drank himself or herself to death on a college campus this past year.

There are 1,700 flags on the lawn. The carnage is higher than in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The flags were put there by the National Gordie Foundation. This Thursday is National Gordie Day, commemorating Gordie Bailey, who died from alcohol poisoning in 2004 after a drinking binge that was part of a fraternity hazing initiation at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Gordie had been on campus only three weeks.

Tonight, the National Gordie Foundation will be showing a film, Haze, in Newcombe Hall at 7:30 pm. The film is free. If you are a student, please go, and tell your friends. The film will be shown again Thursday at 7:30pm in Wilson 402.

Let's stop pretending: Drinking is a plague here at the University of Virginia. I am a recent newcomer to Charlottesville, and I am overwhelmed by the brazen open drinking by students, and the culture of drinking that is pervasive in this community.

Our church parking lot, back alley and front yard are full of cans and bottles every Sunday morning. Our Sunday morning ritual begins by cleaning up the mess; we sometimes need to hose down the steps from the vomit.

And that is only the physical residue. I am told the emergency rooms at the UVa Medical Center and Martha Jefferson Hospital regularly receive students who are close to death from drinking.

This should be unacceptable to all of us.

It is way too easy to get cheap beer near the places where students live and study. A half-block from St. Paul's is Cohn's Corner, a convenience store with cheap beer, and lots of it. Walk inside the door and you will see suite-case size cases of Bud Lite stacked high for sale. I checked the prices Monday: A 24-pack costs $17.89, less than a dollar a beer. A sign proclaims that if you buy 10 cases you will get a $1 off per case. Could we find more ways to encourage binge drinking if we were trying?

I am no prude or angel on this subject. I enjoy beer and wine, and when I was a college student at UCLA I availed myself of the many opportunities for free beer at "keggers" all over Westwood. I don't think I ever bought a beer my entire four years at UCLA. I didn't have to; it flowed free. I am not claiming my generation was any better, and maybe we were a whole lot worse. It was part of college life, everyone did it, no one seemed to say anything otherwise.

But is that any reason to allow this slaughter to continue? Is that any reason to look the other way as multi-national corporations get rich by providing cheap beer at the expense of the health of young lives?

I am not sure what we can do about this. Maybe you have some ideas? If you are a student, please think about this. Go to the film, take a friend with you. If you work for UVa., maybe it is time to talk with the Administration about being more forceful on this topic. If you work for the local media, maybe you ought to cover this story and not let up. If you are a lawmaker, maybe it is time to take a hard look at the availability of beer so close to university campuses and fix a few laws.

Maybe it is time for all of us to stop thinking that this is an acceptable part of "life on the Corner" in Charlottesville. It is time to say enough of this.


Pam said...

Thank you Jim for shining a light on this important issue and for sharing information about the film and recognition effort. UVA has had its share of alcohol related tragedies and it is time that we work together as a community to address the problem...instead of overtly contributing to it.

Anonymous said...

Hate to say it, but the drinking culture at UVA is tame compared to where I went to school. Not saying this issue isn't big at UVA, but if you think you're seeing a serious drinking culture, there are ones that are far, far worse.

Janice Dean said...

Jim, it's National Hazing Prevention Week. I thought you might appreciate the opportunity to spread the following information regarding emergency treatment related to alcohol consumption by UVa students (from the Hoos Sober email list and UVa Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse website):

- There are no charges for services provided by the Charlottesville/Albemarle Rescue Squad.
- Parents will only be notified if student is under 18 or if they might not make it.
- Police will respond to a 911 call, but only to ensure safety, not to report or arrest anyone.
- Bringing a friend to the hospital will not put you at risk for punishment if you are underage. It is better to come in so the doctors know exactly what happened; they will be better able to treat your friend!