LEWISBURG, Pa. (AP) — House Party at Bucknell University was a springtime rite of passage for decades of students, a weekend of live outdoor music, grilled food, and a festival atmosphere on campus.
But the weekend was also known as a hazy few days of debauchery. Among the tamer pastimes: shots, beer pong, daytime boxed wine, sometimes all three.
While the tradition of House Party appeared sacred on Bucknell’s campus, university president John Bravman canceled the event in August, joining a growing band of officials across the state taking action against alcohol abuse.
In a letter to the campus community announcing his decision, Bravman reported that 15 students at last spring’s House Party were hospitalized with blood alcohol levels topping 0.239 – nearly three times the legal definition for drunken driving – including two with levels more than 0.30.
“Quite frankly, it was a disaster from my point of view,” he said in a recent interview. “I just can’t believe that anyone would actually argue that this has a mission purpose for this university.”
Within the past year, several colleges and college towns in Pennsylvania have employed new measures in attempts to reduce the potential for alcohol-infused chaos.
Earlier this month, for example, Temple University canceled its annual Spring Fling, a decades-old event originally designed to unite what was once a commuter school.
Stephanie Ives, Temple’s dean of students, said in an interview that in recent years, many students – a larger percentage of whom now live on or near campus – had turned Spring Fling into “an opportunity to skip class and drink,” and that “our academic mission was being undermined” by the behavior.
Student health was also a major concern, Ives said.
This year, a female student visiting Temple in the days surrounding Spring Fling died after falling from a rooftop party. Witnesses said that she fell while posing for a photo and that it was clearly accidental.
Elsewhere, during the winter, West Chester Borough Council approved the installation of “quiet zone” signs tacitly directed at students wandering home from bars.
Last spring, Pennsylvania State University paid 34 State College bars and restaurants more than $167,000 to abstain from serving alcohol to anyone during the student-organized “State Patty’s Day.”
And at the University of Pennsylvania, a task force staffed by a variety of university officials is working on a yearlong evaluation of the school’s alcohol and safety policies.
Officials at each of these schools acknowledge that excessive drinking in college is no new phenomenon and that it is not likely to disappear any time soon.
But several figures suggest the percentage of students who binge drink has decreased in recent years. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 44 percent of college students in 2002 had been “binge drinking” (consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion) within the last month, but in 2012, figures show, that number was about 40 percent.
Aaron White, who studies college and underage drinking at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said, however, there are a few other important factors, including a 25 percent rise in overdoses solely related to alcohol, and a 76 percent rise in overdoses involving alcohol and other drugs, between 1999 and 2008.
He also cited his 2006 study of about 10,000 college freshmen. It found that approximately 45 percent of the males had participated in binge drinking, and about a quarter of that group consumed 15 drinks or more.
“The binge drinking measurement is a threshold,” White said. “It doesn’t tell you a thing (about) what happens when people go above that threshold.”
That dangerous level of consumption is what ultimately convinced Bucknell’s Bravman that House Party was no longer a suitable university event.
While canceling a treasured school tradition hasn’t made everyone happy, Bravman said a majority of the feedback has been positive. For anyone who disagreed, he said, he simply asked a pointed question.
“I’ve challenged students to tell me, ‘What would you have me do?’ ” he said. “How would you view it if you were in my chair?”
Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.philly.com