Our Voice: WSU takes a run at making much-needed changes in college drinking culture

August 16, 2013 

There are few heartbreaks more painful than when a young life ends in circumstances that were completely avoidable.

Yet, at college campuses around the country, students continue to die every year in alcohol-related incidents.

For too long, adults who know better have turned a blind eye to the dangers of college-age drinking, as if it is some rite of passage that can't be controlled.

But that accepting culture needs to change. It's time college administrators tried harder to curb alcohol abuse at their schools.

This year, officials at Washington State University are implementing a new alcohol and drug policy to discourage binge drinking and substance abuse among students. It's welcome news.

Classes start Monday, and that means a lot of freshman will be embarking on a new stage of life.

For many, it will be the first time they will live away from home. Many have likely been warned of the dangers of alcohol poisoning and drunken driving, but after they are no longer under the watchful eye of their parents, they can easily be swayed by their peers who encourage them that drinking is part of college and having fun. Drinking, they might decide, helps them fit in.

This is a tough attitude to change, but at least WSU officials are trying. They plan a stronger educational campaign focusing on the dangers of drinking, as well as enforcing a new consequence for underage students caught drinking -- notifying their parents.

This new focus on alcohol abuse at the school is a long time in coming, but at least something is being done now.

The unprecedented emphasis is in response to the terrible tragedy last year when WSU freshman Kenny Hummel died of alcohol poisoning at the Pullman campus. According to the Whitman County coroner's report, Hummel's blood alcohol level was 0.40 percent. A level of 0.08 is considered legally intoxicated -- so he tested five times higher than that.

Last year there also were two WSU students and one student from nearby University of Idahoinjured in alcohol-related falls from buildings.

And last winter, a U of I freshman was found frozen to death under a bridge after a night of partying. Joseph Wiederrick apparently got drunk at a fraternity party and became disoriented walking home.

These deaths are senseless and shouldn't have happened.

Sending kids to college shouldn't be sending them to their deaths. Parents need to talk to their kids about the dangers of drinking, but there is little more they can do when the kids are no longer living at home.

That's why a culture change is needed at college campuses. There was a time that driving under the influence of alcohol did not have the stigma attached to it that it does now. Through education, publicity and tougher laws, the number of drunken driving fatalities has been on the decline for decades.

This is the kind of cultural shift that is needed on campuses. Education and tougher rules are a start.

WSU is on the right track. Other schools should follow suit. We hope the new policy makes a difference.

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