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Stott: Drinking the norm among students

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

As we watch the sad events unfold surrounding David Bogenberger’s death, it might be easy to attribute the tragedy to an unusually irresponsible fraternity function or a uniquely out-of-hand activity.

Bogenberger was a 19-year-old freshman at Northern Illinois University who died in November after engaging in a binge-drinking activity at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house, where he was a pledge.

This newspaper reported earlier in the week that to reach a blood-alcohol content of 0.37 percent, nearly Bogenberger’s level the night he died, a 160-pound man would have to consume 15 alcoholic drinks in two hours.

It is clear that Bogenberger ingested a copious amount of alcohol.

But, as someone who recently was a college undergraduate, it’s easy to understand how the alcohol consumption of a college freshman could spiral to a dangerously high amount.

This column isn’t meant to excuse binge drinking, and it especially does not condone dangerous hazing rituals.

It isn’t meant to frighten parents into thinking their children are flirting with death by alcohol poisoning every Friday and Saturday night. It also won’t advocate for a weekend routine that requires one drink per hour with servings of water in between. I’ve been to enough parties to know how unrealistic it is to expect college students to desire only a light buzz.

It is meant to remind students and parents that, when judgment is impaired and the aim is to get as drunk as possible, consumption can easily get out of hand.

Whether hazing is involved or it’s just a particularly raucous party, the opportunity to drink too much is almost always present. It’s amplified by the encouragement of others, who probably aren’t wondering how many drinks another partygoer has had or whether they’ve taken a recent water break.

Although hazing is an especially dangerous activity, it definitely isn’t a requirement for inexperienced drinkers to ingest too much.

I know very few former college students who didn’t drink themselves into oblivion at some point during their college career.

Bogenberger’s parents released a statement this week saying they hope no parent in the future has to feel the incomprehensible pain that accompanies a senseless death from alcohol poisoning. They probably never expected that the bright future of their son would be ended because of such an irresponsible activity.

I’m writing this because I don’t want any parents to assume that simply because their child is a good student and a responsible young adult, their college experience doesn’t include regular binge drinking.

It’s a problem many parents probably wish to ignore, hoping their children are among the students who don’t regularly get wasted for fun. 

The often-made assumption is that irresponsible troublemakers and soon-to-be dropouts are the only students who drink themselves stupid. This is ridiculously narrow-minded.

My undergraduate career included several semesters of 50-hour workweeks at an extracurricular job, two majors, numerous awards, demanding internships and dean’s list honors.

I also spent college weekends chugging beers, taking shots and suffering through my share of hangovers.

I hesitate to admit this because it might reflect poorly on my character, principles or work ethic.

But I also never want any parent to ever make the mistake of assuming that, because their child is normally responsible, they won’t develop irresponsible drinking habits on the weekends.

I had no friends in college who didn’t drink. If they did choose to abstain, they didn’t broadcast the fact that they were staying sober to others – nondrinkers tend to be left out. This is what gives hazing activities, as well as regular parties, the potential for danger.  

It’s easy to assume that Bogenberger was a party animal or an inexperienced freshman who didn’t yet know his limits. In the reality of college parties, there are no limits. When hazing is involved, the stakes are even higher.

Parents, don’t let any assumptions about your child’s personality obscure the fact that drinking is the most popular extracurricular activity in college.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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