At this time of year college students on many campuses can expect to hear lectures about the dangers of binge drinking from university administrators trying to tackle the longstanding problem of under-age drinking and alcohol abuse.
But on the campus of Rider University here this fall, there is new urgency to deliver the message and get it right.
Last spring, Gary DeVercelly, a Rider freshman from Long Beach, Calif., died of alcohol poisoning after attending a Phi Kappa Tau fraternity party. In August a Mercer County grand jury brought indictments of aggravated hazing against two university administrators and three students in connection with his death. All five pleaded not guilty.
The criminal charges against the university administrators, which were dropped recently, raised new concerns about liability among college officials around the country and put a spotlight on Rider’s response. For the president, Mordechai Rozanski, the response is making his school a “model in the fight to combat alcohol abuse on campus.”
Even before classes began, the school’s 3,700 students were learning about the school’s tougher stance. Alcohol has been banned on campus, with the exception of certain areas like a pub in the student union. Freshmen must take a seminar on the dangers of drinking. So-called watchdogs now reside in fraternity and sorority houses. There are new penalties for those who break the rules.
Previously, students were given up to two warnings for alcohol possession or intoxication before their parents were notified. Parents now will be notified immediately, and students will be required to complete an alcohol education program or face expulsion.
Studens who were interviewed on campus said they were keenly aware of changes in the university’s alcohol policy. Freshmen described sitting through a 90-minute lecture on the dangers of alcohol and agreeing in writing to make good decisions.