Nightline 5/11/98: The Right to Party

Doug Case (Doug.Case@SDSU.EDU)
Wed, 13 May 1998 22:29:41 -0800

Monday, May 11, 1998

The Right to Party
College Students Fight for Right to Drink Alcohol

(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)

FORREST SAWYER, ABC NEWS (VO) Michigan State University, Washington State
University, Miami University in Ohio--violent protests.

can't give up on. There are students that are dying.

FORREST SAWYER (VO) All of this over students drinking and drinking way too
much on campus.

HENRY WECHSLER, HARVARD UNIVERSITY We're talking about the heavy
consumption of alcohol that puts people at risk for injury and harm to

FORREST SAWYER (VO) Tonight, the fight over what some students call the
right to party.

ANNOUNCER From ABC News, this is Nightline. Substituting for Ted Koppel and
reporting from Washington, Forrest Sawyer.

FORREST SAWYER Just to be clear, alcohol is most definitely a way of life
at America's college campuses. In fact, according to a Harvard University
study, 84 percent of all students drank during the college year and nearly
half of all students were binge drinkers, that is, they drank not socially
but simply to get drunk. Drinking and college students have gone together
for decades, that's true. But now there is something new in the air, a
feeling, backed by new research, that an old tradition is really a
dangerous problem that must finally be faced. The problem is when
administrators have tried banning alcohol from campus, they have faced
resistance, some of it violent, or they've found the parties have simply
picked up and moved a few blocks away. Many students are calling the bans a
new prohibition, rallying in support of their proclaimed right to drink.
But it is alcohol abuse which really worries parents and educators and the
magnitude of the problem raises a powerful question--can, should drinking
on campus be stopped? Where is the balance between student freedom and the
university's right to expect responsible behavior? Now how hot is the fight
over this? Listen to Nightline's John Donvan.

JOHN DONVAN, ABC NEWS (VO) Why did they riot two Saturdays ago at Michigan
State? Why did the police come in with tear gas and with shields? Why were
people hurt? Why were people arrested? What great cause were they standing
up for? In a word, it was beer. It was the anger of several hundred
students over a new rule that bans alcohol from a part of the campus
popular for tailgate parties before ball games. A protest that had started
peacefully, it ended like this, embarrassing a well regarded school that
takes pride in its efforts to curb alcohol abuse by students.

PETER MCPHERSON We're getting pretty tough on the alcohol. That's clearly
what has happened and I do think that it's really a mistake to look at this
as a problem for any particular school. I think it's a nationwide issue.

JOHN DONVAN (VO) Indeed, Michigan State is not the only school that had a
violent beer backlash this spring. This was Washington State University
nine days ago. Anger over strict no alcohol rules on campus was said to be
a part of this outburst. (on camera) Now, add to those events the night
that police used pepper spray to break up a frat party at the University of
Tennessee in Martin and a beer fueled riot at Plymouth State College in New
Hampshire and another at the University of Connecticut and Ohio University
and Western Maryland College, all in the past six weeks, and you begin to
see the pattern. (VO) "The Chronicle of Higher Education" calls it the
"right to party movement", the response by some students to a broad
crackdown against drinking by students. For most of the century and even
long before, boozing at school was accepted as a boys will be boys sort of
thing, all the way up through Belushi and the beer can. But by the late
'80s, the legal drinking age had been raised from 18 in most places to 21
everywhere and as with smokers in public places and drunk drivers on the
roads, society is fed up with college kids who drink.

HENRY WECHSLER Secondhand effects are such that students living on high
binge campuses are twice as likely to experience being assaulted, having
their property vandalized or simply being awakened in the middle of the
night than their fellow students on low binge campuses.

JOHN DONVAN (VO) Bingeing is drinking with the purpose of getting drunk in
a hurry. Scientists put it at five drinks in a row for men, four in a row
for women. Researchers say that binge drinking is rare at some types of
schools, like all--black campuses or all--women's schools or certain
religion--based colleges. But it is commonplace at schools with big
athletic programs and schools with a strong fraternity system. A 1994
report on binge drinking found that 42 percent of all college students said
they did it, including 35 percent of women students. That figure for women
is three times higher than in 1977. C. PETER MAGRATH, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION
OF STATE UNIVERSITIES Binge drinking is absolutely nuts and we need to get
up and say this is just crazy and stupid to make yourself drunk to the
point where you're vomiting and probably having a heart attack and killing
yourself. That is abuse of the worst kind.

PETER MCPHERSON Whether it be acquaintance rape or whether it be some
really stupid thing that a student does, two--thirds of the time or
whatever, there's alcohol involved in those cases.

JOHN DONVAN (VO) Last year, Michigan State reported nearly 600
alcohol--related student arrests, evidence of a problem but also, says the
school, evidence of a crackdown against the problem. This is Michigan
State's anti--alcohol message, run on the school's in--house cable system.
There are also yearly anti--alcohol programs for incoming freshmen.
At the University of Maryland, meanwhile, the Phi Delta Theta frat has
already met a year 2000 deadline set by its national headquarters to go
alcohol--free, in part because of legal liability.

RICH ZEOLI, FORMER FRATERNITY PRESIDENT It's the worst night of a chapter
president's life is having a party. I can't even tell you. The whole night
you feel like you're having a heart attack. You're anxiety ridden because
you have 300 people in the basement of your house and you don't know how
many of them are really 21. There's this bad beer everywhere downstairs and
you know that you could very well be an accident away or a date rape away
from either going to jail, getting sued or losing everything you worked for
a whole year to protect.

JOHN DONVAN (VO) Phi Delta Theta has started renting facilities off campus
where they can hold parties and still serve alcohol legally. (on camera) In
reality, the violent campus drinkers this month were only a tiny fraction
of their overall student bodies. At Michigan State, for example, they were
a few hundred out of 43,000 students. But there is also a question of tone
and if the hard core drinkers get to set the tone at a place and do not
hear the anti--drinking message, then schools where nights like this
occurred are left with a lot of explaining to do the morning after.
This is John Donvan for Nightline in Washington.

FORREST SAWYER When we come back, we will be joined by a university
president who is trying to curb the problem of binge drinking on her campus
and by two college students with different ideas on what the problem really

(Commercial Break)

FORREST SAWYER Joining us here in Washington is Rich Zeoli, a college
senior and former president of his fraternity chapter at the University of
Maryland. Joining us from San Francisco, Ryan Tate, a junior at the
University of California Berkeley and he is editor--in--chief of the campus
newspaper, "The Daily Californian." And Dr Mary Sue Coleman, the President
of the University of Iowa, joins us from Iowa City. Ryan, I know you've
been studying this question as a journalist and so a couple of obvious
questions first. It does seem to me that violence is a rather extreme
response to the question of removing beer from campus or at least having
some sort of regulatory action. Why so much violence?

certainly it's a bad response, but it's not a pervasive response. It's not
at all a common response. And if you look at prohibition on a societal
basis, you'll see the same kind of violence. When you tried to get rid of
alcohol in society in general in the 1930s, you saw the same kind of

FORREST SAWYER Well, let's not go too far. I mean after all, we've got,
most of the students there are under age to begin with and we have a number
of riots and violence that have taken place at a number of universities.
So, it seems to me on the first hand you are diminishing the amount of
violence and on the other hand, you're comparing it to something that's not
quite fair.

RYAN TATE I am certainly minimizing the extent of the problem. I would say
that we're not looking at an epidemic. I think we're looking at something
that's been around for quite a while. I would not call the period that
occurred in universities in the late 1960s where there was quite a bit of
use of marijuana and heavy drugs, I certainly would not call those sober
days at the university. Perhaps the problem isn't what's going on, it's the
university trying to come down and take a broad--based approach to outright
ban alcohol rather than a more nuanced approach which is to teach
responsible ways to drink, responsible ways to use substances, and maybe
that's what we should be looking at instead. Because certainly the drinking
and the substance abuse isn't new.

FORREST SAWYER Rich, he makes a very good point. I mean, binge drinking or
the use of drugs on campus has been around for a very long time. It is
simply that the perception of it has changed. But let's start, if I could,
Rich, with this question. Why binge drinking? If almost half the students
are just chugging alcohol down, what's the rush?

of people go out with the intention of getting drunk, Forrest, and I don't
think that they even really by definition know that they are binge
drinking, which is five drinks for a man. But they go out to drink and have
a good time with their friends and in their minds they're not doing
anything wrong. They feel that they are completely in control, that they
are on top of the situation. They don't consider that they are actually
doing something which is quite a problem and could lead to some very
dangerous things.

FORREST SAWYER Well, you know that Dr Coleman is going to be joining us
here in just a moment and she's between a rock and a hard place. She's got
to try to do something about drinking on campus and on the other hand, I'm
sure she knows that students don't want to have things forced upon them.


FORREST SAWYER So what would you recommend that she do?

RICH ZEOLI Well, our fraternity is going alcohol--free in the year 2000
nationally and the way we're doing it is it's not a ban because I really am
a firm believer that bans don't work. People always want what they can't
have. And so what we are doing is simply trying to shift the focus away
from alcohol being the center of life for fraternities and to moving it
into being a weekend activity and something that is done away from the
chapter house and to sort of refocus the image of fraternities back on our
founding principles, which include friendship and scholarship, leadership
opportunities, community service and, of course, a good social life.

FORREST SAWYER I understand that's what your fraternity is doing, but I'm
asking what the university should do to try to deal with a problem that the
parents, frankly, do want dealt with.

RICH ZEOLI Well, I think, Forrest, that, you know, an excellent idea which
was already mentioned is education. But you have to provide alternatives
for people. Simply saying to people you can't drink is not enough. They
will find ways, they will find ways to drink unless you can provide for
them alternatives and education to make them understand why when they see
everyone else doing it, why they shouldn't do it themselves. And I think
that most universities are ill equipped to do that, actually.

FORREST SAWYER Let's cut to the chase, Ryan. If a university tries to tell
a student that he or she cannot drink, whether it's on campus or off
campus, is that going to work?

RYAN TATE Absolutely not and I'm actually very pessimistic about
fraternities who are trying to do the same thing. I think the key statement
that my associate made before was that it changed the image of the
fraternity and a no--alcohol policy can change the image of a university.
But can it change the behavior of the students? I'm extremely, extremely
pessimistic about that.

FORREST SAWYER Ryan, are you saying there's nothing that can be done?

RYAN TATE Absolutely not. No. I'm not saying there's nothing that can be
done. I would agree that a ban, though, is probably the worst possible
solution because it precludes any discussion of how to use alcohol
responsibly. I am saying there's no way to make people stop drinking.
There's certainly something that can be done about irresponsible drinking,
about excessively heavy drinking, about binge drinking and about violence.

FORREST SAWYER The woman who has to deal with all this is Mary Sue Coleman,
who is a university president, and Dr Coleman, I'm going to put you in the
hot seat when we come back in just a moment.


(Commercial Break)

FORREST SAWYER We are back again with college students Ryan Tate and Rich
Zeoli, and with Dr Mary Sue Coleman, who is presidents of the University of
Iowa. Dr Coleman, you saw what happened at Michigan State University, at
Washington State University and at other places when those universities
pushed harder than the students wanted to be pushed. Now, you're faced with
the problem of doing something about drinking on campus, how do you go
about it?

DR MARY SUE COLEMAN We're very concerned about the issue. We had a wake--up
call three years ago when a student in a fraternity died here from alcohol
consumption. And so we've been talking about this and working on the issue
for three years. I think the potential for violence exists at any
university. What we've done here is initiated a project that we call the
stepping up project and we've involved the community, the university
students, everybody in a coalition to really look at a multifaceted
approach. I agree that you can't do a single thing and expect it to work.
We have educa ...



FORREST SAWYER May I interrupt you?


FORREST SAWYER Forgive me, but there are an awful lot of students if
they're watching right now who are already tuning out, when they hear about
a multifaceted approach and groups getting together ...


FORREST SAWYER That doesn't mean beans. When you cut to the chase, exactly
what are you going to say to them?

DR MARY SUE COLEMAN Well, what we're going to say is we need education
programs, we need alternative activities, we need people to set a higher
standard for themselves and I'm actually quite happy to hear that the
fraternities at the University of Maryland are setting a higher standard
and thinking about what the origin of the fraternity system was. We need to
do that. And we need to talk to students a lot about what they think can
help solve the problem.

FORREST SAWYER Ryan, you were skeptical earlier. Having listened to that
are you still skeptical?

RYAN TATE No, I was skeptical at your statement that students can't, will
not respond to a multifaceted approach. I think that's wrongheaded. I think
it's the wrong approach to take with students. To say that it's got to be
very simple and clear disciplinary action ...

FORREST SAWYER No, what I was actually saying is that the language doesn't
really work. You've got to go right down to the problem that's there.

RYAN TATE Sure, but I want to ...

DR MARY SUE COLEMAN Well, I think the language will work for students.
They're smart. They can figure it out and we need to give students the
tools to make the right choices for their own lives. I mean they're the
ones that are going to be affected and the secondary effect--think about
the smoking issue. Back in the early 1980s, I helped to build a cancer
hospital and we were thinking about making it smoke--free and everybody
thought that was absurd. Now, think about that in 1998. We think it's
absurd that anybody would allow smoking in a cancer hospital. We can change
if we have the will to do it and students can help.

RICH ZEOLI This always gets down to the same issue whenever we talk about
alcohol it seems. It's either, you know, how to we get rid of--Mr Tate was
talking about this before, it's either a ban or it's no ban and I think he
mentioned that fraternities can't teach responsible drinking. That's really
our only obligation. I mean, we're, it's individual responsibility still
has to be the main issue. But what we need to do is to teach responsibility
and to have people advocate for themselves to enjoy alcohol in a mature
manner. I mean alcohol is part of our society. It's very pervasive. We see
it in movies, on television. Students are exposed to it their entire lives.
Certainly it's part of the adult world and socializing. So I think for us
to assume that an 18--year--old coming to a college is not going to find
themselves tempted is very foolish. What we need to do ...

FORREST SAWYER But Rich, does that mean that a ban is, in a sense, patronizing?

RICH ZEOLI A ban is, I think, foolish in the sense that it's assuming that
people are just going to have blind obedience to it and I think that is
very patronizing, actually, Forrest.

RYAN TATE But if I could just jump in, I don't think it's a manner of a ban
being patronizing. I think it's a matter where, I think what the point is
is that this isn't just a college campus problem, it's a societal problem.
We don't live in a society that in any way prepares its youths to drink
responsibly before they go to college. We live in a society that says
you'll do it when you're 21 and if you want to do it before then you're
going to have to do it behind closed doors, you're going to have to do it
in a situation where you're not with your family. We are not like a lot of
other countries in the world that actually teach people to drink
responsibly before they go off to college and are confronted with this
whole new world of decisions, all these pressures and, oh, by the way,
teach yourself to drink responsibly or have your university or fraternity
teach it. Really, this is something that is a problem for our entire
society and how we are teaching people to drink.

FORREST SAWYER Dr Coleman, do you agree with both students that a ban of
alcohol on the college campus doesn't work?

DR MARY SUE COLEMAN We don't have a ban on alcohol on this college campus
and I don't think that's what we want to do. I think if you go to a campus
and you say alcohol is banned on the campus but you can get it across the
street you haven't solved the problem. And so you have to look at a larger
context and that's what we're trying to do here at Iowa and I know a lot of
other campuses are, too.

FORREST SAWYER So, Ryan, where did these other universities go wrong, the
ones that faced some violent reactions?

RYAN TATE I would just guess that where things went wrong was when an
administration came in unrealistically and said we are going to get rid of
alcohol completely on this campus, we're not going to teach people to drink
responsibly ...

DR MARY SUE COLEMAN Ryan, I think the potential for violence is everywhere ...

RYAN TATE Oh, absolutely.

DR MARY SUE COLEMAN--and I think it's here on this campus and I would be
dishonest if I said I didn't think the possibility for violence is here.
It's here. It's anywhere and I don't think we can point fingers at Michigan
State or any other place and say they did something wrong. I don't agree. I
think the potential is anywhere.

RYAN TATE Certainly.

FORREST SAWYER Rich, there is yet another problem we haven't talked about.
There are health effects that are attached to significant drinking like
binge drinking, there are crime problems that are attached to that, there
are the problems of unsafe sex, all of these issues that parents are
worried about.

RICH ZEOLI Absolutely.

FORREST SAWYER What do you say to parents when they're faced with those
problems when their children go off to school?

RICH ZEOLI Forrest, I actually had a woman come up to me about two weeks
ago at an alumni event for our fraternity and say that her son was a
recovering alcoholic and should he join a fraternity. And I really assured
her that she would have to first talk to the Greek life director at that
school and she would have to really understand what her son was getting
into. And she was very nervous. You know, I think that we have a culture
right now in colleges where alcohol is such a pervasive problem and we need
to ask ourselves, you know, how many more date rapes or DWIs or good
friends are we going to see injured or hurt by alcohol. And I think that,
you know, parents look especially to leaders of college campuses, from
fraternity presidents to student government presidents for the answers. And
it's hard because we're obviously getting situations where these students
didn't learn anything at home about how to deal with alcohol. Suddenly the
responsibility is on our shoulders and I can tell you that this issue has
affected some very close people to me and I think we have to look for
alternatives beyond just banning it.

FORREST SAWYER All right, you all have recognized the problem. You say, let
me when we come back, ask you specifically and directly what steps should
be taken to start moving us in the right direction. That, when we return.

(Commercial Break)

FORREST SAWYER The topic, alcohol abuse on campus. Dr Coleman, if I may
begin with you. Specifically, where do you begin attacking the problem?
What programs do you implement that you think will be effective?

DR MARY SUE COLEMAN For us, community coalition, education, alternative
activities, enforcement of the rules now, thinking about ways in which
students can be encouraged to make good choices about their own lives.

FORREST SAWYER Ryan, you've been studying out there at the University of
California at Berkeley. From a student's perspective, what do you think
would be the most effective way to reach out to that student and have them
realize that maybe they're engaging in behaviors that don't work?

RYAN TATE Well, the most effective way would be other students. Students
have a role here and at UC Berkeley, actually students next semester have
started a class with the public health department that they are running
which is an alcohol education class. And the people who finish that class
will actually go out into the community and speak to fraternities and
groups like that and do alcohol education themselves. I think proactive
student initiated steps like that are a major factor. Although, there are
limits to what can be done on campus again versus society as a whole and I
think reducing the drinking age in society as a whole might be another very
important step to take.

FORREST SAWYER Now, Rich, what you really have implemented in your
fraternity and your fraternity nationwide, for that matter, is student

RICH ZEOLI Absolutely.

FORREST SAWYER You are talking to each other. Is there a way to take that a
step further?

RICH ZEOLI Absolutely, Forrest. I mean we truly have to be our brother's
keeper. You know, students are initiating these programs, students are
bringing in speakers to talk about alcohol abuse in the home, students are
bringing in speakers to talk about a loved one who was lost to a DWI
accident. We have to reach out for each other and understand that, you
know, we can educate our friends and look out for our friends and families
and find alternatives. They may not always be happy with the alternatives,
but in the end, it's what we have to do.

FORREST SAWYER Rich Zeoli, Ryan Tate and Mary Sue Coleman, a terrific
conversation. I thank you all three for talking to us tonight.


RICH ZEOLI Thank you, Forrest.

RYAN TATE Thank you.

FORREST SAWYER That is our report for tonight. I'm Forrest Sawyer in
Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.

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