‘Haze’ screening presents dangers of underage binge drinking

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With June come and gone, Greenwich has big hopes for a new class of high school graduates as they look to the future with unbridled hope. But with that hope comes potential issues that worry parents.

For the majority of Greenwich’s high school graduates, the next step will be a four-year college or university experience, and families have already started preparing their children for that transition. With that comes the freedom of living away from home for the first time and the potential dangers that come with that. Parents worry, as their kids enter the realm of higher education, that they will also be confronted with the dangers of drug abuse and peer pressure.

On June 26, the Greenwich Department of Social Services held a screening of Haze: The Movie, a film documenting the tragic death of Lynn Gordon “Gordie” Bailey Jr. due to alcohol poisoning as part of hazing to join a fraternity. The screening was a part of the department’s summer education series and was designed to help parents recognize and address potential dangers in the lives of their children.

Gordie Bailey and 26 other Chi Phi fraternity pledges from the University of Colorado took part in a hazing ritual on the night of Sept. 26, 2004, just two weeks after he had arrived on campus as a freshman. The young men were led out into a national forest and, according to the police investigation, were commanded to drink seven liters of whiskey and nine liters of wine within a span of only 30 minutes. Police say that Gordie eventually fell unconscious back at the fraternity house and was left unsupervised on a couch for more than 10 hours. The next morning the fraternity brothers found Gordie dead on the floor.

“One of the hardest things for me, thinking about Gordie, is how easily it all could have been avoided. It was such a senseless, irresponsible act on the part of a group of college students,” Gordie’s friend Serena Keith says in the film. “It’s not so surprising — all the elements of fraternity life were there. There was alcohol, there was hazing, there was bonding. There were eager freshmen excited to get involved.”

Binge drinking and fraternity life have become synonymous with the social culture of many college campuses, leaving incoming freshmen pressured to participate in order to fit in. New-found freedoms can often trump responsibility, contributing to a steady rise in alcohol-related injury, death and sexual assaults on college campuses. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has reported that more than 40% of college students binge drink, which is defined as the consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks consecutively for men, and four for women.

While multiple factors have played into the rise of underage binge drinking, proper education and coaching remain essential to stopping its spread. During Haze, Gordie’s parents state multiple times that they had not warned their son about the dangers of excessive drinking, choosing solely to address drunk driving. And that communication could well be part of the problem, as the film stresses that both parents and students need to be aware of the dangers of binge drinking.

The NIAAA reports that 1,825 college students die each year in alcohol-related incidents, and that 599,000 incur alcohol-related injuries every year. The Gordie Foundation was established in 2004 by his family in order to promote substance abuse prevention and ensure that Gordie’s fate will not befall future students.

Underage drinking is not confined to college campuses, as social worker Cerissa Orbegoso reminded attendees after the screening. Ms. Orbegoso is the director of Liberation Programs Greenwich Youth Options and works with Greenwich students at her office at the YMCA. During a panel discussion following the screening, she described  drinking habits she has observed in the town’s youth.

She said that some high school graduates were actually anticipating the opportunity to binge drink at college, describing the summer as a time to “perfect” the drinking process before reaching the college party scene. Others had internal factors that contributed to their alcohol use, such as social anxiety. A report from the Centers for Disease Control states that more than 66% of Connecticut high schoolers have tried alcohol, and that 20% are already practicing binge drinking.

To combat these trends, Ms. Orbegoso urges parents to have “the hard conversations” with their children. Asking where a teen is going and who they will be with contributes to parents’ awareness, but can also lead the child to be more responsible with planning.

Also on the evening’s panel was Joyce Sixsmith, the community coalition coordinator for the Westchester County Coalition for Drug Free Youth. Ms. Sixsmith has more than 30 years of experience as an alcohol and drug counselor and suggests that students and their parents seek out alternatives to partying at the college prior to moving in. Seeking out club activities and campus support networks can help teens acclimate to college life faster and divert energy that could have gone towards drinking or other dangerous activities.

“College is a gift — not everyone gets to go,” Ms. Sixsmith said during the panel discussion. “It’s important that when you get to go, you make good choices.”

The Department of Social Services’ summer education series continued at the YMCA of Greenwich.. Ms. Orbegoso lead a seminar focused on prescription drug abuse alongside Liberation Programs prevention specialist Barry Halpin.

For more information on Liberation and the upcoming event, call 203-604-1144 or contact Info@liberationprograms.org.

Both the full-length and edited versions of Haze: The Movie are available at Gordiescall.org/haze-the-movie. For more information on Gordie Bailey, The Gordie Foundation and substance abuse, visit Gordiecenter.studenthealth.virginia.edu.

kwebb@greenwich-post.com

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