"Message to remember this time of year," Steve Verga's excellent letter to the editor last Saturday (The Times, June 13), offers a sobering reminder of one of the greatest perils facing teenagers today- — the use and abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs.
But the many life-threatening dangers associated with such behavior extend well beyond today's high school-age youth. As a parent, I was woefully unprepared for the challenges my oldest child was about to face as he headed off to college from Gloucester High School in the fall of 1994.
The challenges referred to here weren't those found in the classroom. The challenges I'm talking about were those found in his freshman dorm, where partying, out-of-control students regularly set off fire alarms at three in the morning, and dorm bathrooms were often so fouled by vomit and other unmentionables as to make them all but unusable, especially on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
That's not how it was at my freshman dorm in college. No one drank in the dorms, and nobody that I can remember ever expressed any need or desire to do so. But that was in 1957, a time when things like binge drinking, marijuana, and date rape had yet to make their way onto the college scene.
Today, all that has changed. Today, the widespread use and abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs, as well as the violence that goes with it, have led a national campus crime prevention organization called Security On Campus (SOC) to declare alcohol and drug use by college students to be "a major scourge on most residential campuses."
Co-founded a decade ago by Connie and Howard Clery, whose daughter Jeanne was brutally raped and strangled to death in 1987 by a fellow Lehigh University student with a known alcohol and drug abuse problem, the SOC's disturbing proclamation was backed up by two Harvard University studies which revealed that "40-50 percent of male students and 30-40 percent of female students drink to get drunk."
The two studies also found that 20-25 percent of America's college students use illegal drugs, all of which, according to the organization's publication, Campus Watch, accounts for the dramatic, on-campus spike in the dreaded four Vs: "violence, vomit, vandalism and victims."
Parents of this year's graduating high school seniors might be interested to learn that more than a few colleges can claim higher rates of rape, assault, larceny, and student alcohol and illegal drug use and addiction than those found in their surrounding communities.
"Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the nights to get high," stated one Campus Watch editorial. "Friday classes are usually 50 percent attended. Dormitory and fraternity bathroom floors are covered with vomit and urine (at Dartmouth this is called 'mung')."
Perhaps not surprisingly, all of this is something most college presidents don't want parents of prospective students to know about — which probably explains why substance abuse and its accompanying problems never appear in any of their fancy college brochures. The old adage, "to be forewarned is to be forearmed," has a nice ring to it, but not when one's job hinges on having parents put their John Hancock on that first big check to the college.
Campus Watch claims 20-30 percent of America's entering freshman class "are statistically already binge drinkers and drug abusers." Parents of students who flock south every March might also like to know that male students on Spring Break consume "an average of 18 alcoholic drinks a day," while the per-day average for female students is 10.
Given the gutless actions of so many college administrators in failing to deal openly and aggressively with this ever-worsening danger, one can only wonder how many more college students will end up in the hospital or die in the coming year, victims of acute alcohol poisoning, illegal drug overdoses, brutal rapes, automobile accidents, beatings, falls from dormitory balconies and rooftops, drownings, and other, similarly tragic drug and alcohol related incidents.
Among the many crimes that occur each year on campus, the one that goes most unreported involves acquaintance rape and violence against women. According to Campus Watch, one in five female students experience such violence during college, and of the thousands of college males surveyed, 11 percent claim to have used physical force "to gain sexual advantage over a woman."
Clearly, alcohol and illegal drug abuse figure in nearly 70 percent of all college crimes, with 75 to 90 percent of all campus rapes involving either alcohol or illegal drugs, if not both.
Security On Campus founders Connie and Howard Clery have dedicated their lives trying to prevent other parents and students from experiencing the horror that befell their daughter while asleep in her dorm room bed at Leigh University 22 years ago. It certainly would be helpful were every college and university in the country to sign on to the Clery's noble Security On Campus campaign.
But apparently that will take some doing. It seems far too many college presidents still prefer keeping the problem of alcohol and illegal drug use and addiction swept conveniently under the rug, along with the on-campus violence and crime that go with it.
That is something the Clerys will not stand for — nor should we, especially the parents of today's high school and college-age youth, for the cost of our continued indifference to this every-growing menace has simply become too great to put up with any longer.
Jim Munn, a frequent contributor to the Times, is the boys' track & field coach at Gloucester High School.