THE DRINK-related death of a Louisiana student in new college year revelry has put pressure on "animal house" fraternities to clean up their act.
Benjamin Wynne, 20, died in hospital with a blood alcohol level of nearly 0.6 per cent, six times the legal limit. Three other young men were hospitalised after police were called to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house. In the hours before his death, he had received a pledge pin marking his admission to the group, it was reported.
Campus police and experts in the field of alcohol abuse were stunned by the "outrageous" amount of alcohol Wynne had apparently consumed, far beyond the point when most people would have passed out. He was reportedly drinking a cocktail of rum, whisky and liqueur with his fraternity "brothers" at Louisiana State University.
"At 0.6 you are dead. That's just the bottom line," said Philip Meilman, director of the counselling centre at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. "For some people, you are dead at point 0.3. I have never heard of a blood alcohol level going to 0.6".
About 15 per cent of male students become members of fraternity houses, where they live and socialise. Fraternities' influence on campuses, however, is wider than the numbers suggest; there is often a perception that fraternity members are the "in-crowd".
Though their "pledges" typically vow brotherhood, citizenship and scholarship, they are justly famous for "binge drinking", initiations and other rituals.
Americans, with their puritan sensibilities, have adopted stringent rules recently on student drinking. The federal government has successfully encouraged states to raise the drinking age to 21. LSU like many other colleges has banned alcohol on campus, in part to try and rid itself of an image as a "party school".
Two national organisations, Sigma Nu and Phi Delta Theta, have pledged to ban alcohol at their chapter houses nationwide by the year 2000.
Surveys have shown that student members of fraternities are twice as likely as non-members to drink heavily and figures for falling behind on college work and trouble with the police are high.
Last month, two fraternity members at UCLA drowned in an accident linked to alcohol. Last year, eight members of a Maryland fraternity were charged with manslaughter in an alcohol poisoning. Often, it is alleged, older fraternity members buy and supply drink to new recruits.
"These guys are challenged and expected to drink large quantities of alcohol over a very short time," said George Kuh, higher education professor at Indiana University, once a fraternity president himself. "It's another black eye against fraternities, the inabilities of these groups to instil the right values in their members."