Binges, Beer Bongs and Blackouts

alcohol blogCan we talk about the alcohol?  Because we need to talk about the alcohol, not just the rape.  We are disgusted, horrified and infuriated by Emily’s powerful victim impact statement.  It is also horrifying that there are dozens, possibly hundreds of women just like Emily, who will wake up this morning minus their Victoria’s Secret underwear, they will blink their eyes, look around, and not know where they are. Emily’s case is not isolated.  She is not the only college student to drink too much, endure a sexual assault, and have no memory of it.  Why is that acceptable with hundreds of college campuses?  Everyone is talking about rape, and the Dad’s comments about how poor Brock can’t eat steak any more.   And,  “twenty minutes of action.”  We’re so collectively horrified and outraged, blogs, newspaper articles, radio talk shows and petitions are circulating in a frenzied state of insanity because we just don’t know what to do.   Get the judge recalled, yes definitely.  That will solve everything.  But it won’t.  If we think for one second that Emily Doe’s experience was startling and unusual, then we are part of the problem.   We routinely turn our backs on the fundamental issues driving rape culture, addiction and the degradation of women AND men.  Alcohol use in college, especially binge drinking has been rampant for years.

As I perused the coverage, I realized how incredibly strange and uncomfortable that a statement from an Allen supporter actually made sense.  “these universities market themselves as the biggest party schools in the country…they encourage drinking…you are throwing barely 20-somethings into these camp like universities supporting partying and then your mind is blown when things get out of hand”  Leslie Rasmussen 

Brock Allen Turner’s stupidity was fueled by the raging intensity at which college students are allowed and encouraged to drink, while law enforcement, parents and educators stand by and write it off as “part of the college experience”.  Emily Doe was violated in a manner no one should ever have to endure.   In no way am I minimizing the disgust and horror she endured.   Equally horrifying, is that it happens every day.  How many young women walked back to their rooms this morning, alone, ashamed and crawled under the covers sobbing.  They aren’t going to tell a single soul where they have been or what “might” have happened, because they know nothing will be done at all.  And they can’t really remember…

We can’t address sexual assault on campuses without addressing the copious amounts of alcohol poured into shot glasses, beer bongs and over the heads, breasts and faces of young college students, many who have never touched a drink.   Leslie’s statement in the form of a pathetic plea for Brock’s leniency actually has a point.   It has a point, and we can’t ignore the point, just because we don’t like the source.   She asked a truly legitimate question, why are we surprised when things get out of hand?  Why are we acting as if this is the first time this has ever happened?

Can we talk about Lake Shasta?  We need to talk about this  – “The university is actively investigating the situation and will take action as appropriate. We are working with authorities to learn all we can and determine who is responsible.”  Robin Holmes, Vice President for Student Life, University of Oregon.

Robin, you don’t have to look very hard to determine who is responsible.   You don’t have to look very far to understand the average college university student experience with blackout drinking  is not uncommon.  College campuses across the United States blatantly turn a blind eye on a daily basis to the copious amounts of alcohol that are available, provided and “monitored” by Resident Advisors or supervisors who are as drunk, or more drunk that the students the profess to protect.  Students are encouraged to be responsible and use a “buddy system”.  And what happens when all the buddies are drunk?  I’m not absolving students of the choice to be responsible, find alternatives to partying and not blame the system.  But the system is stacked so heavily against young, naive, first time students, many brand-new to zero parental control, we simply cannot act surprised that sexual assaults are literally commonplace.  This fraternity is actually known better for the nickname Sexual Assault Expected than their actual Greek name.  And their position statement regarding sexual assault Sigma Alpha Epsilon seeks to prevent sexual misconduct, assault and rape on our campuses. That was written in their 2013, and yet only one year later Stanford suspended them for two years due to sexual harassment concernshow do we explain this?

And it’s not just women.  Ben Yeager’s haunting essay begins, I opened my eyes in a strange room.I was lying on a couch in a dark basement.  My skull felt like an eggshell.  A wound covering nearly half my face had dried to the upholstery and peeled off when I lifted my head to look around. My pockets, which might have contained evidence of what I’d done, or where I’d been, were empty. I put my hand to my face, which had started to ache, dully at first and then in hot stabs. I felt the warm stickiness where I’d thrown up on the cushions before passing out again.

Yeager, who has been sober for years, acknowledges not all college drinkers become alcoholics.    However the same article states, “plenty drink too much, too quickly, with nearly 40% of college students claiming they binge drink – defined as five or more drinks at one time — in the past 30 days, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Awareness.

As college campuses wrap up another school year, a new set of parents is stepping into the arena, with their high school graduates in tow.  It’s off to parent orientations and college campus tours.  Also known as we are going to tell you everything you want to hear.   The presentations are slick, law enforcement presence is impressive, as state and campus police officers stand up and discuss the “zero tolerance” policy on campus.  And Greek students will tell you all about philanthropy and fundraising.  My suggestion to parents who return from orientation with fresh excitement and enthusiasm for your student’s college experience – consider hitting the liquor store on the way home.  Mix up some margaritas or get out your alma matter shot glasses and line ’em up, because your student needs to know under your personal supervision, in your own home, what it feels like to be intoxicated.  Seriously intoxicated.  Because parents, I’m sorry to tell you, you’ve been played.  Parent orientation is truly excellent for the most part and you will learn so much.  But you’ll not likely be told the truth about college drinking.

Colleges don’t mean it when they vow to curb alcohol fueled parties and binge drinking.  There’s no proof that anything is different than when I was in college over 30 years ago.  How is this different?  How can a university profess to encourage student to curb their drinking habits, if even slightly, while simultaneously selling shot glasses and branded beer pong tables, complete with school logos and mascots?  They can’t.  They aren’t serious, and somewhere soon another Emily is about to be assaulted.

It was January, 1983.  I attended one of the biggest “partying” schools in the country.  It was a Saturday morning, the beginning of second term.   I was curled up in bed with a bad cold, and a biology book.   A tiny knock at the door….”are you there?”   I opened the door to my roommate, shivering in a half buttoned blouse and jeans, her beautiful blonde hair matted and stringy.   Her eyes were puffy, red and almost swollen shut.  She collapsed into my arms, sobbing, rocking back and forth.  For 30 minutes we sat on my bed, I held her silently and I had idea what was wrong.   Our arms rested around each others shoulders, and she sobbed until there were no tears left.   She looked down at the ground, her eyes refusing to meet mine.  I finally spoke, “What happened?”   Her answer would haunt me. “I don’t know.”  She didn’t know.   “I think I lost my virginity.   I woke up with a guy I had some beers with last night, we were in his room, and I don’t remember anything.  I woke up this morning and he was in bed with me, touching me, and my underwear was on the floor.  I grabbed my clothes and ran.  He yelled after me that he was sorry.  He said he was sorry that he was so drunk.”

Over 30 years later, and the best we can still do, “I’m sorry I got so drunk”







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