According to a report by Inside Higher Ed, nine college freshmen have already died alcohol-related deaths at campuses across the United States in the first few weeks of the new school year.
Tucker Brantly Arnold, an incoming freshman at Texas Tech, died after fatally crashing his pickup truck on August 19. His blood alcohol concentration was .267, three times over the legal limit. Five other Texas Tech students died in that crash.
Another Texas Tech freshman, Dalton Debrick, died while rushing the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. The official cause of death, according to the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office, was acute alcohol intoxication.
Amy Murphy, the dean of students at Texas Tech University, blamed these deaths on “the college effect,” which she defined as “the idea that once students are on campus, they’re exposed to these higher-risk behaviors and are then more likely to participate in them.”
“It’s this unhealthy minority that is somehow so influential on the healthy majority,” she continued. “Colleges have to work on better messaging to convey to new students that the majority of campus does actually have the same healthy attitudes as they do.”
Alcohol is also suspected as a contributing factor in the deaths of freshman Austin Vonckx at Florida Gulf Coast University, Jiayi Dai of Michigan State University, Julia Margaret Ratnaraj of Townson University, and Michael Gatto of Georgia Southern University.
Pete Goldsmith, dean of students at Indiana University at Bloomington, told Inside Higher Ed that “it’s a huge transition and all the support systems are different. For students who have lived in very structured situations and environments, going to a college campus when very suddenly they have this new kind of freedom and new choices to make, it can be pretty overwhelming.”
“Parents and students are so focused on getting into college, there’s not always a lot of attention given to what’s going to happen once they’re actually there,” he continued.
George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health, told Inside Higher Ed that even though binge drinking among college students has decreased in recent years, alcohol-related hospitalizations have increased by 70 percent.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a fairly dramatic increase of alcohol-related hospitalizations in this age group,” he said. “It does seem that there’s an attitude now to drink as fast as possible and as intensely as possible and that’s very dangerous.”
Describing the circumstances around Jiayi Dai’s death, East Lansing Police Captain Jeff Murphy said that it wasn’t unusual for his officers to find students so incapacitated that they required immediate hospitalizations, and “those are just the people that we find in public.”
“If you’re with somebody who is so intoxicated that you feel their life is in danger because they can’t take care of themselves and can’t call for help, you need to do just what our officers do,” he said. “See that they get help one way or another.”