'Ghosts' on campus offer grim warning


"I'm not drunk."

"Are you kidding? What's a couple of beers?"

Many Western Maryland College students uttered those words yesterday -- and died shortly afterward.

As participants in "Ghost Day," a program sponsored by the college for Alcohol Awareness Week, 65 students spent the day in silence.

They represented the number of people killed in alcohol-related incidents every 24 hours nationwide.

Each wore a white painted tear on one cheek and a sign quoting the "famous last words" of people who died in alcohol-related incidents.

"Just about everyone knows that drinking and driving is bad," said Debra Hendricks, a freshman communications major and "ghost" for the day. "But I think when they saw so many people willing to go throughout the day not talking and wearing signs like this, they probably thought about it a little more."

Getting students to think about the effects of alcohol was the purpose of the week, said Joanne Goldwater, the campus housing director and co-organizer of the events.

The theme, "PARTY -- Promoting Alcohol Responsibility Through You," indicates the direction the college wants to take in encouraging safe drinking practices.

"We're not going to lecture to people about alcohol because that doesn't work," said Ms. Goldwater, who was among the "walking dead" yesterday. "The entire community has been very responsive, and I think we got our message across."

On Monday, the students held a workshop that focused on the link between alcohol advertising and alcohol addiction.

On Tuesday, they held a candle-lighting ceremony where the luminaries represented statistics for alcohol-related fatalities.

The "Ghost Day" was a revised version of an event last year sponsored by BACCHUS, Boost Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students, another campus alcohol awareness group.

Some of the "dead" took some ribbing from friends.

Freshman Brian Irons said that some people thought he was pledging a fraternity, but tried to goad him into talking when they found out why he was keeping quiet.

"They got aggravated when I didn't talk, but it's like they got the point, too," Mr. Irons said. "They knew that if I were dead for real, I couldn't have talked to them."

Freshman Michelle Zepp dressed for the occasion -- she wore all black.

"I think the people I couldn't talk to realized that if something like this happens to you for real, you're gone," she said.

Jay Hilbert, a sophomore business major, said that a high school friend's close call with death made him see the importance of alcohol responsibility.

"I really hope people understood what we were trying to accomplish out here today because this is just too important," Mr. Hilbert said.

Sue Sommer, a sophomore English major who helped organize "Ghost Day," said that sometimes people need to be jarred into realizing that irresponsible drinking is serious business.

"I strongly believe we have an obligation to show people the merits of responsible drinking, but we must also show them the results of not drinking responsibly." said Ms. Sommer, a member of Circle K, a Kiwanis Club affiliate on campus. "Sometimes you have to be fairly gruesome to make a point."

Demetrios Lambros, a senior theater major who volunteered to paint the tears on the students' faces, agreed.

"It's like you don't take notice until it's right in front of you," said Mr. Lambros. "When it's handled in such as way as 'this could happen to you,' it boosts awareness, and that's what the week is really about."

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