Western Maryland College almost lost a sophomore to alcohol poisoning last month, after a young woman drank more than 20 shots of bourbon in a competitive drinking bout, college officials said.
The incident occurred at an unauthorized, unsupervised party in a fraternity clubroom on campus, officials said. The clubroom is in a dormitory.
"In my time here, there has never been such a serious, life-threatening situation," said Philip Sayre, now in his 15th year as dean of student affairs.
The student was disciplined, and the local fraternity, Gamma Beta Chi, and local sorority Alpha Nu Omega have lost "virtually every privilege," Sayre confirmed yesterday.
The woman, whose name was not made public, attended a fraternity-sorority gathering last month in the Gamma Beta Chi club room on campus, the dean and others said.
"Several reports indicate that this event continued an annual tradition, a competition of drinking shots, that had developed between the two groups in recent years," Sayre wrote in a campuswide memorandum dated last week.
He said yesterday he had not previously been aware of this competition, and noted "some members of the sorority denied it to me."
The sophomore became ill when she returned to her room, and several people told her "to go to bed to sleep it off," he said. Others became alarmed and took her to Carroll County General Hospital, where she was treated for alcohol poisoning.
"Later, she was informed by medical staff that she would have died as a result of the binge drinking had she not received prompt attention," Sayre said in the memo.
After outlining the disciplinary actions taken, Sayre urged everyone in the campus community "to reflect on the implications of this dangerous activity to prevent it from recurring."
Western Maryland has had no alcohol-related deaths -- and Sayre intends to keep it that way.
"This [party] was way out of bounds in a number of ways," he said yesterday.
Fraternities and sororities may have alcohol at approved events, but may not serve hard liquor and must have a campus security officer -- in effect a police officer -- to check proof of age, issue wristbands and otherwise prevent underage drinking.
He said it appears that 20 to 25 of the two groups' total membership of 38 participated in the unauthorized drinking event.
"Too many students have died on campuses across the nation as a result of reckless binge drinking," he wrote. "Please pledge that this will not happen here. Become your brother's and sister's keepers."
After the incident, he convened a six-member disciplinary board. The panel includes two students who are Greek -- fraternity and sorority -- leaders, two faculty advisers for the fraternities and sororities, the campuswide Greek adviser and the college's coordinator of health education.
In addition to being placed on probation and losing the clubroom and the spring crop of potential pledges, all members of the groups must perform 114 hours of service to the college's alcohol-education programs. They also might lose the privilege to request rooms with other members of their respective organizations.
"The drinking itself obviously was intentional," Sayre said yesterday.
Unlike some colleges, Western Maryland officials notify parents of any serious drug or alcohol problems, after giving the student two days to do it first, Sayre said.
Unfortunately in this case, he said, the parents learned of their daughter's crisis from the emergency room.
Fortunately, he said, her friends ignored the common temptation to "just let her sleep it off," recognized it as a life-threatening situation and called for help, despite the risk that they might be disciplined.
The president of the Greek council couldn't be reached last night. Alpha Nu Omega sorority and Gamma Beta Chi fraternity are campus groups with no parent organization, Sayre said.
"This is a national problem," said Joyce E. Muller, the college's director of public information. "Fortunately, we dodged the bullet -- this time."
Pub Date: 12/08/98