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Denver Post, The (CO)

Where is outrage for Gordie?

October 24, 2004
Section: PERSPECTIVE
Page: E-04
David L. Marcus
Guest Commentary
Northampton, Mass.
You couldn’t miss Lynn “Gordie” Bailey on his high school campus. On fall Saturdays, he captained the football team. On spring afternoons, he hustled as a lacrosse player. In between, he could be seen starring as a Puritan leader in “The Crucible,” or emceeing a dance show, or performing stand-up comedy.

In his free time, he strummed his guitar, surrounded by friends, or oversaw the “hug club,” which he founded to boost morale during the long winters in western Massachusetts. Gordie graduated from his boarding school amid a welter of hugs and tears – and promises to return frequently from the University of Colorado.

Instead, his family came back last month for a memorial service. Gordie, the perpetually grinning 18-year-old from Dallas, died while pledging for the Chi Psi fraternity. News accounts say he and 26 other pledges were told to down six bottles of wine and four bottles of whiskey in a half hour. Then, with Gordie in a coma, his supposed brothers scrawled a racial slur, drawings of male genitalia and other slogans on his body.

While the police, Chi Psi and the university sort out what happened, Gordie’s death should inspire parents and students at high schools and colleges in Colorado to change their attitudes about underage drinking. The Boulder campus has taken some steps but needs to lead the way. The campus medical center and fraternity presidents can start by holding forums on drinking. And the administration should crack down on frats that measure commitment by the ounce or shot glass.

Many college administrators have adopted a don’t-ask-don’t-tell attitude toward drinking at frats. They justify it by saying that a drink now and then is no big deal, especially if those who drink avoid driving.

But it is a big deal, and it’s getting bigger. About 44 percent of college students binge drink, according to a survey of 14,000 students in 39 states by the Harvard School of Public Health. That number has increased since the survey was first published 10 years ago. (At the other extreme, the number of students abstaining has also increased, meaning campuses are sharply divided between drinkers and non-drinkers.)

We all pay for the excesses of binge drinkers. They are responsible for a disproportionate share of sexual assaults, beatings, vandalism and car crashes. There are all sorts of victims, including people like Gordie, who tried binge drinking just once, under pressure. In his speech to an auditorium full of crying students at last month’s memorial service here, Gordie’s stepfather, Michael Lanahan, summed it up in two words: “Alcohol kills.”

I don’t know the details of Gordie’s death, but in his brief life he made an impression on all of us who met him. I worked as a teacher at his boarding school, Deerfield Academy, last year – the year that many dubbed “the year of Gordie.” He was ubiquitous: He wrote a column for the student newspaper I advised. He starred in the plays and dance showcases. High school is often a time of splitting into cliques, but Gordie crossed all groups. He befriended jocks and shy audio-visual kids, whites and blacks, musicians and computer nerds.

It’s time that all of us – parents, fraternity members, teachers and taxpayers – show outrage. We need to fight against binge drinking and the campus culture that makes it acceptable. Do it for your children, for your friends. Do it for that smiling kid who had so much promise when he pledged at Chi Psi.

David L. Marcus (teenbook@hotmail.com) is the author of “What It Takes To Pull Me Through: Why Teenagers Get In Trouble and How Four of Them Got Out” (to be published by Houghton Mifflin in January).

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