College drinking has long been associated with a variety of incidents and accidents. Most have been minor, but others have been quite serious. This concerns an example of the latter. It occurred during a fraternity party on the campus of the University of Missouri, during the Fall of 2021.

In brief: A group of freshman pledges engaged in various drinking ‘games’ during a pledge party. Some of the games involved ‘bongs’, devices that allow the drinker to swill beer rapidly from a funnel attached to a long, flexible tube and inserted into the mouth. There was plenty of hard liquor as well. As part of the festivities, pledges were “sprayed with ketchup and mustard, tripped and hit with a box.” All in good fun, of course. Some of those in attendance made videos, naturally.

There came a point when one of the pledges was discovered in obvious distress by another frat member, who helped him off the floor and onto a couch, before walking off to rejoin the party. Later on, two other frat members drove him to the Emergency Room at the local hospital. It appears no one thought to call 911 at any point. Maybe they didn’t see it as the emergency it turned out to be.

The hospital did manage to save his life, but not in time to prevent him from suffering massive brain damage. He is now blind, unable to walk or interact at all with the outside world. He’ll be in hospital for a long, long time — his parents had to relocate near the hospital in Colorado to be with him. They will likely need to provide care for the remainder of his life, however long that proves to be. Here’s the story:

Former Missouri pledge… is back home but ‘blind’ and ‘unable to walk or communicate,’ attorney says

Lawsuits against the fraternity and its members inevitably followed. Almost all were settled our of Court. One frat member, however — the one who allegedly administered beer via the bong — was charged with providing alcohol to a minor. That’s a misdemeanor, by the way. The family’s attorney wonders why the charge wasn’t elevated to hazing — a felony offense.

Sure sounds like hazing to me. That’s defined as “an initiation or behavior that involves humiliation, harassment or abuse, particularly in universities and in the military.” I’m confident this would qualify.

We’ll have to see how the Prosecutor’s office proceeds.

Some years ago, I attended a meeting at a local private college on the subject of student drinking and the problems it caused, both on campus and in the community. There’d been several recent incidents. I came away feeling that although the college administration wanted to get a handle on the problem, at the same time they wanted to avoid a reputation for being overly restrictive when it came to partying students.

An alum explained it to me: “It helps recruit new students if the college has a reputation as a place you can party and have fun. But nobody wants their school to be known as a place where kids are likely to get in trouble, and maybe even wind up in Court. That just scares away the parents.”

It was as if they were targeting an invisible ‘sweet spot’ between the two poles. Good luck with finding it, I thought at the time. Plenty of others have tried.

This is not so different from our nation’s approach to alcohol use and the problems it causes. We want to continue drinking, even to excess, while somehow eliminating the consequences that we know from long experience will follow. Injuries and accidents, illnesses and deaths. America has cycled through a host of different approaches, most of which I’d have to say were less than fully successful.

I suppose like the colleges, we’ll just keep on trying.