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From the Gordie Foundation: a scolding editorial

Denver Post, The (CO)

EDITORIAL
The letter CU should have sent

October 21, 2004
Section: DENVER AND WEST
Page: B-06 We’re confused: Are the University of Colorado’s tough new alcohol policies designed to help students or to clean up CU’s tarnished image?

Ron Stump, CU’s vice chancellor for student affairs, recently fired off letters to students who – gasp – talked openly and honestly with reporters about their alcohol use. The articles offered a realistic glimpse at binge-drinking and the problems of college alcohol consumption.

The official letters from CU, however, scolded the students for embarrassing the university. The tone and tenor also were intended to cause a chilling effect across campus: Don’t make us look bad or we’ll tell your mom and dad. (The letters were copied to the students’ parents.)

“At a time when the campus is reeling due to the death of a student allegedly from alcohol poisoning, I am extremely disappointed that you would behave in such a manner as described in the newspaper article,” Stump wrote to one student, Kim Loeffler.

“You may not be concerned about your image and/or the impact of excessive alcohol use on your behavior. I hope you realize how your portrayal in the newspaper negatively impacts so many CU students. Many students indicate to me that the image of you in the newspaper does not represent them. They are not proud of such behavior, nor am I.”

Is that what CU’s alcohol awareness program is trying to address? CU’s image? Shouldn’t it be about student health and well-being? And if it is, why wasn’t that addressed in Stump’s letter?

Here’s what we think he should have written:

Dear Student:

As the University of Colorado continues to mourn the death of Lynn “Gordie” Bailey, we, as administrators, must take every step to ensure another tragic death like his doesn’t occur. That means having a serious discussion with our students about the ill effects, and sometimes deadly effects, of alcohol use.

You were recently featured in a newspaper article about the reckless attitude many youth have toward alcohol. First, you need to know this university takes alcohol infractions seriously. The three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule is gone. Under our new rules, if your first offense is egregious enough, you can be suspended.

But more important, we worry about your health and your ability to take advantage of the university’s academic opportunities. Incoming freshmen now have to take a course on alcohol abuse. If you feel you need more information, we’d be happy to offer that class to you free of charge. Also, there are several resources here at school that may be able to help you deal with the struggles that many young people face. If anything, you need to learn that this reckless behavior can kill you.

Alcohol is a real problem on college campuses across the country, not just at CU. But the Boulder campus can’t solve its problems by simply tattling to parents when a student challenges its image.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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