- Associated Press - Saturday, May 13, 2017

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) - For a veteran police lieutenant, the thumping music, the red cups and late-night crowds at the house on East Fifth Street in south Bethlehem could mean only one thing.

Lt. Robert Lamana walked up on the porch on a recent Saturday and knocked on the front door, loudly and repeatedly.

A young man on the porch got out his cellphone and called friends inside, telling them, “The cops are here, tell everyone to get out now.”

Behind the two-story house, dozens of young adults began pouring out, groaning at the sight of four officers waiting on the sidewalk. Several fled police by leaping over a porch railing and dashing through yards.

“That’s really not necessary,” a sergeant in the alley called out. “We don’t need anyone to get hurt.”



Amid the din, Lamana calmly told the crowd he needed to speak with the person renting the house. A young man, a Lehigh University student, eventually stepped forward and Lamana cited him for violating the city’s disorderly house ordinance.

It was one of 68 issued last month after Lehigh President John Simon launched increased patrols by both campus and city officers in the wake of “four close calls” with students who drank so much they were close to death and needed medical treatment.

Citations for charges including underage drinking, public drunkenness and disorderly house violations surged after Simon took action April 5, according to a review of Northampton County Court records. During the three months before the stepped-up patrols, police filed 15 alcohol-related citations in January, 21 in February, and 35 in March. April’s total was a more than a four-fold increase over January.

Authorities hope the patrols curb and deter dangerous behavior, but despite the warning from the president, it persists. Four days after Simon added patrols, police arrested a student with a blood-alcohol content of 0.34 percent and sent him to a hospital.

Lehigh officials said excessive student drinking is neither new nor specific to the school, but now are particularly concerned about the use of hard liquor. The university has been trying to combat the issue at least since the 1990s, when concerns grew about binge drinking. But today, officials say, students talk a lot about drinking “grain,” which can be anything from grain alcohol to other hard liquors.

Katherine Lavinder, Lehigh’s interim dean of students, said in her 5½ years as Lehigh’s on-call contact, this semester is the first she ever fielded calls from a hospital chaplain asking for help to quickly find a student’s parents.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an increase in numbers, it’s the high intensity with the health consequences we’ve experienced this semester,” she said.

Lamana said he thinks the college and police do everything they can to help guide college students when it comes to drinking responsibly - but they need to do the same.

“You can have all the programs and resources at your fingertips, but there comes a time when you have to take personal responsibility,” the lieutenant said. “That comes on your own.”

Some students say the police “crackdown” could push drinking off campus and away from the rules the university imposes on parties - mostly held at fraternities and sororities - that are designed to limit drinking.

Some agree with Lamana about students taking responsibility.

Last week, students held a meeting and proposed improving alcohol education and holding fraternity chapters accountable for following the rules on serving alcohol so parties can be held on campus, according to the student newspaper the Brown & White.

In an editorial, the paper called the drinking culture “problematic,” noting numerous alcohol-related citations against fraternities throughout the semester. The paper said students haven’t acted responsibly enough to expect the school administration to compromise with them.

“If we don’t recognize this reality and act while we still can, it will be a disgrace,” the editorial stated. “There are no more boundaries to push without ending in tragedy.”

A ‘perfect storm’

Lehigh is far from the only school to grapple with drinking issues. After the February death of an intoxicated Penn State student who fell down the stairs during a fraternity pledge night plus several alcohol-related deaths at other schools, college campuses across the country have taken a hard stance against what was often considered a rite of passage for many students - getting drunk.

Fraternities became the target of administrators at Penn State, where university President Eric Barron wrote April 10 about his concerns over the death of Timothy Piazza. Barron’s letter detailed other instances of inappropriate drinking connected to Greek life and said if they continued, “I predict that we will see … the end of Greek life at Penn State.”

The Centre County district attorney announced criminal charges against 18 Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers and the fraternity itself in Piazza’s death. Charges include involuntary manslaughter and hazing, according to a news release from the district attorney’s office.

While the Greek system has become a target at Penn State, Lehigh officials told The Morning Call they are not looking to banish it.

But the large number of Lehigh students in fraternities and sororities - more than 40 percent - means any policy on alcohol will affect them because they have the houses that often host parties.

Student groups that want to host parties on Lehigh’s campus have to follow complicated and sometimes costly rules. Groups are required to register a party and can serve someone of legal age one drink of alcohol - beer and wine only - per hour for no more than four hours. They must hire at least two security staff and, if the party is outside, hire a contractor to put up a 6-foot-tall temporary fence to keep the party contained.

Nicki Nance, a psychotherapist and assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., said universities find themselves in a difficult position when it comes to helping students use alcohol safely.

“Promoting the safe use of alcohol is promoting the use of alcohol,” she said. “Not addressing the issue at all is negligent, and promoting abstinence is unrealistic.”

Nance considers colleges the “perfect storm” for drinking problems.

“It is the combination of students being near drinking age, being away from parents, having the availability of alcohol and plenty of like-minded allies,” she said.

While Simon’s letter warned Lehigh students of the dangers of excessive drinking and of the additional police patrols, officials hope a more permanent solution will involve sharing the responsibility for safety with students.

Police crackdowns aren’t a new solution to the age-old drinking issue. In fall 1999, city police cited dozens of students attempting to leave campus and enter city neighborhoods in an attempt to avoid then-new policies designed to reduce binge drinking on campus, according to Morning Call archives.

The school continued to try to tackle student alcohol use and from 2011 to 2013, it was involved in the National College Health Improvement Project. Some initiatives included addressing dangerous hard-alcohol use and developing alternative, alcohol-free social events called Lehigh After Dark.

“It is an area we’re not going to necessarily solve completely, but at any given time we’re hoping it will mitigate and reduce the harm that could happen as a result of extreme drinking,” said Lori Friedman, a Lehigh spokeswoman.

At the same time, Lehigh is reviewing its social policy, as recommended by a commission of students, faculty, staff and administrators in a 2015 report. It called for some of the party restrictions to be less costly and Greek-focused so parties can occur more often on campus. The commission also said students could be safer if more alcohol-related events were held on campus, but said the legal drinking age presents a challenge.

Lehigh police Chief Edward Shupp said he prefers that students drink on campus rather than in off-campus homes.

“I think south Bethlehem is a safe environment, but if students stayed on campus, it would mean less vehicle traffic, less issues with pedestrians walking around,” Shupp said. “Plus, we have the patrols and technology, including 152 cameras, to make sure students are safe.”

Shupp said he sends an email each year to each incoming freshman letting them know how to be a good neighbor in Bethlehem, how to have a safe party and all the resources available to them.

“We do everything we possibly can to educate them,” Shupp said. “The rest is up to them.”

Student attitudes

Several Lehigh students had to face the consequences of their drinking April 21, when they appeared in District Judge Nancy Matos Gonzalez’s court in Bethlehem. They appeared at her monthly session for those who qualify for a first-time offender program and can have their record expunged if they complete it successfully. But the students still must pay fines and court costs, which can total hundreds of dollars.

Brian Kelly, 20, said he was walking home from a bar when a police officer flashed his lights at him. The college junior was cited for public drunkenness and underage drinking, with a blood alcohol content of 0.29 percent.

Kelly, a member of a fraternity he declined to name, said it’s not unusual for students to drink beer and to play drinking games before hitting a bar.

In an interview after his court appearance, he said the night he was cited he had “a lot of drinks” - mostly beer - but said it’s not unusual to have 15 drinks before hitting a bar.

He said student drinking has been pretty consistent throughout his time at Lehigh. What’s changed, he said, is that the level of enforcement has increased.

“You can’t blame them when four kids almost die,” he said.

He said he thinks Lehigh is cracking down on drinking and parties because the university wants to push it off campus.

Lehigh can pass it off more as an individual making mistakes and less them being blamed for drinking,” he said.

Francisco Gutierrez, who’s from Latin America and was in court that day for underage drinking and carrying a false ID, said drinking at Lehigh is different than where he’s from.

“I’d say there’s a lot of irresponsible drinking going on at Lehigh. Kids don’t know how to drink,” he said. “Their goal, ultimately, is to get drunk.”

At Lehigh, Gutierrez sees students who drink shots and maybe a chaser, or just a cup of straight alcohol that they sip from. It’s a different drinking culture than what he’s used to, when people can start drinking at 18, mix their drinks and drink them slowly.

Panhellenic Council President Margaret Burnett said the campus was shaken up by Simon’s email, but even before that, sorority members were trying to cut back on the number of social events they attend in a week. The 2015 report said some Greek students face a challenging time commitment to attend social events with alcohol Tuesdays through Saturday.

“Women were feeling pressure to attend parties frequently, close to five nights a week, and they were asking for a change. So, we came in and wrote something up we’d all stick to (that) reduced the number of parties chapters could have in a week,” she said.

“It’s all optional, but it allows women to take some emphasis off that aspect of sorority life and focus on other things, and themselves and their friendships.”

‘A sense of urgency’

Ashley Baudouin, Lehigh’s assistant dean and director of fraternity and sorority affairs, said she’s seen an increase this semester in people who report concerning behavior, including drinking.

It’s something she said developed in tandem with Lehigh’s focus on intervention and alcohol training, and hazing prevention.

“Our students are coming to a place where they have more confidence in speaking up, thankfully, when they do see something that is wrong or when they seem someone who might need help or assistance,” she said.

But Baudouin said she remains concerned by a drinking culture that seems centered on hard alcohol, and not just beer.

“Sometimes the intensity and frequency seems a little bit different to me and a bit more concerning, and I think that’s kind of why some of these close calls are creating a sense of urgency for some of us,” she said.

Lamana, the Bethlehem police lieutenant in charge of the bust of the house on East Fifth Street, often sees the behavior caused by hard liquor.

That night, police cited a young woman stumbling along the sidewalk while holding a red cup filled with vodka. Empty vodka bottles were in the trash can outside the house.

Lamana said it’s not unusual for drunk students to see his undercover car and start climbing in, thinking he is their Uber ride.

As the lieutenant filled out the citation for the house, Lamana said he always reminds students of the practical consequences of getting cited by police in the age of internet searches.

“I tell them that in 10 years, no one is going to remember this party,” Lamana said. “But if you get charged with letting underage people drink here, it’s going to show up a decade later when you’re trying to get a job.”

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DRINKING ON CAMPUS

University crime logs and court records detail several on-campus arrests for drinking that sometimes ends in hospitalization:

. April 9: University police said they found a 22-year-old man “intoxicated to the point that he couldn’t stand” on Morton Street, according to a public drunkenness citation. His blood alcohol content was 0.34 percent, more than four times the legal limit to drive in Pennsylvania, and he was hospitalized.

. April 8: University police made two arrests for underage drinking and a third for a student charged with drunken driving after a crash on Sayre Drive.

. April 1: A 19-year-old man found “incoherent and semi-conscious” at Drinker House and was charged with underage drinking.

. March 29: A 20-year-old man was found around 1 a.m. “vomiting and incoherent” at Trembley Apartments. His blood-alcohol content was 0.214 percent.

. March 25: Around 1:20 a.m., police found a 20-year-old woman at the McClintic-Marshall House. She admitted to police she had been drinking and her blood-alcohol content measured 0.19 percent.

. March 24: Police said they found an 18-year-old woman drunk at the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. Police said the woman was too intoxicated to take a breath test.

The university’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs keeps a Greek life blog that lists incidents involving alcohol, ranging from providing alcohol to minors to promoting drinking games such as pong, Beirut, scorpion bowls and shot parties.

. April 28: The Office of Student Conduct was alerted to an incident that allegedly happened at a frat having an unauthorized party that included drugs, drug paraphernalia and possible drinking games.

. April 22: More than 40 students attending a Greek event were cited for underage drinking and one member was cited with multiple charges of furnishing alcohol.

. April 1: A student at at a fraternity “fell down a long set of steps, required transport to St. Luke’s and was placed in the ICU.”

. Feb. 15: A student vomited on the floor after drinking beer and grain alcohol and had to be taken to St. Luke’s University Hospital, registering 0.22 blood-alcohol content.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2qPGWaw

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Information from: The Morning Call, https://www.mcall.com

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