The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024
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Mustangs Who Care

I appreciate student body president Patrick Kobler’s concerns about substance abuse prevention on campus (Daily Campus, Sept. 15). Good, honest dialogue about tough issues is one of the best parts of a university community. I also was proud to see Mr. Kobler call upon students to be “Mustangs Who Care,” which encourages our community to intervene when a student needs help. The positive response to this new program has been tremendous.

We – SMU’s faculty and staff – are “Mustangs Who Care,” too. I wanted to take an opportunity to share my perspective on substance abuse prevention, one that has been shaped by my experiences working at multiple universities. I hope it will help continue the dialogue about substance abuse prevention at SMU.

When I was a young professional in higher education – probably about 23 years old and a new graduate – I worked in a university’s student activities department. As one of my first duties, I took a group of student leaders on a retreat. The second night of the retreat, the students said to me: “Lori (I wasn’t Dr. White then), we think you are pretty cool, so we wanted to let you know that we brought alcohol and would like to drink at the campsite.” I was flattered, so I told them they could drink (not all of them were 21) in my presence.

When I told my boss this story a few days later, he explained something to me that I had not realized: As an officer of the university, once I gave the students permission to drink, I was responsible for whatever might have occurred as a result. If a student had gotten drunk, wandered off into the woods and ended up hurt or dying, I would be personally responsible, as would the university.

I share this story because those of us who work for the University are obligated to enforce the law. The law says that someone must be 21 to drink. If we see someone drinking who is not 21, the law says we must take action. The law also says we must respond if we see someone who is furnishing alcohol to someone who is not 21, drinking in places where alcohol is not allowed, or whose health is at risk from drinking too much.

While I was working at another university, I received a call from police. A 17-year-old first-year student had too much to drink and had fallen out of a residence hall window (we think the student may have become disoriented, climbed up on a ledge to throw up and fell out of the window). I had to call his parents to let them know their son was dead. They were not the only parents I have called with this news. Each time I had these awful conversations, the parents have asked me – and I have asked myself – was there something more I, or the university, could have done to prevent this?

This fall term at SMU already has caused my colleagues and me to ask ourselves what more we can do to prevent students from engaging in risky behavior related to alcohol abuse. We have had too many cases, including a student who drank so much before the first home football game that he collapsed and was taken to the hospital. Another student became ill after drinking with several men at an off-campus bar; two students intervened to keep the men from taking her out of the bar and brought her back to campus. Still another student fell and hit his head, causing serious injury, after drinking heavily at an unregistered social event.

Mr. Kobler’s column expressed student frustration about policies restricting parties on Thursday nights and requiring students to register social events, in addition to “over enforcement” by SMU Police.

The main priority of SMU Police, in addition to enforcing state and federal laws, is to respond when they see student incidents such as the ones we unfortunately have seen these first few weeks.

We require students to register their social events so that we can work with them to plan their events responsibly and to choose venues that we know monitor underage drinking. This event registration process has been revised based on student feedback, and among the revisions is the opportunity for student organizations to earn points toward having events on Thursday nights or other weeknights.

Many SMU students choose not to drink or choose to drink responsibly. I applaud those students, as well as those who have stepped up to “Call for Help” for a student in distress. As “Mustangs Who Care,” we – the students, faculty, staff and administration – have a collective responsibility to look out for one another and to encourage one another not to take unnecessary risks. I hope each of you will do your part.

Please continue the dialogue and e-mail me at [email protected] or learn more at the Live Responsibly Web site, smu.edu/liveresponsibly.

Lori White is the Dean of Student Life. She can be reached for comment at lswhite@smuedu.

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