NORMAN — University of Oklahoma students agree there is less drinking on campus compared to some other colleges and universities, but that doesn’t mean students are drinking less.
Edmond freshman Scott Adams said the university’s crackdown on binge and underage drinking on campus and in fraternity houses has sent students off campus. "It forces kids to go to the bars or to a house that’s off campus to drink, and then they have to find their way home, and that makes it worse,” Adams said. "If you can’t drink at a frat house, then you go somewhere else.” Campus Corner, an area of restaurants, bars and shopping near campus, is popular with students on weekend nights. "People our age come to Campus Corner to drink,” said Carey Hollingshead, 22. "And a lot of people drink.” OU administrators made the campus dry in January 2005 after the alcohol-poisoning death of Blake Hammontree on Sept. 30, 2004. The Sigma Chi pledge died at the fraternity house and had a blood-alcohol content of .42, more than five times the legal threshold of intoxication. The fraternity’s chapter was expelled from campus but was reinstated in 2007 after meeting conditions that included alcohol abuse-fighting and supervision requirements. OU banned alcohol in fraternity and sorority houses and dormitories five years ago and instituted a three-strike policy on alcohol-related legal or university violations, whether they happen on or off campus. Students who get three strikes are automatically suspended for at least one semester, and this has happened to nine students since the policy began. Student Conduct Office members often check on Greek houses to ensure no alcohol is on site. "There can be 10 checks in a week, so we’re seeing a lot less (alcohol) activity,” said Daniel E. Jones, Lambda Chi Alpha member and president of the inter-fraternity council. "We’re encouraging people to be more responsible and fraternities are active in competing for awards and focusing on academics. "The constant knowledge that the university can do an alcohol check makes a difference.” But OU also expanded its required alcohol-awareness education programs for undergraduates, started the SafeRide taxi program for students who drink off-campus on weekends and established a preplanning system for student organizations that have alcohol at off-campus functions. Clarke Stroud, OU vice president of student affairs, said the university also hired a licensed alcohol and drug counselor for immediate student referrals and developed an alcohol recovery program. "We have seen very positive cultural shifts as a result of our policy,” he stated in an e-mail, "which has encouraged healthy discussion between students about alcohol, its impact and the importance of acting responsibly.