Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Thursday, 31 March 2005 11:50 UK

US universities try going 'dry'

By Yvonne Murray and Meade Harris
BBC News, Oklahoma

The University of Oklahoma became the latest US college to ban alcohol earlier this year, amid rising concern across America about binge-drinking students.

A glass of beer
The University of Oklahoma banned drinking after an alcohol-related death

But the ban is having unintended consequences, driving drinking off campus and into the surrounding community.

It is also unclear whether it is really deterring students from drinking to excess.

In an Oklahoma bar, Jen has just turned 21, the state's legal drinking age, and is drinking shots of spirits to celebrate.

"I have to drink 21. It's kind of tradition" she says as she knocks back her fifth or sixth shot. She has already lost count.

But while drinking 21 shots remains a rite of passage, most students have started drinking long before.

Freshman Blake Hammontree was just 19 when he died of alcohol poisoning last September, at the University of Oklahoma.

His death sparked an all-out ban on drinking in residence halls, even for those over the legal age of 21.

It is not the first university campus to go dry, and some fraternities and sororities - once notorious for their alcohol-induced hazing - have already passed a drinking ban in their chapters across the country.

Three strikes

But the University of Oklahoma has gone one step further and started a "three strikes" policy for students who get into trouble with the police or are caught inebriated - even off campus.

The university's Dean of Students, Clarke Stroud, is in charge of implementing the new policy.

"It was designed on what we call the three e's - education, enforcement and environment," he explains.

All students are required to have alcohol education, and after three alcohol violations, they face suspension for at least a semester.

Unintended consequences

In Oklahoma, one of America's most conservative states, with a strong religious influence, banning alcohol was greeted as a positive step in the beginning.

Joyce complains of 'nuisance houses'
We've had an influx of students into the neighbourhood because the university has been going dry
Joyce Collard
But it is having some unintended consequences. The parties are moving off campus into residential areas.

Joyce Collard lives a few miles away from the campus in what was once a quiet neighbourhood.

She is outraged by the growing number of "nuisance houses" on her street, where students hold huge parties.

"We've had an influx of students into the neighbourhood because the university has been going dry and now it's completely dry," she said.

"It's been very detrimental - it's caused a lot of traffic jams and property damage."

As she laid out her grievances, a car sped round the corner.

"He's one of our major problems," she said.

Police overstretched

As we approach, Chip and his friends are draining the last few drops out of a bottle of vodka.

They have been drinking all day. Chip's not concerned that he's under-age and therefore running the risk of collecting a strike if he's caught.

"We like to have fun you know. Here's my beer collection," he says, gesturing towards a row of about 200 empty beer bottles.

"It's not like living on a dry campus is it?"

Pushing student parties off campus has also increased pressure on the already stretched police force, who have to deal with complaints from neighbours as well students driving home drunk.

Across America, up to 1,400 students die in alcohol related incidents per year - mainly because of drink driving.

Backlash against drinking

The Sigma Chi fraternity, where freshman student Blake Hammontree died last year, moved off campus the next day.

One of the members, Adam, says their parties are now a bit more restrained.

"We used to have 500, 600 people in a house at a time. It was just madness. You would have two, or four beers at the same time. Now it's a bit more chilled."

But Adam agrees that no level of prohibition can prevent students from binge drinking.

"Does it still happen? Probably yes," he says. "People are going to drink, no matter what. They'll find a way to drink."

The university realises the new policy is not perfect.

But the authorities felt something had to be done, both for the welfare of students and the university's image.

According to a Harvard University study, one in three American colleges has already banned alcohol on campus and many more are considering plans to restrict student access to booze.

It seems the backlash against student drunkenness is gathering pace across America.

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