Panel promotes safe drinking

Maureen Heard

It is not often that people honestly admit that students drink on college campuses regardless of their age. At the student speaker panel Monday in the Connelly Cinema, the truth was spoken.

The event, hosted by Peers Advocating Substance Safety and the Center for Health and Wellness Education as part of the universities participation in National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, consisted of four current Villanova students and a local attorney who spoke about their attitudes and experiences with alcohol.

Scott R. Reidenbach, an attorney at Steven L. Sugarman and Associates in Berwyn and a Villanova alum spoke about the legal consequences of underage alcohol consumption, rather than lecturing students on why they should abstain from drinking.

“I am not here to tell you not to drink because you are going to drink,” said Reidenbach.

Students should know this information, Reidenbach said, because two-thirds of Villanova students will be cited, arrested, or stopped by police officers in Pennsylvania.

“The cops around here are very aggressive, and they are out to get you guys,” Reidenbach said.

Driving under the influence, underage drinking, public drunkenness, misrepresentation of one’s age and selling alcohol to minors were the main citations listed by Reidenbach.

Most of the penalties for these citations include up to 90 days in jail, up to $500 fine, and 90 days to two years suspension of the convicted person’s driver’s license depending on the offense.

Reidenbach also discussed community service sentences and financial aspects of drinking citations. Reidenbach said that community service sentences in Delaware County average around 32 hours. Attorney fees can become very expensive; at his firm they charge $195 per hour.

When the student panel spoke, there were both laughs and tears from the audience. Junior Maureen Rozanski read a poem about the death of her best friend in a drunk driving accident.

“My best friend’s song of life has ended and there would be no encore,” Rozanski read, stopping occasionally to compose herself as the poem and memory brought her to tears.

After finishing the poem, Rozanski told the audience that drinking and driving is a bad choice and causes accidents that are avoidable. At no point during her speech did she tell the audience not to drink; rather she advised them to be responsible drinkers.

The only student speaker who had personally experienced trouble with alcohol use was senior Dennis Stefanski.

“I started drinking early, and I started drinking a lot,” Dennis Stefanski said. He said he began drinking at the age of 15.

Stefanski said he received four citations for underage drinking before the end of his sophomore year of college and focused on one of his lowest points during the summer before junior year.

One night he was found by a police officer in an empty parking lot with a BAC of 0.35, the level at which people become comatose and 0.06 away from the BAC level that kills people (0.41).

Stefanski’s message: “Be aware of the warning signs because I didn’t, and I almost died.”

Kristin Dithmer, a junior, and Kristen Behrens, a senior, had quite different stories to tell. They spoke about their decisions not to drink, while at the same time never pushing their decision on the audience.

“My message is to be safe,” said Behrens. “Be responsible.”

Dithmer said she chooses not to drink because of her three little sisters who look up to her. She says the hardest part about being a non-drinker is the stereotype that comes along with it, and the responsibility she feels for others.

“I wanted to be able to save everyone,” she said of the people she saw getting out of control because of alcohol. “Some people have to save themselves and you can only support them.”

Behrens said her relationship with her family kept her from drinking until she was 21. She says she loves being in control and did not think it was possible to drink and still be in control because of the excessive drinking she was surrounded by in high school.

“No place is safe,” she said. “When you go out it is a risky situation.”

Other events included the posting of alcohol-related facts on sandwich boards around campus and campaign to make a a large alcohol awareness blanket.

The final event of the week is a block party with the P.O.W.E.R. DJ today from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Oreo, or at the Belle Air Terrace in the case of rain.