A night of binge drinking ends in tragedy and highlights an ongoing problem on today’s college campuses
After a night of heavy drinking, Arizona State University freshman Naomi McClendon, 18, plunged from the balcony of a tenth-story apartment to her death.
Naomi – a Kansas native who was her high school’s student body president – was heavily intoxicated after a night of partying late last month when she wandered out to the balcony of 922 Place and straddled its 6-inch railing.
At 2:40 a.m., she lost her balance, tried but failed to grab the railing, and fell to the ground, say police, citing surveillance footage that recorded the entire tragedy.
The lead-up to the accident reads like a sickeningly inevitable recipe for disaster. The night went like this: an underage girl went to a party that was clearly intended for binge-drinking (if the $30 unlimited-drink ticket is anything to go by); the party was sponsored by Alpha Epsilon Pi, a banned fraternity with a history of alcohol-related infractions; and the incident took place in what the locals call the “Loud Party Corridor,” known for its raucous parties and associated crime.
After this girl got so drunk that she couldn’t even walk straight, according to surveillance videos, her friends accompanied her to an apartment to sober up, then went to another party and left her behind, alone. By the time anybody thought to look for her, the State Pressreports, she was already dead.
Even for a campus known for its heavy partying, the grisly death has shocked the Arizona State University community and prompted police to pledge to crack down on underage binge drinking.
“Naomi has captured the hearts of a lot of people this week. We have received a lot of phone calls. We are not going to tolerate under-aged drinking, the binge drinking,” Mike Pooley, a Tempe police spokesman, told the Arizona Republic. “We’re very upset about what happened, it should not have happened.”
This accident was particularly heartbreaking because there were so many opportunities to prevent it.
In fact, the party that preceded Naomi’s death had already been raided and shut down by the police – but it was after Naomi had already left, according to various press reports.
If she had not been served alcohol illegally, if a fraternity that had been banned precisely for this sort of thing hadn’t been having an out-of-control party right near campus, if she hadn’t been abandoned by her friends – Naomi might still be alive today.
The culpability is widespread. Personal responsibility plays a part. After all, Naomi shouldn’t have been drinking at all. But she certainly didn’t deserve to die. As the New York Daily Newsreports, she had a commendable academic past as a high school student body president and a promising future as a non-profit management student.
The larger problem is the toxic drinking culture that has integrated itself into college campuses across the country. Binge drinking is normal at college parties.
According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, half of college students who drink alcohol also binge drink, and 1,825 college students are killed by drunken accidents every year.
What’s more, the illegality of under-age drinking has become like jay-walking: merely a technicality. Uprooting such a deeply entrenched part of college culture, one that has become a rite of passage for many, is incredibly difficult.
Despite the difficulty of enforcement, the Arizona State University community has been spurred into action by the tragedy.
According to the Republic, the state Department of Public Safety, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, and the Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, and ASU police departments have committed to a crackdown on underage drinking.
They are taking their cue from this last fall’s successful Safe and Sober campaign, which targeted drunk driving, underage drinking, and raucous parties. The campaign racked up 1,772 arrests and drastically reduced crime associated with drinking and partying, such as robbery (which dropped by a whopping 76 percent during the campaign), vandalism, and assault.
As for the people who supplied Naomi with alcohol and sponsored the party, they will be charged with various misdemeanors, police have said, adding ASU administrators and the police are monitoring the area around campus, dedicated to preventing another tragedy at an institution meant for education.
College Fix contributor Emily Holmstead is a December 2013 graduate of BYU.