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Miami's drinking problem: Blame the culture

"Love and Honor."

Miami University drills this slogan into the students from the very beginning. These three words can be found on the admissions packets sent to prospective students in the mail, in the welcome video at freshman orientation, on the over-priced merchandise in the bookstore and in the chorus of the university's fight song.

And even after all of this, every student who has been on campus for more than one week knows that the real motto this community lives by is: "Work hard. Play hard."

During the day, the university is a picturesque campus swarming with motivated students shuffling from class to class with full backpacks and open minds. But when the sun goes down, the books get shelved and the pre-gaming starts.

Miami is consistently listed as one of the nation's top party schools on reputable ranking sites. In 2016, The Princeton Review ranked Miami as the 19th biggest party school in the United States. In 2017, Niche placed Miami at No. 1 in Ohio and No. 1 nationwide.

The university's Alcohol Task Force, established by former President David Hodge in 2014, discovered that 42 percent of freshmen students admitted to drinking to the point of "blacking out," which is significantly higher than the national average.

The Task Force found that the "most notable" Miami ritual centered around alcohol consumption. It consisted of a "weekly migration of students from the residence halls to the off-campus parties and then to the bars."

According to the report, campus police "can predict when students will travel, when parties will end and when students will be returning to the residence halls after bar close."

On Jan. 20, Miami's Erica Buschick was found dead in her dorm room after a night of drinking. According to the police report, Buschick's night followed the "ritual" almost exactly. She drank champagne in her dorm room before going to an off-campus house party where she consumed vodka. Then, right on schedule, she accompanied the partygoers to the bars.

She was too intoxicated to actually enter the bars, according to a friend with her that night. With the help of her roommate and a taxi driver, Buschick made it back to her Morris Hall dorm room, according to the police report. She passed out on a beanbag and was found there, unmoved, the next morning.

Buschick's tragic death is a harrowing reminder that alcohol is a dangerous substance to "play" with. Miami students live in a constructed bubble that ignores reality, precautions and permanent consequences.

But it's not the alcohol's fault; blame the culture.

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The excessive alcohol consumption is just a side effect. The source of the problem is the culture, the environment and the traditions. It's the "ritual." It's the daily drink specials at the bars Uptown. It's the day parties. It's the house names. It's Pitchers, Beat the Clock and Broken Clock. It's social expectations and recurring habits.

Students predictably flock to these alcohol-centric, social gatherings like clockwork. It's the Miami way. Incoming students quickly step in line as seniors graduate, and alumni reminisce on the "good old days" when Wednesdays meant Wine Night at O'Pub and blacking out at Brick was the definition of a night well spent.

This culture is fueled by established traditions and creates a real sense of belonging. Administration can repeat the words "love and honor" all they want, but that is not the reality of the student experience.

Let's face it: Miami University students love to have fun by honoring the school's longstanding party reputation. And it's fun until it's not.

"Love and Honor."