Thursday, March 19, 2009

TJ Sullivan on Risky People

Risk management strategy #1: Stop recruiting risky people
from our Friends at THE APATHY MYTH: a Blog for America's College Student Leaders

This evening in Lawrence, Kansas, a memorial service was held for Jason Wren, a 19-year-old freshman who was found dead Sunday at the local Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter house. It will be a while before the facts surrounding the death are known, but the Denver Post reports today that Wren allegedly drank margaritas with friends at dinner and then consumed more than a dozen beers and some whiskey at the SAE house. Although unconfirmed, alcohol poisoning is presumed to be the cause of death.

A paragraph at the end of the Post's article caught my attention. It reads:
Jay Wren [the boy's father] told The Denver Post that about a week before Jason moved into the SAE house, he had been kicked out of one of the KU dorms for drinking and other violations. Jason quickly found a home at the SAE house, Jay Wren added.

Which leads me to this thought... why in the world would a chapter knowingly recruit and move in a young man who had been kicked out of university housing for drinking and other violations?

For all the risk management education we've done for our fraternity and sorority undergraduates over the last two decades, perhaps we've missed one of the most obvious lessons. We need to stop affiliating young men and women who are DANGEROUS with regard to their personal behavior. Proper recruitment is, in reality, one of our most important acts of risk management.

The details of Wren's death will be revealed in the coming weeks and months. There is likely blame to spread around to numerous parties: the chapter, the restaurant that served the margaritas, the brothers who left him alone in a dangerous state of intoxication, and yes, Wren himself. Perhaps the Post's information is wrong, and he had no history of risky drinking.

But, if it ends up to be true, it begs a few critical questions for the fraternity members. Didn't you think that this kid might have a drinking problem? Why were you willing to gamble your chapter on a nice kid who posed a danger to your chapter? Why would you invite a kid with a potential drinking problem into your chapter as a member and as a resident of your facility, and then enable his worst impulses?

Maybe I'd ask the parents why they allowed their son to move into a fraternity house after he was thrown out of a residence hall for drinking.

No one knows, at this point, whether any criminal behavior occurred in this incident. We don't know, yet, if anyone could have intervened and saved this young man's life. But, there is probably a valid argument that a "criminal" lack of judgment sealed this young man's fate. If indeed this young man had issues related to high risk underage drinking, he shouldn't have been allowed near a fraternity.

We need to stop allowing our chapters to be the place where dangerous drinkers fit in.