In various locations across campus, a collection of glass bottles carries a different message than its traditional college connotation; through this project, known as Message on a Bottle, the university’s Health and Wellness Educators (HAWEs) hope to draw attention to the dangers of binge drinking.
Overall, the Center For Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 2,200 people die from alcohol poisoning each year in the United States, averaging about six deaths per day.
Although the majority of these cases occur in the 35-64 age range, binge drinking does lead to the deaths of college students more often than people would think, said junior Diana Perez. As a HAWE, Perez hopes that the Message on a Bottle project will help students see that binge drinking can carry heavier consequences than a hangover the next morning.
“I’m hoping [the project] will at least make [people] reflect and think about themselves and their drinking habits,” Perez said. “And I’m not saying people need to stop drinking or anything, but just kind of know the harm that can happen and be more responsible.”
She continued, “I know sometimes people have the mentality when they have a rough week that they just want to get drunk, and I want them to realize what they’re actually saying when they say they want to get blackout and not remember anything… being so young when you have so much potential and life to live… to lose your life that way, it’s just very tragic.”
Perez herself has a personal connection with the project, as her cousin passed away due to binge drinking during the fall semester. Together with Donna Darmody, director of health education and RWU’s alcohol and drug prevention coordinator, Perez created the Message on a Bottle project in memory of her cousin.
The display, which has been set up in the Commons entrance, the Recreation Center, and will eventually be shown in Global Heritage Hall, contains bottles that each represent a college student who passed away due to excessive drinking. The label on every bottle gives the student’s name, age, date of death, the university they attended, and an explanation of how they died.
Along with a bottle in memory of her cousin, the display also includes a bottle commemorating Erica Buschick, an 18-year-old freshman at Miami University in Ohio, who was found dead this past January after reportedly binge drinking with friends the night before. With the publicity that the case received, Perez hopes that students will be able to connect the display’s stories to an actual person.
Although excessive drinking was at the root of each death, not all of the students included in the display died from alcohol poisoning; some were involved in deadly accidents as a result of their intoxication.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that this narrative is not uncommon, as 1,825 college students aged 18-24 die from alcohol-related accidents every year. Another 696,000 students will report sexual assault by an inebriated student, and 97,000 students will report sexual assault or date rape.
Darmody, who finds that giving out statistics is often not enough to truly make an impact on students, echoed Perez’s hopes for the display’s impact.
Overall, Darmody finds the university’s alcohol culture to be “like anywhere else on United States campuses.” No RWU student on record has died of alcohol poisoning, and Darmody expressed that reminders such as Message on a Bottle remain pertinent as the university continues its efforts to uphold this reality.
Ultimately, Darmody said, “There’s a person behind each one of those bottles.”