May 4, 2005

Gannett Prepares For Slope Illnesses

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Students will argue whether or not the hottest ticket at Cornell this year was Jon Stewart or Slope Day guest tickets. This year’s Slope Day will mark a significant shift from the recent trend of the 1990’s when students were completely unrestrained on the slope. Members of the class of 2005 will remember, in the spring of 2002, the slope was a free for all of alcohol with no music other than a DJ which no one could hear. There were no ropes, no administrators, and only the occasional police officer. But according to University officials it was not always like that.

As recently as the mid-80’s the University sponsored the festivities which included beer trucks at the bottom of the Slope and live music acts.

According to Catherine Holmes ’85, associate dean of students, everything had to change when the legal drinking age in New York changed from 18 to 21. With the change the University could no longer provide alcohol, and in response, students started bringing their own. The University reaction was to then wash its hands, and stop sponsoring music. Since that point, Gannett has had more and more cases of alcohol related injuries and illness on Slope Day.

In order to deal with the increase in alcohol related problems and to avoid overly taxing Cayuga Medical Center, Gannett began to convert its lobby into an emergency room. 20 mattresses clutter the floor with IV bottles by each bed. According to Steve Blake ’05, president of the Slope Day Programming Board, Gannett looks “something like a M*A*S*H* triage.”

Students suffering from severe alcohol poisoning are sent to Cayuga Medical center. In 2001, over 35 people were treated for alcohol related illness, which include anything from severe alcohol poisoning to head injuries occurred while intoxicated.

The severity of Slope Day indulgence reached the point at which doctors at Gannett told Tim Marchell ’82, director of mental health, “it was not a matter of if, but when, a student would die.”

During one recent Slope Day, a student suffering from severe alcohol poisoning had to be placed on a respirator because the victim had stopped breathing. EMS found the student passed out on the slope and quickly rushed him to Gannett, saving his life.

Marchell said the shift away from University sponsored beer on the slope has caused an increase in hard liquor consumption before getting to the slope, which he says is easier for students to abuse in unhealthy amounts. According to Marchell, students who drink hard alcohol tend to drink larger quantities than they would of beer or wine, and drink much faster, resulting in more illness and more severe illness.

According to Holmes, this puts an enormous strain on emergency services in all of Ithaca, and the incident in which the student stopped breathing reminded the administration that the University was responsible for the health of Cornellians regardless of whether or not it wants to sponsor the event.

She said this incident made it clear that something had to be done in order to “manage the unmanageable.”

Blake agreed with Holmes in stating the difficulty of managing so many people under the influence of so much alcohol.

“Alcohol related injuries are the most serious issue when it comes to planning this day,” Blake said.

Holmes credits President Emeritus Hunter R. Rawlings III with first vocalizing the need to change the University’s posture on Slope Day. According to Holmes, Rawlings recognized the University had to make sure it observed New York State drinking laws and ensure the safety of its students.

Another problem that University officials had to combat was the arrival of students from other schools. Like many issues surrounding Slope Day such as underage drinking, this was not a new one. Holmes recalls stories of buses from other colleges as far away as West Virginia arriving on the slope in order to join the party. But the problem was exacerbated in 2002 when high school students made their presence known. According to Marchell, in 2002 a 15 year old was treated for severe alcohol poisoning and University officials had to ask what high school students were doing on the slope.

With that in mind, the University has attempted to treat Slope Day as any other campus event; which must uphold the campus code of conduct.

The University sought to change Slope Day by limiting access to the slope and changing the focus from drinking back to music.

This year represents a three year turnaround as Cornell has brought an A-list performer to headline Slope Day for the first time in many years.

The announcement of rapper Snoop Dogg has alarmed those responsible for controlling the slope because they fear that there will be a large influx of students from other schools. Last year over 10,000 people (8,000 students, 2,000 guests) were on the slope during the day’s peak.

Because administrators expect an increase in the number of students, this year they sought to put a hard cap on the number of guests. Only 3,000 tickets were pre-sold this year, with the hope of limiting guests. Additional precautions will include the prohibition of anyone under 18 to enter the slope.

“The reason we cannot accommodate more people on the slope is not an issue of square footage but maxing out the resources of EMS and other ancillary support services,” Blake said.

According to him, last year’s crowd of 10,000 put a strain on support services, and extra security, EMS teams, ambulances will be on call to assist Cornell in managing the slope. The University has begun gearing up for Slope Day all week and believes is prepared for this years event.

Archived article by MichaeI Margolis
Sun Senior Writer