February 14, 2012

After Daughter’s Death, Ithaca College Professor Leads Push to Curb Drinking

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Following the alcohol-related death of his daughter, Prof. Joseph Cheng, finance and international business, Ithaca College, is leading an initiative to have students publicly pledge to abstain from drinking alcohol until they turn 21. His daughter, Victoria, died at 17 in February 2011 while a freshman at Ithaca College.

So far, twenty-five students from both Cornell and Ithaca College have taken the pledge, which was created last summer, according to Andrew Claypool, an Ithaca College freshman who is involved in the effort, called the Victoria Pledge.

There are two versions of the Victoria Pledge, according to Ithaca College’s website. Students who take the gold pledge vow to abstain from alcohol until they are 21, while students who take the silver pledge are permitted to drink in small doses with parental supervision.

Cheng said that although not many students have signed the pledge yet, those who have can help make a significant difference for themselves and for others.

“Even if only one person has been changed or saved by the pledge, I would regard it as successful,” he said.

Cheng said he hopes the pledge will help change the culture of underage drinking on college campuses.

“My hope is that all people — students at Ithaca and Cornell in particular — will come to the realization that the drinking culture is destructive and must be changed,” he said. “[The] Victoria Pledge provides young people a sense of responsibility and motivation and an opportunity to change the drinking culture by taking a stand.”

Students at Ithaca College echoed Cheng’s sentiments when explaining why they took the pledge.

Claypool said he hopes the pledge will encourage students to abstain from alcohol until they are of legal drinking age.

“It is ultimately my hope that the Victoria Pledge will make an impact upon the current prevalence of underage drinking by aiding individuals with the necessary support and encouragement needed to successfully maintain a sacrifice from alcohol at least until the legal age of 21,” Claypool said. “It is also my hope that the Victoria Pledge will allow individuals to set an example to others, and thereby lead other individuals to make the pledge as well.”

Lydia Nitchman, a junior at Ithaca College and co-president of Awaken, the student group that runs the pledge, said that the Victoria Pledge is intended to combat the culture of dangerous drinking that is currently accepted on most college campuses.

“We talk about social drinking as ‘don’t go too far, but you can have a drink or whatever,’” she said. “[However], Friday and Saturday night, people party a little harder.”

As a result, even drinking that starts out seeming harmless carries risks, Nitchman said.

“One of the factors that contributed to Victoria’s death was that her friends didn’t know who she was with … everyone thought she was with someone else,” she said. “She was on her own, and on her way home she passed away.”

The benefit of taking a public pledge not to drink instead of abstaining privately is that someone doing the former can receive community support for their decision, Nitchman said.

“You shouldn’t hide a commitment to abstain from alcohol … There’s a lot of pressure on campus,” she said. “I don’t think [abstaining from alcohol] is something you should hide … [The] Victoria Pledge is a community thing. It’s okay if you don’t drink.”

Ultimately, Cheng said, he hopes that the pledge will give meaning to Victoria’s death.

“I realized that her death would be in vain unless people, especially young people, learn from it by changing their way of life,” he said. “Seeing people making the Victoria Pledge comforts me and my wife because we can see something good coming out of the premature passing of our daughter … Since Victoria has a heart of helping others, I know that she is glad in heaven every time when a new person signs the pledge.”

Original Author: Joseph Niczky