Jennifer Fox and eight other first-year students had just gathered in a dorm room at Loyola College at 10 p.m. on a Friday when they heard an unexpected knock on the door.
Too late, the students noticed the bottle cap from a wine cooler on the floor. The resident assistants and a campus security guard at the door spotted it and asked to see what was in the refrigerator. In a humiliating rebuff to adulthood in their first two 00 weeks away from home -- and after only a few sips of the stuff -- the women were ordered to pour 21 bottles of beer and wine coolers down a bathroom sink.
"We were very mad," said Ms. Fox with a mixture of amusement and chagrin. The 18-year-old from Connecticut was "sentenced" last week along with her friends to a mandatory seminar on the effects of alcohol as a result of the Sept. 20 incident.
Last year, a first offense might have brought a stern warning. No more. The women are among hundreds of students sent to boot camp at Loyola this semester for drinking offenses. The crackdown follows a brush with death by one freshman in a September drinking incident that sent tremors through this 3,100-student campus in North Baltimore and led officials to wage the fiercest campaign ever here to educate undergraduates on the health risks of alcohol.
Besides mandatory education sessions for first offenses involving alcohol, campus officials have papered the dorms with bulletins on the medical facts about drinking, enlisted students to tell their own stories of alcohol abuse and delivered in-person warnings to the owners of bars and liquor stores that reportedly serve under-age drinkers.
So many perpetrators have been caught drinking in the dorms this fall that officials say they have run out of community service work to use as extra sanctions against party hosts.
Nearly a half million college students drink every day, a survey by the U.S. Office of Substance Abuse Prevention found last year. A more recent national study found that 90 percent of new college students arrive on campus with already established drinking patterns.
Of these, 60 percent "binge" drink, says Jan Williams, director of alcohol and drug abuse programs at Loyola. That means they consume five or more drinks in a row, often several times a week.
Drinking is hardly a new problem on college campuses. But at Loyola and some other campuses that enforce bans on kegs and cases of beer even for students over the legal drinking age of 21, officials are finding that the use of potent hard liquor and grain alcohol is on the rise.
"It's easier to sneak in a fifth than a case of beer, and it's cheaper: $5.99 compared with $12.99," said Kathyrn A. Clark, Loyola's director of student life.
The danger -- and the need for education -- is greater, officials say.
"Students really do not know what 'proof' means," said Mr. Williams, who runs the education sessions at Loyola. "They don't realize how dangerous it is to rapidly ingest five or 10 shots in an hour," he said.
It was hard liquor that students were using the first Friday night of September when tragedy struck.
A freshman from Connecticut fell and hit his head as he tried to climb into a top bunk bed after a night of drinking shots of vodka. He was discovered bleeding, unconscious and choking after roommates who had continued their partying elsewhere had second thoughts about leaving him alone and telephoned campus officials to check on him.
The phone call may have saved his life, school officials say. The student, whose name was not released, suffered a brain injury and spent three days in an intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital while doctors monitored his loss of memory and other nervous system functions. Tests showed his blood-alcohol level at .17, or near toxic.
He is now in a mental rehabilitation program, and officials say he may not be able to return to school until next fall.
So far this year, 276 Loyola students have been cited for alcohol infractions, compared to 550 for all of last year. Nationwide, drinking on college campuses is up slightly, according to a survey last January of 10,000 students, the largest such study by the Campus Violence Prevention Center at Towson State University. But at Loyola, college officials say, it's hard to know whether drinking is on the rise or whether they are just catching more students.
The weekly alcohol education session for first-time offenders is drawing 40 to 50 students each week, compared to two or three at most at last year's optional sessions. A six-week session for second offenders has about 30 students and is strategically timed to interfere with happy hour on Fridays.
In interviews last week, students said they drink because there's not much to do on campus and because it's just a college thing to do.
"There's no curfew, no parents waiting at home, no worrying about transportation [freshmen can't have cars on campus], so there is no responsibility. That's why people do it," said Diana Heidenreich, an 18-year-old student from Long Island.