The video shown at Bemidji State University may seem like a typical presentation to freshmen: A series of students talk about how to stay safe on and off campus as soft music plays in the background.
But then students on the screen give the chilling reminder of how dangerous the consequences can be, especially in a northern climate.
“The risks are real,” one warns.
“One of our students died from hypothermia in 2014,” says the next. “She got lost on her way home from a party.”
The video, titled “No Buddy Left Behind,” is part of a new effort at the school this year to remind students to watch out for each other.
Hundreds of students had gathered for a summit on campus drinking in January, more than a month after 20-year-old Sandra Lommen died after slipping in a creek on a drunken walk home from a party. Weeks later, another student believed to have been drinking nearly died after spending hours in an alley.
A task force including students and law enforcement then convened every Wednesday at 7 a.m. and decided to go forward with plans for a video and rubber bracelets in BSU green and white colors saying, “Save our students.”
“I think since that event, we’ve experienced a new level of interest by students, faculty and staff to get involved in this campaign,” said Jay Passa, the school’s health education coordinator.
It may be having an effect: Alcohol incidents in residence halls are down 25 percent so far this year compared with the same time last year, said Scott Faust, the school’s director of communications and marketing.
“We don’t have research to connect the dots literally,” Faust said. “I think the shared sense here is that awareness on the part of students, student workers … everybody’s focused on this together and it appears to be influencing behavior.”
The video, created at the behest of a task force, was expanded to include other safety matters, too.
Student Senate President Brittany Hull said she’s been showing the video in classes and handing out the bracelets all over campus, promoting safety not only involving alcohol but also other potential dangers.
“It can mean so much more than save our students from alcohol, it can mean save our students from drugs, save our students from sexual violence, save our students from suicidal thoughts,” she said. “The message can be portrayed in so many different ways just to represent being there for a buddy and watching out for your friends.”
The campus and a local taxi company are promoting taxi rides as an affordable way to get around.
Taxi driver Nick Kost said rides from downtown to the campus area are typically just $5 or $6. With a few people in a cab, that can mean an affordable way to stay safe in the cold.
Campus leaders are looking for grants to try to subsidize such rides for students. A new committee is also seeking funding from campus administration to implement other safety changes.
Faust said the death and close call last year hit home with students, and they want to make sure people stay vigilant and watch out for each other, especially when the weather gets colder.
“There’s the issue of alcohol consumption and binge drinking … but also that student who died was alone,” Faust said. “It seems that if she hadn’t been alone, things would have been far different.”