Through the documentary showing of “HAZE” to junior students, the Counseling Department hopes to shed a light on the threat of hazing and alcohol abuse on college campuses. The film follows Gordie Bailey Jr., a lighthearted college freshman who died as a result of a hazing ritual at the Chi Psi Fraternity found at the University of Colorado. By chronicling the reactions of both Gordie’s family and friends, the film stands to spread a message against hazing and its devastating effects on students everywhere. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it is estimated that 1,825 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries.
By showcasing Gordie’s story to students, Westminster hopes to arm students with facts so that they are fully prepared when the time comes for them to act on college campuses.
“When you look at both neuroscience and brain development, research would support the timing from a developmental perspective,” said upper school counselor Meredith Miller. “Secondly, when we survey our students, the largest increase in alcohol use is from tenth grade to eleventh grade.”
In fact, some juniors feel as though this drinking phenomenon has already begun, especially as social pressures increase among students.
“I think we are reaching that age when a lot of students in our grade are drinking and taking part in the social activities,” said junior Ashley Jian. “Since we are almost adults, we feel that social pressure to be accepted into a group and to be a part of a fun lifestyle.”
After viewing the film, students later broke up into small groups in advisement in order to process what they saw.
“I think some people were a little surprised and didn’t speak up that much,” said Jian. “Some weren’t phased by it and accepted it as a reality.”
The importance of watching and talking about the film is only highlighted by the fact that the last time the grade engaged in discussions over substance abuse was during the Freedom from Chemical Dependence week (FCD), a time when the freshmen class learns about drug and alcohol abuse from special guests.
“In the upper school, kids spend a week in ninth grade with FCD and then we do not do that much in tenth grade in terms of health and wellness, particularly relating to substance abuse,” said junior grade chair Liza Cowan.
Additionally, the film provides a perspective that students may not have heard before, especially since Gordie’s story is one that is easily understandable among students.
“I think HAZE also is a film about a kid and a family who are very relatable for many Westminster students and feels immediate in a way that maybe some other materials do not,” said Cowan.
Cowan’s feelings towards the film are more personal than most; she actually knew Gordie during their time as high schoolers at Deerfield Academy.
“Gordy himself was a real big man on campus my freshman year when he was a senior,” said Cowan. “He went out of his way to lift up students from all corners of the school.”
Gordie’s death would later result in heartbreak for those, like Cowan, who got to know him as a friend.
“One of the things that was most powerful was actually watching what happened in the wake of his death and watching how his classmates came together to grieve their loss and to process what it meant to lose Gordy,” said Cowan. “It really showed how much of an impact one person can have. The fact that it was so preventable just struck home with anybody that was there.”
The most evident goal of both the Counseling Department and the grade chairs was to educate students and to prepare them for possible events that could take place in college.
“Our mission in the Counseling Department is to take a health and wellness perspective and to educate every student on issues that impact health wellness, including mental health,” said Miller. “It is really more of an effort to arm students with everything they need: all the skills and tools they need to live their best lives.”
The documentary screening allowed for students to not only prepare themselves for what lies ahead but also opens them up to new ways of thinking that could make the difference in a life or death situation.
“It can be helpful to really think through practically what would you do in that situation,” said Cowan. “Who would you call? Do you actually have the number for campus security programmed into your phone? If not, how are you going to find it? Do you know what the laws say?”
Ultimately, the viewing of the film will not lead to answers for students, but rather allows for there to be a greater conversation within the Westminster community.
“It’s really good for Westminster to talk about this,” said Jian. “I think it’s good that they are acknowledging that it happens and that something needs to be done.”
If you or a friend struggle with alcohol-related anxieties or are in need of a safe space, please reach out to the Wellness Center located on the bottom floor of Pressly Hall.