Red Watches to protect Cougs


John Freitag

Watches are prepared for the Red Watch Band ceremony in the Health Promotion office, Tuesday, Oct. 29.

As a freshman, he died from drinking too much alcohol and his death inspired university administrators to take action.

This describes the death of WSU student Kenny Hummel, who died a year ago last weekend, but also Northwestern University student Matthew Sunshine, who died in 2008.

Similar stories appear about other college students aged 18-24, and according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1,825 die each year from alcohol-related injuries.

After his death, Sunshine’s mother Suzanne Fields, part of the faculty at Stony Brook University, began the Red Watch Band program to educate students on the dangers of toxic drinking.

The program spread to other colleges across the nation, and is now offered at WSU as a result of the Alcohol Task Force formed after Hummel’s death.

“The program is needed on campus, not just because these events are happening, but because students don’t realize binge drinking is dangerous, and students don’t realize it’s a medical emergency,” said Marsha Turnbull, health education administrator at Health and Wellness Services and leader of WSU’s Red Watch Band program.

Students who complete the free three-hour training offered by the program learn the signs of alcohol poisoning and how to get help for their friends. They can also become CPR-certified.

The program is named for the plastic watches participants receive, which are red because of Stony Brook’s school colors. They symbolize banding together, said graduate assistant Kelleen Curtiss.

About 225 WSU students, including all resident advisors, have taken the class since its start in August, Curtiss said.

Senior biology student Kendra Van Den Top, one of the program’s facilitators, took interest in Red Watch Band because she felt it could make a difference on campus.

As a freshman living in the residence halls, she witnessed two close friends experience alcohol poisoning and was unsure of what to do.

“I know I was scared of getting in trouble my freshman year. I didn’t want my friends to get in trouble, and even though it’s kind of trivial when someone’s life is on the line, you think, ‘Oh, I don’t want them to pay for a hospital bill, they’ll be fine in the morning,’” she said. “But the reality is that sometimes they won’t be fine and it will be so much better for them to have a hospital bill.”

Turnbull said the program tries to combat dangerous myths about drinking, such as leaving a highly intoxicated person to just “sleep it off.”

“It’s just all about saving a life from the dangers of alcohol abuse,” Turnbull said. “We want to provide this sense of responsibility to take care of each other with kindness and respect.”

Curtiss said students typically don’t know about the Good Samaritan Policy, which states that they won’t get in trouble when seeking aid for friends.

“A big problem is that a lot of these emergency situations happen in group settings where there are plenty of people to help,” Curtiss said. “But a lot of people might be scared that they’ll get in trouble or feel like other people will help instead of themselves.”

Van Den Top said the section of training that discusses what dosages of alcohol are harmful was helpful to her, and it put into perspective the danger people put themselves in by consuming multiple drinks in a short period of time.

“It’s worth three hours of your time to learn how to maybe save your friend’s life,” Van Den Top said.