Student faces discipline for blood drive e-mail

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A student who urged her sorority sisters to lie so they could donate blood in a campus competition faces school discipline, and rules for the event could be overhauled to de-emphasize the contest, a University of Missouri official said Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, Gamma Phi Beta's national headquarters issued an apology to the American Red Cross, the university and the public, saying the sorority "does not condone misleading health officials or pressuring sisters into donating blood." The Red Cross has stressed that blood supplies are safe because every donation is later tested before distribution.

The sorority chapter was also ordered to forfeit any points earned in last week's blood drive, a Greek Week tradition that recognizes organizations for donor turnout. Blood drive points can account for up to 20 percent of an organization's score.

The national sorority said the e-mail from chapter blood drive coordinator Christie Key, calling for members to lie on donor health forms, "was in no way endorsed by the chapter leadership and was the action of one individual."

But Cathy Scroggs, the university's vice chancellor for student affairs, told reporters Tuesday she ordered leaders of fraternities and sororities to consider whether the culture of competition surrounding the event has "gotten out of hand."

The Red Cross tells those who are sick or have recently received tattoos or piercings not to donate blood, both to protect the health of donors and to lessen the risk of transmitting diseases to recipients.

But in her e-mail sent last Tuesday to about 170 members of Gamma Phi Beta, Key wrote: "I dont care if you got a tattoo last week LIE. I dont care if you have a cold. Suck it up. We all do. LIE. Recent peircings? LIE."

Donors who have second thoughts at the donation site can discreetly attach a sticker to a health questionnaire, indicating their blood shouldn't be used. These donations are destroyed, said Jim Williams, a St. Louis-based Red Cross spokesman.

Range of penalties

Scroggs said Key, a sophomore from St. Louis, is being investigated for possible discipline for violating campus conduct standards. Those standards include a ban on "conduct which threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person." Punishment can range from a letter of reprimand up to suspension or expulsion, she said.

Scroggs and Williams of the Red Cross said there was no way to know whether any students followed Key's directions.

Key declined to comment Tuesday.

Shannon Wisniewski, president of the sorority chapter, said Key had "expressed extreme remorse to all chapter members." She said the chapter was weighing sorority discipline for Key.

The Missouri event collected 3,366 units of blood, Williams said, of which about 100 units were marked with stickers saying they shouldn't be used. Those units were destroyed. He said that is a bit lower than the usual percentage of blood drive donations marked with stickers.

On a single day in 1999, the campus drive took in 3,156 units of blood -- enough to earn recognition from the Guinness Book of Records as the largest single-site, single-day blood collection.

Williams praised the university as a "wonderful partner" in the blood drive and said the joint effort would certainly continue, "although we perhaps will do more education for the students about simply asking someone to substitute for them" as donors, to avoid pressure.

"My comfort level with the blood collected at Columbia is extremely high," Williams said.

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