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Life-away-from-home 101

Orientations warn students of drugs, Facebook, Texas Hold'em

Don't try to cross the icy Charles River in winter. For heaven's sake, don't hang out on the train tracks. Or put compromising pictures of yourself on Facebook.com. Or succumb to the addictive powers of Texas Hold'em poker.

These warnings for entering college freshmen have popped up at area college orientations during the last couple of years. Officials say that they keep adding new ``don'ts" partly because the online world has brought new temptations. But they also say they've become more intent on reviewing every conceivable danger because today's college students, known as the millennial generation because they came of age in the 21st century, have been so coddled by parents that many of them lack basic street smarts.

``We say [to ourselves], `Wow, what else are we going to have to warn them about? We thought they'd know not to walk across the icy river,' " said Kenneth Elmore , Boston University's dean of students. ``They have had their lives very structured and a lot of people hand-holding them. There's a level of recklessness that can occur based on inexperience."

During two- to five-day sessions in the summer or just before classes begin, incoming freshmen get a crash course in life on campus. Orientations are designed to help students make friends and feel comfortable, as well as to keep them out of trouble. In response to increased parental involvement, most schools now include optional orientations for parents.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has been trying to cram in so many new topics that it will double the length of the parent orientation program to two days, starting next year. The 2 1/2-day student orientation has enough wiggle room for the school to add new subjects without extending the session. At UMass-Amherst orientations this summer, additions include warnings about how a risqué profile on a website like Facebook or MySpace can hurt one's career, how quickly debts can mount from gambling online, and the consequences of stealing material off the Internet.

Two years ago, Tufts University added warnings about students' online postings and the dangers of online gambling and multi player online games. Some students became so addicted to online games that their grades plummeted and they were forced to take time off from school, said Bruce Reitman, Tufts's dean of student affairs.

``You only add concerns. You can never say, `This one is solved and we don't have to deal with it anymore,' " Reitman said. ``Sometimes you feel like you are doing an awful lot of working without effecting a lot of change because you still see them doing these things."

At BU, Daryl J. DeLuca, director of judicial affairs, has delivered the primary message on safety and behavior to incoming freshman. He puts on an hourlong show for students, as well as a separate one for parents, at orientations each week during June and July.

DeLuca, imposing with a dark suit, shaved head, and stern expression, holds rapt attention with a quirky mix of humor and scare tactics. With a flourish last Thursday , he dumped a shopping bag full of hundreds of fake IDs onto a table, sparking murmurs and giggles from the darkened ballroom packed with hundreds of incoming freshmen.

He regaled them with the true story of a student running around campus naked, so high on drugs that he tossed a female police officer in the air, kicked out a cruiser's windows, and later reported that the three cans of mace emptied onto his face felt like refreshing sprinkles.

He recalled the two guys who knew to use a towel when they pulled a fire alarm as a prank, to avoid being hit with invisible dye coating the alarm. But then they left the towel in the hall -- with one of their names sewn into the label by a thoughtful mother.

He described the things students have thrown out of high-rise dorm windows, including a couch that landed on a car on the Massachusetts Turnpike and a keg that bounced two stories high.

DeLuca dwelt on the 1997 drinking death of Massachusetts Institute of Technology fraternity pledge Scott Krueger and projected a photo of a smiling Krueger on a big screen.

Eliciting gasps, DeLuca described Krueger, passed out and left on his back by friends, throwing up chunks of pizza, which then blocked his airway, leaving him in a coma. He spoke of Krueger's parents' ``tragic and unthinkable decision to take their loving son off of life support ."

DeLuca spent nearly as long on the unsolved shooting death in 2003 of Northeastern student James Cassidy . A roommate told The Boston Globe at the time that Cassidy was dealing drugs, mostly marijuana. DeLuca read from a Globe story describing how the roommate, bound with duct tape by the assailants, recalled them shouting at Cassidy ``Where's the weed?" before firing three shots. Cassidy's sister told the Globe earlier this year that she did not believe he dealt or used drugs.

DeLuca covered petty theft, traffic safety on Commonwealth Avenue, and scam artists who prey on students by writing a bum check in exchange for cash, pretending to have a pregnant wife and a broken-down car. He spoke at length about domestic violence and date rape.

He included a prohibition against illegally downloading music and movies, a three-year-old addition to his talk. ``If you want to download music, do it from your mother and fathers' houses," he quipped.

He added the Charles River caution about three years ago, after a boyfriend and girlfriend came to him with the photo they took of the icy river with a big gash in the middle. The gash came from when the young man fell in. Luckily, the current -- which DeLuca says runs all winter -- didn't carry him under the ice, and his girlfriend was able to throw him an arm of her coat and drag him to safety.

Last year, DeLuca added the warning to stay away from the train tracks near Nickerson Field. Two students were struck and killed by a commuter train in February 2005 when they were walking on the tracks about 1 a.m.

``We don't want anything bad to happen to you because we love you. We really do," DeLuca said, drawing a collective ``aw" from students.

``I will so remember this," said Rachel Lane , 18, an incoming freshman from Los Angeles, who said she'd think twice about drinking. ``I definitely left kind of scared."

Incoming freshman Molly Fedick of Evanston, Ill., also said DeLuca's talk made a deep imprint.

``You think college is like going out on your own, but this seems more like high school, with a lot of rules," said Fedick, 17.

Which was fine with her mother, Amy Fedick, who found the talks reassuring.

``I feel like she's under a microscope, with all these eyes on her," she said, referring to the dorm staff and campus police. ``So I feel like she's OK."

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri @globe.com.

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