Liz Musick / Lantern photographer
Years after losing her brother, Joey Upshaw, to a drug and alcohol overdose while they were both attending Ohio State, Erica Upshaw decided to share her story and the lessons she has learned to college students across the country.
Erica Upshaw spoke in the Archie Griffin Ballroom of the Ohio Union on Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. to a crowd of about 500 OSU athletes and students involved in Greek life.
“When you leave here tonight, you all will be equipped to prevent tragedy, I promise you that,” Erica Upshaw said.
Erica Upshaw was a member of Delta Gamma sorority when she attended OSU. Her older brother Joey Upshaw, a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity at OSU, passed away when he was 22 years old after a night of partying at his fraternity house.
Erica Upshaw, a second-year in business at the time of her brother’s death, sat down in a chair on stage as she recalled when her boyfriend, also a member of Delta Tau Delta, broke the news of her brother’s death.
“‘Joe’s gone… Joe died,'” Erica Upshaw said, remembering the morning she first heard the news.
Joey Upshaw, whom Erica Upshaw described as having a personality that was a morph between Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, was no stranger the party scene. He passed away within two hours of ingesting large amounts of alcohol and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, which often goes by its street name “liquid ecstasy” and has been identified as a date rape drug.
The presentation was not somber and solemn throughout, however.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have fun,” Erica Upshaw said.
She went on to ask the audience names they call drunk people. Students shouted answers, such as “white-girl-wasted,” “slop show,” “hot mess,” and “C.D.B,” which stands for certified drunk b—-.
Kristen Asman, a fifth-year in exercise science and a member of the diving team, said this presentation was more fun than other drug and alcohol seminars she has been to because of the audience interaction.
“(Erica Upshaw) showed a lot of YouTube clips and a lot of things that relate to us a little bit better,” Asman said. “A lot of times when speakers come they’re a bit out of touch with what’s going on on campuses.”
One of Erica Upshaw’s major points for students to take away was to party smart. She showed students an image of the familiar red party cup and asked students to raise their hand if they knew how high to fill it for a shot of liquor, a glass of wine or a can of beer. Largely, the audience was incorrect.
“All of these things we talked about are signs of problem drinking, especially when they happen to the same person over and over,” Erica Upshaw said.
Jarrel Jackson, fourth-year in construction systems engineering and president of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, said he would like his fraternity to implement the buddy system.
“The thing I really liked was the buddy system,” Jackson said. “The scariest thing about the whole presentation was that her brother died within two hours in which someone could have helped him.”
Death from alcohol can occur at a blood alcohol content of 0.3, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08. Erica Upshaw brought up the popular challenge of taking 21 shots of alcohol on a 21st birthday and she did the math to show the damage it can do.
A 180-pound male drinking 21 shots over a span of 4 1/2 hours would have a BAC of 0.4. If the same scenario were held for a 130-pound girl, she would have a BAC of 0.65.
Ben Rudolph, a fourth-year in finance and Spanish and treasurer of Delta Tau Delta, quoted Dr. Seuss when he introduced Erica Upshaw.
“‘It’s fun to have fun, you just have to know how,'” Rudolph said.
Another point Erica Upshaw wanted to get across to students was to know when to say something and she went on to describe her own struggles of knowing her limit with alcohol after her brother’s death.
“I wouldn’t be standing here if somebody didn’t say something to me,” Erica Upshaw said.
This seemed to resonate with students. Ali Carruthers, a second-year in marketing and a member of Delta Gamma sorority, said she would take this lesson with her.
“I liked what she said about smart partying and the ways to be safe when you’re out, but I think the most important part was saying something to a friend when you see something wrong,” Carruthers said.
Tom Ricchiuto, a third-year in finance and a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, said Erica Upshaw’s message was relatable.
“I’m actually a Delt so it really hit home for me,” Ricchiuto said. “We hear all the time to watch your drinking. You hear it from your friends, parents, teachers but now I think, coming from someone who’s experienced it first-hand, that I should actually monitor my partying and my friends’ partying.”
The last point Erica Upshaw wanted students to take away was to not be afraid to call for help.
“I wish we would have said something instead of nothing at all,” Erica Upshaw said of the warning signs her brother had a problem. “I don’t blame my brothers’ friends for killing my brother that night.”
Cheyenne Cousineau, a second-year in psychology and member of the diving team, said she would make sure to get help if she saw someone who needed it.
“I think a lot of people freak out in those situations,” Cousineau said. “That was cool for (Erica Upshaw) to say blatantly to just call 9-1-1 right away.”
After asking students to take out their cell phones, Erica Upshaw asked them to take down the Campus Safety number, saying that often times they may arrive before the police. She also mentioned the Student Wellness Center on campus to go for counseling or advice.
The Good Samaritan Policy is a policy that some schools have that protect students from getting in trouble for reporting an incident involving illegal activities. OSU currently only has this policy applying to residence halls and alcohol, according to Erica Upshaw. She said she would be happy to help students wishing to expand the policy as she has done with other universities, such as Michigan State.
After a serious car accident in which she was hit by a drunk driver six weeks ago, Erica Upshaw said she is lucky to be alive and has her brother, her guardian angel, looking down on her. The accident has motivated her to expand and spread her message to more schools across the country and she invited OSU students to get involved to help prevent these types of tragedies.