Are efforts to change UVM's party school reputation working?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Changing the culture of drinking and drugs at the University of Vermont-- the school has worked hard over the years to shed its reputation as a party school. But the death of an intoxicated student raises questions about how successful those efforts have been.

"Fundamentally, UVM's drinking, drugs, party culture at large has started to shift over the years," said Charlotte Malling, a senior.

Malling has focused some of her time on student health and wellness at the University of Vermont. She's spearheaded an effort to create an on-demand ride service to get students back to campus safely.

"Whether coming from work, school, it's super cold out, they're coming from a party, they can call up that car and get a ride," Malling said.

UVM has worked to erase the school's partying culture and encourage responsible substance use. A substance-free residence hall and wellness programs are part of that work.

"In the last six years, UVM has actually been recognized nationally for reducing our high-risk drinking by 33 percent," said Annie Stevens, the vice provost of student affairs.

Stevens says she wants to redefine the college experience.

"It doesn't have to be around alcohol and drugs," she said.

This, in light of 19-year-old Connor Gage's death last weekend. Burlington Police say Gage attended two off-campus events at fraternity houses. They believe he was drunk and not dressed for the freezing temperatures that night. He was found dead of hypothermia in a snowbank.

UVM suspended activities at fraternities while police investigate further.

"It's so tragic and so sad, but I think the administration is going to pay more attention to Greek life here," said Annika Rubin, a sophomore.

Rubin says compared to other schools she's been to there's less of a party scene at UVM. That could mean efforts over the years to change the school's reputation are working. But Rubin is not convinced the new wellness initiatives are helping.

"I think it's really great that they're giving alternatives to drinking but the way they're going about it, I don't think is very effective," Rubin said.

"Change is slow, as always, in shifting culture," Malling said.

Malling says there are many opportunities for students at UVM to live a life without drinking or drugs. Stevens agrees, and after the death of Gage, she says that work will not stop.

Activities at UVM's nine recognized fraternities are still suspended and there's no indication of when they will start up again.