E-mail calls for lying at blood drive

A sorority message demanded that members donate.
Sunday, April 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:46 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It’s supposed to be about saving lives, but MU’s Greek Week blood drive has become so competitive that one sorority member encouraged comrades to lie about potential health risks on pre-donation paperwork — just to bag some extra blood.

“I don’t care if you got a tattoo last week — LIE,” Gamma Phi Beta blood donation coordinator Christie Key said in a Tuesday e-mail to about 170 sorority sisters. “I don’t care if you have a cold. Suck it up. We all do. LIE. Recent peircings (sic)? LIE. Even if you’re going to use the ‘Do Not Use My Blood’ sticker, GIVE ANYWAY.”

Citing the risk of spreading Hepatitis B, the Red Cross prohibits those who’ve had tattoos or piercings in the past year from donating blood. And it encourages people who are sick to avoid giving.

One recipient of the e-mail who is not a member of Gamma Phi Beta forwarded the message to the Columbia Missourian.

Greek Week is a long-standing MU competition in which fraternities and sororities do community service, perform skits and give blood.

Teams of Greek organizations earn points in each event, and the winners get plaques. The 1999 Greek Week blood drive set a world record for a single-day single-site drive, collecting 3,156 units and earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Greek Week donors this year gave 3,330 pints of blood over two days. Blood drives were held on Wednesday and Thursday.

Sorority leaders say e-mail was not approved

Catie Lowe, who with Key served as a Gamma Phi Beta “blood head,” and Shari Gamache, the chapter’s Greek Week liaison, said Key’s e-mail was not approved by sorority leaders and probably shouldn’t have been sent. Either way, they said, the Red Cross has adequate measures in place to ensure the blood it collects is safe. Donors can also place stickers on forms telling workers not to use their blood.

“I don’t think a blood drive would by any means put unhealthy blood out there,” Lowe said.

Key said the sorority talked at length about using “do not use my blood” stickers if there might be concerns about their blood.

“We’ve talked about this in chapter for two months,” she said. “And we’ve said if you have tattoos, please just give anyway and tell them not to use your blood.”

Key used a sticker this year because she gave blood while she was feeling sick. “I’m still going to go and benefit my house,” she said. “And it sucks that I can’t benefit the community, but I’d rather put the ‘do not use my blood sticker’ than pose a health risk.”

Jim Williams, Red Cross spokesman for the Missouri-Illinois region, said that while the organization appreciates the substantial number of donations the drive provides each year, “we don’t encourage anything that could possibly jeopardize the blood supply.” He emphasized, however, that testing ensures no unsafe blood will be used.

The purpose of the e-mail, Key said, was to motivate members who might be afraid to give blood and tempted to feign sickness or pretend they’d recently received piercings or tattoos. Lowe and Gamache said that’s a common problem at Greek Week blood drives.

“I don’t want to say that it’s not wrong, but it’s hard to stress to people how important it is,” Lowe said. “And I guess with our house and any other house, the more likely you are to stress how important it is, the more likely people are to go.”

Key tried to emphasize in her e-mail the importance of giving blood, both to save lives and to benefit the sorority.

“We’re not messing around,” she wrote. “Punishment for not giving blood is going to be quite severe. Phi Delt and D-Chi had 100% of their houses signed up, no problem. Fraternities don’t stand for BS like that and we’re not going to either.”

Key, Gamache and Lowe each said no sorority member is actually punished for failing to give.

MU Administrators unsure of next step

After reading the e-mail Friday, MU administrators said they’re unsure whether they’ll take any action.

“I had no idea it was like this,” Greek Life director Janna Basler said, adding she will discuss the issue soon with the Red Cross and with Greek Week’s student directors.

Cathy Scroggs, MU vice chancellor for student affairs, said Greek Week student coordinators already advise against pressuring members to give blood if they are afraid or ineligible. What concerns her most about the e-mail, she said, is “that students would be told to lie. And it could create a public safety issue. I hate to think that our students would be involved in that.”

Student Life director Mark Lucas said the e-mail points out an unfortunate aspect of an otherwise proud tradition.

“Each year, our Greek students, numbering 5,000, put forth tremendous time and tremendous resources into Greek Week and Homecoming,” he said. “That advantages the University of Missouri greatly, but with that commitment comes some problems. And I think we’re seeing perhaps a commitment that may not be for the right reasons.”

Lauren Tischler, public relations director for Greek Week, said in a written statement that “necessary changes” to the blood drive are already in the works in light of “unethical practices that go against the values of our Greek community and the American Red Cross and advice provided by both organizations.”

Lowe, Gamache and Key said their sorority is by no means the only Greek group pressuring members to part with blood.

“It’s coming to the point where it is more about points than what the true meaning is, which is to save lives,” Gamache said. “That’s what the whole blood drive is about.”

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