Campus attempts to curb alcohol use among Greeks

By Mary Alice Casey

Some believe the organized nature and traditions of fraternities, and to a lesser degree sororities, have institutionalized alcohol abuse. Others point to efforts by the groups t o take the emphasis off drinking, claiming that Greeks by no means own the alcohol problem.

"Alcohol is a very serious problem for both Greeks and non-Greeks," says Ohio University Director of Judiciaries Richard Carpinelli, noting that drinking is a factor in 79 percent of the cases his office handled in 1996-97 despite the fact that Ohio's legal drinking age is 21. "This problem is something more than just a legal liability. There are lives at stake."

The alcohol-related deaths of two fr aternity members at Louisiana State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the start of this school year have refocused attention on the role drinking plays in Greek life. Alcohol-related problems also have touched Ohio University's Greek organizations.

Over the past four years, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity was suspended by the university for 45 months, until fall 2000, and the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and Phi Kappa Tau fraternity were placed on disciplinary probation f or a year after alcohol-related incidents. The Sigma Chi fraternity was given one-year suspensions on two occasions for incidents involving alcohol.

A 1997 survey at Ohio University found little difference in students' views about the role alcohol plays in Greek and non-Greek social activities, yet 96 percent of students said drinking was central to the social life of both male students in general and fraternity members in particular.

Vice President for Student Affairs Joel Rudy says a narr ow focus on drinking among fraternity and sorority members misses the big picture. Rudy points to decisions by several fraternities' international boards to ban alcohol in chapter houses as a positive sign. Under international board policies, no alcohol is permitted in sorority houses.

"Greeks often are cited as the major abusers of alcohol," Rudy says. "I think this is unfair and does not allow for a more complete picture, which should include other off-campus housing facilities."

One eff ort to curb the abuse of alcohol among Greeks on the Athens campus is getting mixed reviews. In September 1996, the Alcohol Responsibility Committee was formed under a program that allows guests 21 and older to bring their own beer -- no more than a six-pack -- to fraternity house parties. No kegs are allowed.

The hosts, usually both a fraternity and sorority, are required to register the party at least five days in advance and provide a guest list 24 hours before the event. Each Friday and Satur day, peer monitors from the committee visit all fraternity houses.

For violations viewed as minor, sanctions might include hosting talks on alcohol abuse or writing letters informing other fraternities of the violation. More severe penalties, including fines and expulsion, are possible for such infractions as allowing underage consumption or not checking IDs.

Rudy says the policy, like similar ones on other campuses, has fallen short of the university's hopes. He predicts that it will not survive an upcoming campus review.

Despite problems with past efforts, Carole Cox, assistant director of student activities for Greek life, is encouraged by what she sees as changing attitudes among fraternity and sorority members. Chapters are being pushed by international boards to reduce the legal liabilities alcohol abuse poses.

"They're finally starting to understand that it could happen to them," she says.

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