Sororities Don't See Their Alcohol Policies Changing As Colleges Try To Fix Greek Life

Sororities Don't See Their Alcohol Policies Changing As Colleges Try To Fix Greek Life

When Lindsey Bond was a new member of Delta Delta Delta at the University of Virginia, in 2012, her sorority was placed on probation for a year. One of the crimes the TriDelts committed: Sisters were caught trying to bring a keg into the house. No party was planned -- it was just for women to drink by themselves, at home -- but that's against the sorority's rules.

Currently, sororities tied to a national organization do not allow their members to consume alcohol in the chapter houses. Beyond preventing sororities from hosting parties, these rules mean members cannot even have a glass of wine while watching Netflix in their bedroom. Some chapters go so far as to forbid sorority sisters from having empty containers in the house.

"My issue has always been, fraternities allow men be men, but I think sororities only let women be girls," said Bond, currently a senior at UVA. But to the best of her knowledge, Bond added, there's never been a push to get the Inter-Sorority Council at UVA to petition the national organization for a change in the alcohol policy.

While plenty of active members think the policy is silly, few have started any movement to change it. Even those critical of the no-alcohol rule are pessimistic an overhaul would change much on campus, even as intense debates rage about reforms for Greek life at schools around the country.

The University of Virginia, where a quarter of students are affiliated with a fraternity or sorority, is continuing its own review for improving student safety and evaluating the role of Greek life. Plenty of other schools are going through the same examination of their Greek scene, such as Dartmouth College, West Virginia University and the University of Southern California.

Much of the debate over the past year as schools try to tame rowdy fraternities blamed for the ills of campus life has centered on whether those all-male houses should be banned or forced to go co-ed, but little public discussion has addressed whether one fix would be to move some alcoholic parties over to sorority houses.

Student leaders at UVA told HuffPost their peers have suggested allowing sororities to host parties as a way to improve safety in the campus social scene. However, UVA Inter-Sorority Council President Julia Pedrick noted, the suggestions often come "from members or other students who aren't aware of national organization policies."

"All of the national sororities maintain and enforce policies that prohibit the presence of alcohol in the chapter house," Pedrick said. "On the other hand, most of the fraternities on Grounds have national policies that permit the presence of alcohol in the chapter house. The University does not own any of the fraternity or sorority facilities and therefore defers to the national organization’s policy."

Pedrick declined to say if she believed the national offices should revisit the issue with chapters or regional leaders.

When members of the UVA Board of Visitors last year mentioned the possibility of cracking down on underage drinking at frats or banning parties from taking place in their basements at all, student leaders remained adamantly opposed, saying it would only push things underground. At both UVA and Dartmouth, fraternity and sorority leaders have argued the key to improving student safety is not through bans, but regulation of parties hosted by members of Greek life.

Dartmouth College on Jan. 29 will unveil a plan, influenced by recommendations from an ad hoc committee, that aims to improve the social scene and student safety at the Ivy League school. While the committee's work has largely been kept behind closed doors, it's almost certain the proposals will be geared toward Greek life, considering that two-thirds of Dartmouth undergrads are part of the system, making fraternities the main social scene.

The school's Greek Letter Organizations have taken a similar approach, submitting their own proposed rules to improve safety at parties, like only serving beer, cider or wine; repealing restrictions on kegs; and utilizing sober monitors and bouncers. But absent from the GLO ideas: pressuring national sororities to change their alcohol policy.

A majority of Americans don't think sororities should change their policies to allow booze in their houses, a HuffPost/YouGov poll found in October. Julie Johnson, Panhellenics Committee Chairwoman at the National Panhellenic Conference, a century-old umbrella group for 26 national sororities and women's fraternities, told HuffPost at the time, "I hate to say it, but I don't see that changing ever."

Critics of Greek life say this social scene sets up an inequity, where male-dominated spaces are consistently the scene of parties, and is possibly dangerous considering fraternity members are three times as likely as non-members to commit sexual assault, according to a 2007 study by John Foubert at Oklahoma State University.

Some sorority sisters, like 2013 Elon University graduate and former Zeta Tau Alpha member Helen Phelan, think the dry house policy "doesn't make any sense in 2015" -- but they aren't in a rush to change it, either.

"When I first learned the rule I remember my instinct was to feel utterly appalled and outraged that the boys were allowed to do something that I couldn't, because at 18 I still hadn't consciously experienced a whole lot of sexism," Phelan said. "That registered with me as anything blatant enough to be recognizable. However, when I moved into the ZTA house, I remember feeling thankful for the policy because the boys' houses were trashed from their parties and ours was messy enough from 12 women and the sheer volume of our stuff, it really did make life a lot easier that we didn't have to deal with it."

Logic and logistics explain how fraternities and sororities become so intertwined socially: On college campuses, all-male fraternities frequently team up with the female sororities for philanthropy, social gatherings and formal events, a tenet of Greek life going back decades. Informal traditions, like those of fraternity members serenading sorority women with an off-key rendition of a love song, are common as well. Both have similar schedules and responsibilities that come with being dues-paying members of a house. In turn, any time a frat decides to commit to a night of drinking in their basement, their sorority friends are often the first female guests to be invited. These two groups share the common experience of going through rush and initiation as well.

At the University of Alabama, for example, fraternities will allow any sorority member into their parties, regardless of whether they were invited, according to women in Greek life on the campus. But men at UA need a personal invitation from a brother to attend the frat parties.

Still, some women who've been in sororities don't see moving the parties to their houses as a silver bullet.

"I don't think that it would necessarily create a safer place for women," said Lindsey Smith, a graduate student at Alabama who was in Alpha Gamma Delta as an undergrad at the school. "The culture of sexual assault or sexual violence against women is so pervasive. Often times, my students come to me who have been sexually assaulted -- not at a fraternity house; it's a guy they met at a bar."

While Smith believes it would be a positive step to allow sorority members to drink in their own house, she and others don't foresee anyone going out of their way to try and make that happen.

"I've never really heard anyone say, 'Boy, I wish we could have a party,'" said Emily, an Alabama sorority member who asked that her last name and the chapter's name be withheld because she was not authorized by the Greek organization to speak to the press. Sororities have strict rules about who can talk to the media, which members say is part of the reason policies are not openly criticized. At the same time, Emily doesn't think sorority members are in any rush to have anything that resembles the dingy frat basements at their houses.

"I think that's probably part of it," Emily conceded. "[Frat basements] are pretty disgusting. I don't know how many girls would be willing to put up with the aftermath [of a party]."

Sororities first started appearing late in the 19th century during the early days of coeducation. The first were initially formed as a way for women to rally together and help the first women on campus succeed in what was traditionally a man's world. To ensure that, policies enacted by the sororities over the following decades instructed them not to allow men over or have alcohol at the house.

Sororities still have a lot of odd rules in play, from extreme dress codes to regulations that forbid standing while smoking a cigarette, a policy Smith had to abide by at Alabama. They also still are forbidden from having men in their houses, even if only for casual socializing.

"The ways we approach what sorority houses can and cannot do are hold-overs of that time," said Matthew Hughley, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut who has studied historically-white Greek organization. The women of sororities, he explained, were looked on as "fragile" people who "should only engage in high-brow activities."

The result of such policies, Hughley added, is that if only fraternity houses can be gatekeepers of parties, only fraternities are able to gain cultural and social respect.

"It's creating a form of structural inequality where the money and cultural and social influence are restricted from the women," Hughley said.

Ryan Calsbeek, a biology professor who chairs the standing committee on student life at Dartmouth, and who is openly critical of the single-sex Greek system as a whole, concurs any young attendee would feel "beholden" to the upperclassmen fraternity brother who serves them alcohol and provides a party space. But Calsbeek doesn't see moving parties from frat basements to sorority houses as a viable fix.

At Dartmouth, there is a local sorority with no national affiliate, Sigma Delta, but it can't rival the frats for parties. When Kathleen Meyer, a 2011 Dartmouth graduate, was social chair of Sigma Delta, she had $30,000 per school year to spend on alcohol and parties. That may sound like a lot, but most fraternities maintained a social budget three to four times larger.

"The solution to this problem is -- if a politician wanted to take this on -- would be to lower the drinking age to 18 to get a burgeoning bar scene going," Calsbeek said. But it's unlikely to happen, he concedes, so his focus is on the social scene that does exist.

"[The students] have to be able to go out and rage, but do it somewhere besides a frat basement," Calsbeek said. "There's a way you can party and blow off steam and drink alcohol without totally endangering yourself."

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