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Newsletter > April 2000 > "DEBATE: ALCOHOL-FREE? OR NOT?"
DEBATE: ALCOHOL-FREE? OR NOT?
Robert E. Manley, Manley & Burke
“There is no more difficult problem in colleges today than how to reduce the risks of dangerous college-age drinking.”1
Eleven men’s fraternities have resolved to convert their houses into alcohol-free residences for their members. They are not prohibiting alcohol at fraternity functions that are held away from their houses, but they are stopping the service of alcohol in their houses. As Robert Miller, Executive Vice President of Phi Kappa Sigma puts it, “We are not prohibiting alcohol. We just do not want fraternity houses to serve the function of neighborhood saloons.” In most fraternities that are adopting an alcohol-free housing policy, the practice is to prohibit alcohol from being served or consumed in the fraternity house. This has long been the practice of Farmhouse Fraternity and of women’s fraternities.
Different groups are evolving in different ways. Many provide incentives to the chapters to move ahead of schedule. For example, Phi Delta Theta already has ninety-eight (98) chapters with houses which are alcohol-free. Phi Delta Theta has one hundred and forty (140) chapters with houses and thirty (30) chapters without houses. Experience in the alcohol-free houses has been that recruitment has risen, fellowship has risen, grades have risen, house conditions have improved and alumni support has increased. Concurrently, insurance rates have gone down. The decline in insurance rates is not exclusively the result of the discontinuance of alcohol. but the product of a wide variety of risk management efforts.
Theta Chi has been moving to encourage voluntary conversion of houses into alcohol-free residences. Of its 140 chapters. 9 are already alcohol-free. At the Theta Chi convention in the summer of 2000, the initiative to promote voluntary adoption of alcohol-free housing will be launched. According to David Westol, Executive Director of Theta Chi, “chapters are encouraged to have alcohol-free houses by incentives and persuasion:· The incentives include scholarship funds from the Theta Chi Foundation and reduced insurance costs. All Theta Chi houses must be alcohol-free by July 1, 2003.
In 1997, and again in 1998, the National Panhellenic Conference passed a resolution supporting fraternities in their efforts to convert their houses to alcohol-free facilities. The National Panhellenic Conference resolved to encourage their chapter members to support the alcohol-free movement among the men’s groups. The table which accompanies this article shows sixteen (16) men’s fraternities have required new chapters that have houses to keep their houses alcohol-free, and thirty-two (32) men’s fraternities impose alcohol-free housing as a sanction for misbehavior by a chapter.
The benefits of the alcohol-free housing initiative are even supported by law enforcement authorities. In the state of Virginia, there were five (5) deaths in 1997 involving college students and excessive alcohol consumption. The attorney general appointed a special task force on drinking by college students. The task force involved representatives of all the state universities. The report urged that the ·’college leadership rebuild their college cultures from one that tolerates illegal and binge drinking to one that promotes personal responsibility, scholarship and citizenship.” It also called for college administrators and law enforcement agencies to collaborate to enforce Virginia’s alcohol laws. The attorney general’s report also called for education on the health hazards of binge drinking and drug use. state alcohol and drug policies and penalties, and college and university alcohol and drug policies and penalties. The report included sixty-five specific recommendations. With regard to fraternities, it stated universities should, “Request that local fraternities comply with the National Inter-Fraternity Conference’s recommendation that ‘strongly encourages its fraternities to pursue alcohol-free chapter facilities, especially at campuses where the host institutions commit themselves to support such an initiative, or other programs designed to address the misuse of alcohol’.”
Robert Metcalfe, an Assistant Attorney General for Virginia, said the effort has met with some success. Cooperation between law enforcement and college administrators has been ”driving down the numbers.” Attorney General Mark Enely visits four or five large state university campuses during freshman orientation each year. He sometimes takes with him the parent of a student who died from alcohol. Metcalfe reports that anecdotal evidence is that there are fewer intoxicated students showing up in medical emergency rooms around universities in Virginia now than before the anti-binge drinking campaign started in 1997. There were five (5) alcohol-related college student deaths in 1997. There have been none, to Mr. Metcalfe’s knowledge, since the Attorney General’s Task Force Report was released.
Not everyone welcomes the alcohol-free housing initiative. Some college administrators are skeptical, however. The concern is that if college students do not drink in fraternity houses, they may drink in areas where they will be required to drive. Leroy C. Atkins, 11, Associate Dean of Students at Washington & Lee University wrote to a national fraternity president in 1998
“Unfortunately, decisions by several national fraternities with chapters on our campus to require alcohol-free houses in the near future create some problems for us.
“First, this decision made without our input denies this University a voice in deciding what is best for our students on our campus. It ignores the fact that well before the national fraternities took this problem seriously enough to do something so drastic the University had spent over $13 Million to renovate our fraternity houses with two major goals in mind. One was to provide a stately, elegant environment in which the true values of fraternity life could be rediscovered, nurtured and perpetuated, a setting where alcohol abuse and irresponsible behavior would be inappropriate and eventually scorned. The other goal was to include in each fraternity chapter house a part of the facility attractive enough to become the primary location for chapter social events. The success of these facilities allowed the University to more directly oversee the safety of our students in an environment where they could be encouraged, if they chose to use alcohol, to do so responsibly and legally.
“Second, the university does not view prohibition as a successful means of dealing with the alcohol problem ***
“Third, we believe that both the college and the fraternities are more effective when we mutually establish expectations which encourage our students to rise to the occasion and respond like adults to their own instincts, instincts consistent with the values and culture of the collegiate and fraternal institutions. We fear that moving social life where alcohol is involved totally out of the chapter houses will lead to the notion that irresponsible use and behavior become someone else’s agenda and responsibility.***”
Washington & Lee spent $13 Million Dollars to acquire and refurbish the fraternity houses. The basements of the houses were converted into party areas, many with exterior entrances that bypassed the rest of the house.
The University prohibits the use of chapter funds or funds collected among chapter members to purchase bulk alcohol. The University enforces a “Bring Your Own Bottle Policy” and emphasizes that if an individual student is above the age of 21 and chooses to give an underage student alcohol, he does so at his own risk. At Washington & Lee, like most campuses, at least eighty percent (80%) of the students are under the age of 21. There is a great emphasis on individual responsibility.
Recently, President John Elrod of Washington & Lee stated: “Washington & Lee is committed to addressing alcohol abuse at its campus and has developed a detailed program to do so. We have confidence in this three-pronged initiative. including education, counseling and discipline and believe in the long run, it will be more effective than the alcohol-free policies adopted by some national fraternities.”
The four fraternities on the Washington & Lee campus that have adopted the alcohol-free initiative are Phi Delta Theta, Phi Gamma Delta, Phi Kappa Sigma and Sigma Nu.
David Howison, Dean of Students at Washington & Lee for ten years, favors alcohol-free housing if it is done by incentives to encourage the chapter to embrace an alcohol-free policy rather than by a national convention mandate.
According to Dean Howison, Washington & Lee’s BYOB policy adopted three years ago has encouraged personal responsibility and the increase in reliance on personal responsibility has reduced alcohol abuse on the Washington & Lee campus.
“One of the things we have achieved is a greater awareness of a student’s duty to help his peers in trouble,” according to Dean Howison.
The program at Washington & Lee has tried to change the culture of Washington & Lee away from one that tolerates binge drinking to one that supports responsible behavior, Dean Howison says that Washington & Lee is working to balance its policies with the law and the reality that at least fifty percent (50%) of the freshmen who enter college have consumed alcohol before they reached the campus.
1 Robert D. Bickel and Peter F. Lake: The Rights and Responsibilities of the Modern University (I 999. p. 203)