Have We Created Riskier Situations?

A lot of the work in Fraternity and Sorority Life focuses on risk management.  Research has shown time and again that this population of students has higher tendencies to engage in high risk drinking, sexual activity, and drug use when compared to non-F/S members.  I have been experiencing this at my current campus and reflecting on my own undergraduate fraternity experience, I see the same issues.  Recently, I have been working through some problems with “pre-gaming” and specifically in relation to dances that the fraternities host on-campus.  The issue is not so much with the men hosting the event, but the guests and underage attendees who take shots outside of the venue and then enter seemingly fine.  Not long after entering, these individuals are stumbling around or found in the bathroom throwing up.  It is creating problems for the hosts, event staff, custodial staff, and police services.

I have thought more about this issue and honestly feel that a lot of the problem is policy.  In an effort to create more stringent rules to avoid lawsuits and try to sidestep the litigious nature of our current society, I feel that we have unintentionally created a “pre-gaming” culture.  The issue is not a student who has a beer or two.  It is the one who bongs three and then shotguns another two chased by four shots in order to get into “The Zone,” for the evening.  I am not quite sure what “The Zone” is.  I am assuming it is similar to getting a “buzz” but I could be mistaken.  Campuses and national organizations have cracked down on drinking to the point that students are so concerned with getting caught with booze that they secretly pound alcohol in unsafe ways to compensate.  This is not the goal of the initial policy.

I look back to my own time as an undergraduate member of my organization.  Did we violate our risk management policy?  Hell yes we did.  But at the same time, we were extremely aware of what we were doing and still worked hard to create safe events.  In my time in the chapter, none of our members were ever sent to the emergency room for drinking too much.  None of our guests experienced the same fate.  We were able to have a good time and everyone stayed safe.  Our chapter had Sober Party Monitors for each event.  They had the authority to tell anyone to stop drinking and take drinks away if anyone seemed too drunk.  They also helped take people home from the event as our chapter had a house that was not on-campus.  We had bartenders, that were chapter members, for each of our events that were actual bartenders.  We all bartended in the city of Baltimore at different restaurants.  We were all trained in how to look for signs that someone was drinking too much or reaching their proverbial “tipping point.”  No one else was allowed in the bar area but us and we usually did not drink if we were tending bar.  All of our events were closed and had guest lists.  We wristbanded for a period of time and also had emergency contact numbers for all members of the chapter on hand in the house.  There was still underage drinking occurring.  We had large quantities of alcohol.  We did not use a third-party vendor.  At the same time, we never had an incident that warranted medical attention, police services, or threatened our chapter status.  We never had issues with “pre-gaming.”

All of this occurred while our chapter advisor was MIA.  He was not a bad advisor but he moved to Boston for a better job opportunity.  His absence allowed our chapter to talk about our alcohol related events where we were not worried about being reported to our national organization.  With this freedom, we adopted a policy that watered down our risk management policy without putting chapter members or guests in harms way.  After our advisor’s two-year term elapsed, the chapter elected a new advisor that was from a different chapter, had connections to our headquarters, and was readily available for our meetings.  All communication about risk management and our previous process ended immediately.  The chapter was so scared to talk about alcohol-related events that a lot of what we put in place over the two years quickly deteriorated.  Then one night the chapter had a large scale event and let in someone not on a guest list who was heavily intoxicated and was doing drugs earlier.  The young man was underage, continued to drink, and blacked out.  The members of the chapter were not sure what to do and the guy’s friends were giving the kid more alcohol in the form of vodka instead of water, thinking that it was funny.  Eventually a couple members had the sense to take the guy to the police station on campus.  Luckily, they made the decision they did because he was precariously close to dying from alcohol poisoning.  The young man was able to get the medical attention he needed.  However, again, the chapter was so scared about getting in trouble for violation of the risk management policy that they lied about the student to the police.  The threat of lawsuits ensued against the chapters and the residents of the house.  Nothing came to fruition, but the chapter came dangerously close to being shut down.

I guess what I am trying to say is that instead of berating our chapters about what they should not be doing, we should be engaging them in conversations about what they are doing.  We are naive to think that underage drinking will not occur.  Regardless of whether the organizations are Greek or not, students will find a way to drink.  I am not condoning underage drinking, however, I feel there is a realistic perspective to the situation that is often overlooked.  Chapters are in such fear of violating policies that they are scared to talk about what they are doing to prevent risky behaviors.  The chapters need to feel comfortable talking about the preventions they are putting in place and not trying to hide these ideas.  In trying to hide what they are doing, chapters are exposing themselves to more risks because they are not talking about their practices and getting feedback on how to make these events safer for the members and guests.

Maybe I am completely off-base in my assessment, but I feel there needs to be less this is “what you need/have to do” and more “what are you currently doing and how can we improve?”  Thoughts?

Until next time…



About Justin Sipes

Learner Input Strategic Achiever Analytical
This entry was posted in F/S Life, Student Development. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Have We Created Riskier Situations?

  1. C.J. Mathis says:

    I completely agree, but I don’t think the “policy makers” will change their stance. Mostly everyone that I’ve interacted with that has the ability to influence policy make their decisions based mostly from a legal perspective. If it can “save” the organization or the university then that’s what will be put into place. We are more concerned about not being liable for what happens than we are the actual well-being of our students. If anyone disagrees, look at your policies and look at what actually takes place on your campus…(don’t worry, I’ll wait…).

    I also do not condone underage drinking, but as someone who was born with a brain, I understand that it happens (A LOT!) and will likely not stop anytime soon. The reality of the matter is that usually when a large group of college-aged people come together in a purely social atmosphere, there is usually drinking involved, Greek-related or not. I’m sure there are those that can debate this, but my opinion is informed by experience and personal observations.

    I believe we have to start at the root of the problem, the legal drinking age. We only create our policies as a result of federal law. If it was legal to drink at 18, in my opinion, we could ensure much more responsible drinking. So as professionals and campuses, we should look further into the Amethyst Initiative and see how this can benefits our students. It seems that once people reach legal drinking age, they tend to forget who they were before that point. I think all student affairs professionals and legislators should reflect on their college experience and allow the opportunity to create safe environments to inform policy decisions rather than the chance that someone will be sued. Sorry for all my legal friends…

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