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"Temperance Movement" Growing in Fraternity Houses, Says LA Times


May-June 1997

As part of a commitment to quell hazing, vandalism, date rape and binge drinking, a temperance movement in fraternity houses is reportedly growing (Kenneth R. Weiss, "Around the Country, 'Animal Houses' Try to Sober Up," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), April 10, 1997, p. A4).

Two national fraternities have taken the lead. "We are in the process of committing ourselves to being totally alcohol-free by the year 2000," said Mo Littlefield, national director of Sigma Nu. So far, 26 of Sigma Nu's 210 chapters have adopted temperance policies. Recently, Phi Delta Theta adopted a resolution requiring a no-alcohol environment for its 180 chapters by July 2000. In addition, at some college campuses -- such as Washington State, and the Universities of Colorado, Montana and Oklahoma -- all fraternities have agreed to an alcohol ban at house parties.

"It's really a battle to change the drinking culture. ... It's frightening how pervasive it is," said Jonathan Brant, executive vice president of the National Interfraternity Conference (NIC), which represents 63 national groups and formed a Substance-Free Housing Task Force in 1996. Currently, there are 5,700 fraternity chapters at colleges in North America.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 85% of men living in fraternities engage in binge drinking, while the figure is 45% for men unaffiliated with fraternities, according to statistics compiled by NIC. In addition, of 110 gang rapes reported in a seven-year period at college campuses, 80% occurred at fraternity functions.

A ban on alcohol from the premises is supported by some fraternity leaders and alumni who have been faced with high costs of house repairs, insurance and lawsuits. In a review of 1,200 insurance claims against fraternities from 1987 to 1995, one brokerage found that "alcohol was involved in 90% of all claims, whether they be falls from roofs, sexual abuse or automobile accidents." Claims filed against fraternity chapters invariably name their national organizations. Currently, fraternity organizations spend a third of their budgets on insurance and legal costs. "Fraternities are put in a position that the thoughtless action of one member could cause all of the resources to be drained," said Brant.

Alcohol bans have lead to an increase in underground parties by fraternity members who complain of the awkwardness of having alumni or fraternity brothers from another campus visit their house and not be able to drink. Others complain that the alcohol ban spoils their parties with sororities, which traditionally have been alcohol-free and rely on the fraternities for mixers. Some alcohol-free fraternities have simply moved their parties to private establishments or bars. "I've had people say to me, 'You guys are really smart for throwing a party at a club and keeping your house clean,'" said Joe Devaty, social chairman at Sigma Nu at Berkeley. Some fraternities, such as those at the University of Colorado (CU), have retreated from their alcohol bans and instituted rules to allow alcohol on the remises, but under more controlled conditions. However, CU has reinstituted its ban following riots near that campus in early May.

Jonathan Brandt, National Interfraternity Conference, 3901 W. 86th St., Suite 390, Indianapolis, IN 46268, Tel: (317) 872-1112.