The New Fraternity Culture

.. year-old Chuck Stenzel was an athlete and honors student at Alfred University in New York when he pledged Klan Alpine fraternity in 1978. One evening, the older fraternity brothers came to the dorms and shoved Chuck and two other pledges into the trunk of a car, with a pint of Jack Daniels, a 6-pack of beer and a quart of wine. They were told to consume all the booze by the time the car stopped. Later, the pledges were coerced to drink even more at the fraternity house until they passed out. Chuck was carried upstairs and left on a mattress, where he stopped breathing soon afterward. The circumstances were compounded by the fact that it was a planned, premeditated act that could have been prevented, said his devastated mother, Eileen Stevens (Nuwer 109).

Far too many parents have been awakened in the night to receive the devastating news of the loss of their child to hazing. For example, MIT, one of the finest science schools in the world, recently agreed to pay almost $6 million to the family of a student who died of acute alcohol poisoning, while pledging a fraternity in the Fall of 1997. Freshman Scott Krueger was found unconscious and lying in a pool of vomit at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, and died in a hospital three days later. Doctors said his blood-alcohol level was as high as .41 five times the legal limit in Massachusetts. Almost one year after Krueger drank himself to death, Massachusetts prosecutors charged the fraternity he was pledging with manslaughter and hazing (Henry 1). The death of a twenty-year-old Louisiana State University fraternity pledge also recently drew the nations attention to the growing problem of binge drinking.

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Benjamin Wynne was another victim of acute alcohol poisoning, caused by consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time (College Drinking 1). That kid drank the equivalent of 24 shots in the space of an hour, said National Director of Phi Kappa Sigma, Robert Miller. If he had done that alone in his dorm room, we could have called it suicide. But what do you call it when hes out with his frat brothers who are all watching him? asks Miller (Fink 1). There are many second-hand consequences of the alcohol abuse that occurs in fraternity houses. Such consequences include: having to babysit an intoxicated student, having sleep or study interrupted, being insulted or humiliated, experiencing unwanted sexual advances, being pushed, hit, or assaulted, and being the victim of sexual assault or date rape (Last Call 5). According to one study ninety percent of all reported campus rapes occurred when alcohol was used by the assailant or the victim. While date rape drugs have gained widespread publicity, experts say that alcohol is still the most common substance used in such crimes (OBrian 2). According to Mary Rouse, Dean of students at the University of Wisconsin, the trouble never starts until drinking begins (Elson 2).

In an attempt to reduce underage alcohol consumption, several national fraternities have adopted an alcohol-free policy which prohibits alcohol at all chapter houses. Phi Delta Theta Spokesperson Rob Pasquincucci says that the fraternitys alcohol-free policy, passed in March 1997, is essentially a return to our roots. The resolution isnt anything new, but focuses on what we were founded on friendship, camaraderie, higher learning and support networks, says Pasquinucci (Fink 1). Fraternities across America will bid farewell to their Animal House image by 2005 if the National Interfraternity Conferences plans are carried out. A resolution to address alcohol abuse was announced at the organizations annual meeting in December 1998 (Maloney 1).

Miami University President Jim Garland believes the move toward alcohol-free fraternities is a major step in the right direction (Sant 1). Despite Garlands confidence in this move, another possible consequence of dry fraternities could be a surge in off-campus drinking. Banning alcohol in fraternities gives students the excuse to seek even less supervised and less accountable venues: bars, apartments, and private houses become host to the same bad decisions and irresponsible behavior, with no organization whatever to hold responsible for it. David Hanson, a sociologist at the State University of Potsdam New York, cautioned in a 1995 New York Times report, Moving the Greeks off campus could be the worst solution of all. As long as the drinking is on campus, the school has some control over it.

It would lose that control if students had to go to bars and other places which are not so desirable (Maloney 2). In contrast with the many fraternities that serve as social clubs, several national fraternities have devised programs aimed at restoring the core values of brotherhood, scholarship and leadership. Of the 261 chapters of Sigma Phi Epsilon, 149 have signed on to the Balanced Man Project. The program tracks each members personal development toward becoming a balanced man throughout his college career, rather than focusing on the initial few weeks in a pledge-based fraternity. At the University of Georgia, each member is required to develop three goals and tape them to his bathroom mirror, to join at least two other campus organizations, to attend plays and a city-council meeting, and to perform a minimum of 50 hours of community service and explain to the group what he learned from it (A59).

Pi Kappa Phi has begun a project called Push America, which aims to control public awareness on behalf of people with disabilities. Another positive, innovative program fraternities are actively involved with is Gear Up Florida. Gear Up Florida involves cycling 65 miles a day, from the shores of Miami Beach to the Florida capital steps in Tallahassee, to draw public attention and spread understanding to the things that people with disabilities can do (Payne A62). Through these types of programs, many fraternities hope to get back to what they once were a group of men brought together by positive values and ideals. Alcohol abuse has become far too large a part of the college social scene and fraternities are the worst offender. The values and ideals that once served as the basis of fraternities have been replaced in some chapter houses by excessive drinking and brutal hazing practices. This kind of binge drinking has adverse consequences, which affect a students academic ability, safety and health. It is also a problem that extends to the rest of the campus community, as a result of the large number of second-hand effects.

However, while negative and dangerous behavior does occur in fraternity houses, this does not reflect all chapter houses. There are many fraternities nationwide who have demonstrated positive behavior and are involved in several community service activities, working diligently to uphold a positive image for future fraternities. Is it a new fraternity culture, or is society simply less tolerant?.