Greek social bans target dangerous party culture

Administrators feel a pressure to respond

Greek organizations are increasingly receiving collective punishment for incidents on campus, as leaders representing universities, fraternities, and sororities attempt to rein in what they see as a dangerous party culture.

West Virginia University became the latest college to ban all Greek social activities on campus last week, following the death of a first-year student resulting from events at a fraternity house. In that case, the ban came from administrators, but so-called Greek Councils have implemented similar bans following campus incidents at Emory and Johns Hopkins University as well.

Clemson University administrators banned all Greek activities this year after a string of incidents, including the death of a sophomore who fell from a bridge. Elizabeth Armstrong, associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, argues the bans are part of a trend. “I think it’s really clear why schools are starting to get more aggressive here," she says, noting that pressure from the Department of Education to deal with the issues of sexual assault is also forcing colleges to respond.

Greek life is a focus of risk reduction

According to a 2007 study in the journal NASPA, fraternity members are three times more likely to commit rape than non-members. The study also found higher rates of unplanned sex and injuries while drinking among fraternity members.

Armstrong argues "a lot of sexual assaults that happen in and around campuses are associated with these kinds of party environments. So it makes sense that if a college wants to go after that environment, going after fraternities might be a fairly efficient way of getting at the problem.”

More from EAB Daily Briefing: Challenging the binge drinking culture by encouraging students to drink

But do the bans go too far?

Others worry that collective punishment of Greek organizations send the wrong message. Thomas Fox, the national executive director of the Psi Upsilon fraternity, acknowledges that bans are usually not punitive, but argues that "if it is meant to be punitive, then it’s not fair." Pete Smithhisler, president and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, went further, arguing the bans "undermine the spirit of collaboration and education that is supposed to occur on campus."

Even advocates of the bans acknowledge that they are not a silver bullet. Armstrong says the bans could just drive parties off campus and sour the relationship between administrators and students. Counter-intuitively, a 2006 study in the Journal of Primary Prevention found that asking a fraternity chapter renounce alcohol could actually lead to increased drinking (New, Inside Higher Ed, 11/11; USA Today, 11/14).

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