Could sorority parties help fight campus sexual assault?

Proposals hampered by insurance, infrastructure, and tradition

In a bid to fight back against sexual assault, some college women are proposing a taboo solution—bring alcohol into sorority houses, the New York Times reports.

The 26 member sororities of the National Panhellenic Council (NPC) all ban alcohol in sorority housing voluntarily, for reasons of both safety and decorum. However, as fraternities come under national scrutiny for their role in enabling sexual assault, some are saying sororities should take a larger role in the campus social scene.

A 'home-court advantage'

Dania Roach, a senior at George Washington University (GWU), thinks bringing college parties—alcohol included—to sororities could be a good thing. "I would definitely feel safer at a sorority party. It’s the home-court advantage," she says.

Some research suggests fraternity parties carry elevated risk for college women. A 2007 study funded by the Department of Justice found that women who often attend fraternity parties were more likely to be sexually assaulted while in school. Other studies have shown men in fraternities are more likely to commit sexual assault than non-members. More broadly, binge drinking, a staple of fraternities at many schools, is highly correlated with instances of sexual assault. 

UVA suspends Greek activities in wake of Rolling Stone article

Fraternities are beginning to modify their behavior in response to emerging criticism over their role in sexual assault. Following a highly reported allegation of rape at the University of Virginia, Greek organizations helped draft a series of measures designed to ensure student safety at parties.  

Even so, some students say moving college nightlife out of the fraternity house could be a good thing. "I've been to parties run by girls, and they’re much more protective—they keep an eye on each other," says Amber McLeod, a GWU junior. "At frat parties, it's more of a hunting ground. Not all guys are like this, of course, but sometimes it feels like the lions standing in the background and looking at the deer. And then they go in for the kill."

Challenges

The institutional resistance to alcohol in sorority houses is partly an issue of money. The cost of insuring houses that allow alcohol is significantly higher, says Cindy Stellhorn, a broker at MJ Insurance. She explains most sorority members pay between $25 and $50 a year for insurance, compared with about $160 for fraternity members.

Kyle Pendleton, the director of harm reduction and education for Zeta Tau Alpha, says sorority houses are also typically less-well equipped to host parties. Not only do the houses tend to be smaller, but they have more sophisticated decorations that can be damaged by a crowd.

Others caution that finding new venues for drinking is a misguided strategy. "When people are under the influence, they're going to do what they want to do. It can happen anywhere, even in a sorority," cautions Kathryn Miller, a member of Delta Gamma at the University of Southern Mississippi (Schwarz, New York Times, 1/19).

The takeaway: Bringing college parties into sorority houses could make students safer, but the idea faces obstacles of insurance and tradition.


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