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Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Nu Will Be Alcohol-Free by 2000

By Carina Fung

Two national fraternities, Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Nu, have decided to ban alcohol in chapter houses. The fraternities are planning to sign a joint agreement this month to make their chapters alcohol-free by 2000.

Officials from the two fraternities, which both have local chapters at MIT, said that too often, the fraternity experience is defined by alcohol. They also stated that local chapters not following the mandate will be in danger of losing their charters.

The general counsel for PDT, Robert Manley, said that when universities allowed alcohol in dormitories in the 1960s, "alcohol rose to a new level of prominence in the fraternities, in part to compete with the dormitories." He added that alcohol has become, in many fraternity chapters, "too much of a good thing."

The alcohol-free policy was introduced to the MITfraternity community by Assistant Dean for Residence and Campus Activities Neal H. Dorow, who also serves as adviser to fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups. Dorow presented the issue at a meeting last night with the Interfraternity Executive Council. The policy was also discussed at last night's regular President's Council meeting.

Effects on rush and social life

Manley said that fraternities which go alcohol-free may no longer attract members "who consider alcohol to be the most important aspect of college life," but these fraternities will now attract more members "who think academics are more important."

MIT currently has a dry rush policy, and therefore this new policy should have no large effect on rush, said Interfraternity Council President and Phi Kappa Sigma member Iddo Gilon '98. The only change is that previously, only the IFC would issue a fine if dry rush rules were broken. Now the national headquarters of PDT and SNwould step in if an incident were to arise, he said.

In terms of rush, the new policy may be a letdown even for casual drinkers, yet it will probably attract several people who would not otherwise consider living in fraternities because of the negative stereotypes attached to them, said President of SN Frederico Ardila '98. The policy "wouldn't be good or bad for us during rush; it would just be different."

"I believe that this decision will have its greatest effect on the social aspect of fraternity life," Gilon said. He suggests that non-fraternity members think about what would happen if dormitories adopted alcohol-free policies. Dorow issued a similar query.

Ardila does not think that national fraternities should force their chapter homes to be completely alcohol-free, he said. "I do think it is appropriate for the nationals to require each chapter to have a specific plan on how to use alcohol responsibly," he said.

Sigma Nu prepares to comply

"Sigma Nu national fraternity takes pride in being a leader when it comes to risk reduction," Ardila said. SN has been considering alcohol-free chapter housing on a broad scale since 1994, he said.

Alcohol is not really very important in the MIT chapter of SN, Ardila said. More than half of house members drink very little or not at all, and there is no heavy drinking in the house, he said. SN has taken several steps towards guaranteeing responsible use of alcohol.

"Our house has several dry areas, and most of our social events are dry," Ardila said. Parties with alcohol at SN are closed and no heavy drinking takes place, he said.

There were mixed reactions to this policy change from SN members at MIT. Several members felt that this decision may be the best action at this point, while most feel that being a chapter that uses alcohol responsibly, the national fraternity should not make the decision for them, Ardila said.

Manley also expected other fraternities to follow their lead. Gilon said that he has a nagging feeling that if the alcohol-free program is successfully implemented by PDT and SN, other fraternities will adopt similar programs.

Ardila said that SN has more than 30 chapters currently pursuing the alcohol-free initiative, and all seem very happy with the results. "If this turns out to be successful, other national fraternities might also follow their lead."

According to The Boston Globe, Phi Delta Theta is based in Oxford, Ohio and has 180 chapters with 7,500 members. Sigma Nu has 210 chapters with 9,000 members and is based in Richmond, Va.

PDT President Michael P. Golding '97 could not be reached for comment.

GPAs rise after alcohol banned

The national fraternities determined that after some chapters went alcohol-free, members' grade point averages increased. Dorow believes that an alcohol-free policy will definitely affect fraternity members' GPAs, since studies have shown that students with higher GPAs also consume less alcohol, he said.

At MIT, the average GPA of fraternity members, 4.1, is about the same as that of dormitory residents, Gilon said.

"I believe the only fraternity houses whose GPAs would change are those which do not currently use alcohol responsibly," Ardila said.

Despite GPAissues, "this decision was definitely economically-driven and mainly due to liability issues" and costs which national fraternities must contend with when alcohol-related incidents occur at local chapters, Gilon said.

"In order for PDT and SN to stay in business and to maintain themselves as national fraternities, they had to adopt such a policy," Dorow said.

Ardila thinks that the problem of alcohol on college campuses is getting out of hand nationwide. "We get news of alcohol-related accidents very often, particularly taking place in fraternities all across the nation. This not only affects the particular fraternities involved, it affects the whole fraternity system," he said.

Study cites fraternity claims

A recent study by Harris and Harris of Kentucky, Inc., an insurance brokerage house, confirms that alcohol remains a major contributor to insurance claims against fraternities.

Harris and Harris studied more than 700 claims filed against fraternities between 1987 and 1995 and found that the majority of claims fell into several categories, in which alcohol was found to be a contributing factor to a large majority of these claims.

According to the study, 95 percent of the falls from roof cases, 94 percent of fights, 93 percent of sexual abuse incidents, and 87 percent of automobile accidents reportedly involved alcohol. Other categories of claims involving alcohol include hazing and slips and falls. Harris and Harris also found that underage drinking was involved in 61 percent of claims filed against fraternities. Of the alcohol-related claims in the study completed by Harris and Harris, 88 percent led to a fatality, while 81 percent resulted in paralysis.

Harris and Harris reported that the "numbers clearly indicate that fraternities and alcohol mixed to form a volatile exposure. Alcohol seems to be the primary catalyst for fraternity claims." Harris and Harris also commended national fraternities which were piloting substance-free chapters. "We encourage these groups to continue their efforts as we believe it will be a positive leadership force on campus.

Another study completed by the Harvard School of Public Health reports that living in a fraternity house is by far the strongest indicator of binge-drinking in college. The study found that 86 percent of fraternity residents are binge-drinkers, compared to 45 percent of men not affiliated with fraternities. Binge-drinking is defined by having five or more drinks in one sitting at least once in the two-week period before the survey was done.