Restrictions on Greek affiliated students at the University of Alabama were put into place almost as soon as the school reopened. An August 21st article by AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande reported that, just three days into the semester, Greek houses were put on notice.
Throughout the country, extraordinary measures regarding Greek life have been taken. Cassidy Johncox wrote that in East Lansing residents of 39 large houses were ordered to self-quarantine after a Covid outbreak. 25 of them were fraternity and sorority houses.
As reported by CNN‘s Taylor Romine and Allen Kim, Michigan State was just one of many universities across the nation that have reported outbreaks, many of which involved Greeks on campus.
CNN‘s Leah Asmelash wrote about the risks that colleges took in reopening:
Some campuses have given guidance on creating social pods. Others have created large social outdoor spaces, as an alternative to indoor gatherings, thus drawing ‘students away from higher risk settings…’
This kind of risk-aversion already happens on college campuses — just look at underage drinking. Colleges know that students will inevitably drink before they’re legally allowed to do so, and in response have provided safer alternatives for social events that don’t involve alcohol…
Across the country, entire sorority and fraternity houses have been put on lockdown following outbreaks of the virus, as partying and social gathering are baked into the very essence of that culture.
Which begs the question: Were colleges ever going to crack down on Greek Life? No one has stopped issues — including sexual violence, hazing and racism — that have plagued those groups for years.
A huge part of it is money, as many big donors are insistent Greek Life continue. Attempts at cracking down on them are often met with backlash from wealthy alumni, putting universities in a bind.
FAU‘s Sophie Siegel in 2019 described some of the dynamics involved with partying by Greeks. She wrote that the objective of one party was to “get as many females as possible in the house with as little males [as possible].”
Sororities, according to Siegel, can throw parties but partying is is largely the province of fraternities. She wrote that theoretically “the National Panhellenic Conference, which governs the country’s 26 major sororities, maintains that sisters can’t swig booze in sorority houses.”
In the comedic movie Neighbors 2, as The Washington Post‘s Danielle Paquette wrote, a sorority leader proclaimed, “In the United States, sororities are not allowed to throw parties in their own houses. Only frats can. We’re going to start a sorority where we can party the way that we want to.”
Many sororities have special relationships with fraternities who invite their members to parties. It is purported that there is pressure on sorority members not to report any activity that might injure the relationship with the fraternity that they party with. The existence of a campus “date rape culture” has been widely disputed, but there are many anecdotal details.
Melissa Frick in 2019 wrote about a co-ed who, after being raped by fraternity members, was told, “Those guys don’t deserve to get in trouble.”
According to university records, retaliation and harassment are themes in the complaints against PSP [Phi Sigma Phi]. Women often feel pressure from friends, members of Greek Life, members of their own sororities and PSP members to drop complaints. Many women stated they were discouraged from speaking out against the fraternity.
Amanda L. Hinkel‘s 2013 thesis “Sexual Victimization Among Sorority Women” gives details about her experience in a sorority at Eastern Kentucky University with partying and alcohol.
Throughout my active years, I saw so many girls drink, especially while underage, to the point where they could barely stand up straight. Especially with fraternity parties, there are always women from other sororities there, many whom I had never met or even seen before. I always worried about these girls when they were drinking, and I know of a few times that I had no clue where they ended up after the party.
A 2011 Psychology Today article “Getting Messed Up to Hook Up: The Role of Alcohol in College Students’ ‘Casual’ Sexual Encounters” by Suzanne Zalewski may help explain why drinking is so important to many students.
As long as Greek social life is centered on drinking alcohol, it will spill over from fraternity parties into bars that are considered “frat bars.” The term “frat bar” has even become part of urban slang. An internet search for frat bars will result in images and the names of bars in Tuscaloosa that are, rightly or wrongly, associated with Greek patronage.
The temporary closing of bars in T-Town, as reported by Gary Cosby, Jr. in the Tuscaloosa News, was justified because contact tracing for students had determined that there were “hot spots on campus and around the city.” Images of crowds gathered on the sidewalk at bars, which were popular with students, of people who were not wearing masks and/or socially distancing had been widely published on social media.
The remaining restrictions on bars in Tuscaloosa may result, particularly on football game weekends, in the proliferation of off-campus house parties that are held by football fans, Greeks and other students. Pre-game drinking in private housing has already been commonplace. Guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called for indoor gatherings of no more than fifty people, although the city of Tuscaloosa has allowed as many as 150 people to gather in bars. Even if private parties are smaller than that in number, many parties throughout town can just as easily become hot spots for infection.
Amanda Hinkel‘s thesis describes how “private apartments or houses are used in the hours leading up to the official event where alcohol can be consumed for hours before the event begin.” In that way any control that may have been exerted by fraternities on curbing under-aged drinking would be eliminated. When liquor at a fraternity in the past has been served, the city has passed special ordinances allowing alcohol vendors to provide drinks. The city does not require a vendor to enforce under-aged drinking codes. According to one such vendor, often security involved in checking IDs was provided only by the fraternity.
There have been myriad problems associated with the consumption of alcohol by college students for many years. With today’s Coronavirus pandemic there is an increased urgency. As Reid Wilson in The Hill explained:
Younger Americans eager to get back to their social lives are increasingly responsible for the spread of the coronavirus, risking their own health and that of their family and friends under what health experts say is the misguided impression that the virus cannot cause them harm.
The idea that “kids will be kids” implies that younger people have always engaged in risky behavior and that is just to be expected. Today younger “super-spreaders,” who may never get seriously ill or are asymptomatic, can seriously impact a community’s health and economy. It’s not child’s play anymore.