Residential Education (ResEd) officials met with leaders in the Greek community last week to discuss the dozens of alcohol-related incidents that occurred during the new member education period, along with steps fraternities and sororities may take to alter the culture of bid week in the future.
“I’m not naive to think that every person in the room was holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya,’ but I feel like most people there were honest, and most people were serious about wanting to address these things,” Dean of ResEd Deborah Golder said of the meeting.
Alcohol incidents during bid week
On May 17, Associate Dean of ResEd Nate Boswell sent a letter to all Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) and Inter-Sorority Council (ISC) members expressing concern about a spike in incidents involving the consumption and distribution of alcohol during the recruitment period, citing “a fundamental disconnect between Stanford’s stated expectations of responsibility around alcohol and the manner in which your chapters are regulating your use.”
The letter also directed the Greek organizations on campus that they must take steps to show that they are about “far more than drinking” or risk losing University recognition.
“If our current trajectory continues, it would not be out of the realm of possibility for the Stanford administration and Board of Trustees to consider serious changes to the Greek community on this campus as we know it,” IFC President Ben Laufer ’12 wrote in an email to The Daily. “Sororities were eliminated altogether once before, and it is not inconceivable that Stanford will once again reconsider the status of Greeks here at Stanford.”
Boswell’s letter listed five areas of concern: reports that recruits returned to freshman residences so drunk they were vomiting and passing out, reports of medical transports because of alcohol poisoning, reports that Greek organizations were regularly serving alcohol to minors, hazing allegations and reports from charter bus companies that Greek formals were poorly managed.
Reports came from Resident Fellows (RFs), Resident Assistants (RAs), friends of new Greek members and members of the Greek organizations themselves, Golder said.
“While we want very much to work in collaboration around these issues, the trends discussed will not be tolerated moving forward,” Boswell wrote in an email to The Daily.
“I have no interest, and frankly I don’t think Stanford has an interest, in having a bunch of drinking clubs,” Golder said.
The reports concerned both housed and un-housed IFC and ISC organizations, but Golder noted that the time period in question was separate from the multicultural organization recruitment period.
“While the May 17th letter may be construed by some as harsh, given the seriousness of the situation, I personally felt it was appropriate,” Laufer wrote.
ResEd and Greek community response
At the meeting, Golder stressed to Greek leaders that their organizations tend to get lumped together in the public eye, regardless of which organization is associated with particular incidents.
“Even if only half of the alleged incidents occur, people don’t say it was this organization or that,” Golder said. “The University just goes, ‘Oh, it’s fraternities and sororities.’”
Golder noted that some reports from the period in question have been confirmed while others have been found not to have occurred.
“A lot of what we’re trying to determine is, ‘Did something occur that was egregious?’” Golder said. “If it did, what’s the appropriate follow-up that should occur?”
Some fraternities and sororities have internal judicial processes that they use to determine accountability for incidents, a process some of the organizations had already started before meeting with ResEd, Golder said. She added that other situations are referred to the Organizational Conduct Board (OCB). Incidents that are referred to the OCB – an organization analogous to the Judicial Affairs board, but for student groups – are University-level policy violations.
In general, incidents involving public disruption, as well as incidents that result in police reports, end up on the desks of the University President, the Provost and the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Golder said.
“I think that most of the people at the table were being really honest, and I think that the reality is the folks who are in the leadership roles in these fraternities and sororities care about their organizations, they care about the members of their organizations and they actually understand and don’t disagree — for the most part — with where the University is coming from,” Golder said. “They’re in the tough position of trying to get their membership to understand it as well.”
Laufer agreed that open communication between the Greek community and ResEd is important, but added that sometimes ResEd’s manner of approaching a situation leads the Greek community to shut down toward the administration.
“The best way the IFC collective can react to ResEd’s concerns is to remain open and willing to self-reflect on the actions we have made that have resulted in their concerns,” Laufer wrote. “Defensiveness is not constructive. However, I do think that ResEd should keep in mind that playing the blame game will lead to said defensiveness.”
This spring’s spike in alcohol-related incidents comes in light of progress on the part of the Greek community since it came under ResEd’s purview several years ago.
“They’ve been doing really well all year, frankly, in terms of concerns around party management and other things,” Golder said of the Greek community. “Organizations overall have been doing really well.”
Despite her generally positive assessment of the year for the Greek community, Golder said that there are major areas for concern in the drinking culture, particularly because fraternities and sororities are accorded special status by the University among student groups. She said that she holds housed fraternities and sororities to particularly high standards because they “get a multi-million dollar house” due to their affiliation as a Greek organization.
“You’ve got to be better than everybody else, not worse, because it’s a really special thing,” Golder said. “If you can’t do better, if you’re teaching on purpose, passively or actively, that all you are is about drinking, then that’s not a theme I’m going to support from ResEd.”
“We’re not going to have the ‘get drunk’ house as a theme,” she added.