Days after Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s (SAE) Back to School Party– traditionally the first all-campus party of the year on the first Monday of class– was closed to those without invitation wristbands, Kappa Sigma opened their doors for the first all-campus party, Eurotrash, which was dry this year.
The new alcohol policies within fraternities come amid a larger conversation between administrators and fraternity leaders about the relationship between the Greek system, campus alcohol culture and the freshman experience.
On the first day of classes, a group of Kappa Sigma fraternity members stationed themselves on a grassy patch east of Meyer Library and offered passers-by campus maps and cookies. Before long, Resident Fellows from a nearby freshman dorm came out to express their disapproval.
“Kappa Sigma, having come off two years of long and arduous review, is trying to say, ‘Hey, we want to get out there and show we’re not all about handing out shots,’” Associate Dean of Residential Education Nate Boswell said.
This incident only highlights communication problems that some Greek students and University administrators feel plagues Stanford’s social system.
“There are plenty of perceptions in all sorts of pockets on campus of what it means to be a Resident Fellow, to be in a fraternity, to be in a sorority,” Boswell said. “If they were being a nuisance or difficult or anything like that, that’s one thing. If they were trying to be visible, that is something we want. We want them to show up in responsible ways.”
The communication problems between Greek life and freshman dorm life often center around alcohol, and often come to a head during spring quarter’s fraternity and sorority rush period.
“We’ve got folks who are on the Row saying, ‘Hey, could you take better care of your frosh over there because I don’t want them showing up drunk at my house,” Dean of ResEd Deborah Golder said. “Then I’ve got RFs and staff in the frosh houses saying, ‘Hey, during new member recruitment you trash our houses, you send drunk people, your new members come running through our houses wreaking havoc.”
To make an attempt at bridging that gap, fraternity members made the rounds at freshman house meetings during the first week of classes to demystify the Greek system and lay out their expectations of the freshman, some of whom will invariably find themselves in a fraternity on Friday or Saturday nights.
Many of those expectations, and the initiative that brought fraternity members to freshman dorms, are a result of the risk that a fraternity with open doors to the campus is also opening its doors to students who will neglect the house’s property and cause costly damages, as well as raise concerns about responsibility for alcohol poisoning-related transports.
“Fraternities have been seen as jungle gyms at all-campus parties for people to do whatever they want and there are no consequences” Kappa Alpha (KA) president James Balassone ’13 said.
“We really want to take more responsibility over who comes in, how they come in, what state they come in,” Balassone also said, emphasizing that fraternities often must share the responsibility for students who arrive at the fraternity having consumed an irresponsible amount of alcohol elsewhere.
According to President of SAE Nelson Estrada ’13, many of the alcohol-related transports at last year’s Back to School party were students in the entrance line who had yet to enter the party.
The issue of immediate liability is not the only impetus for the increased caution at parties and Greek-to-freshmen outreach thus far this year. Fraternities are also protecting themselves from the more abstract type of damage that can be accrued over long periods: the risk of no longer being housed.
Until Kappa Sigma lost its house two years ago, no fraternity had lost its house in a decade and institutional memory had been lost since the 1990s when turnover of Greek houses was almost constant.
“Of course, when there’s a consequence, people are going to pay attention,” Boswell said. “There hadn’t been a consequence like that for 10 or 12 years.”
For students in KA, recent Greek issues have made the risks all the more real and have motivated change.
“People are realizing that we have a lot of control over the consequences if we become better at managing the situations,” Balassone said.
Fraternities and, to a lesser extent, sororities, have an unusual platform from which to effect change among the student body, because they provide a crucial service to the rest of the student body: throwing parties.
“They have a lot of political capital in the social life and I think people would take their lead,” Director of the Office for Alcohol Policy and Education Ralph Castro said. “That’s where people go for parties and events, so if they are setting clear expectations about what they want from partygoers in their home as it relates to alcohol, then I think they can be influential.”
One of the biggest windows of opportunity to change the culture surrounding alcohol and party-going on campus lies in the new freshman class. For example, the Class of 2016 has yet to attend an all-campus party at which there was alcohol service.
However, continuing the current increased level of caution on the Row is not without its risks.
“Going to college parties was something [freshmen] had in their head before they came to college, and now they’re here and they want to experience that,” Wilbur Resident Assitant (RA) and Sigma Nu member Kevin Hurlbutt ’14 said.
Hurlbutt warned that preventing freshmen from obtaining alcohol at fraternities could cause an alcohol consumption whiplash back to the freshmen dorms.
“To me, that seems like it might cause people to just pregame more beforehand if freshmen hear about [the parties being dry], which is obviously exactly what we don’t want to happen,” Hurlbutt said. “That’s the biggest problem we have.”
Hurlbutt’s fellow RA, Frederik Groce ’14, said his freshmen gave generally positive reports of their first (dry) all-campus party– with one exception.
“It was a great experience for those that were looking for that sort of experience,” Groce wrote in an email to The Daily. “The only negative I can think of was that perhaps some students were disappointed by the lack of alcohol.”
Statistically, many of those students would have had one of their first experiences with alcohol culture at the fraternity house. Stanford’s incoming student body routinely has a significantly higher percentage of students without experience in an “active drinking culture” than the national average, leaving freshmen to find their way around alcohol during their first few months as college students.
“What’s happening is they are coming to Stanford not as drinkers and they’re becoming drinkers when they’re here,” Golder said. “We are very high achieving, and we’re blowing that curve.”