I never drank "Nile Juice" from the penis of a statue of a Sphinx. It was never on my bucket list, but the way alumni describe the expired tradition is weirdly enchanting. We would hear about the juice from alumni members visiting during Homecoming weekends.
Our big party during my tenure was called "Sex on the Beach." It would be unthinkable to imagine Sex on the Beach happening today as it happened then. I may have been our last chapter president if my brothers had the live streaming power of Instagram and Snapchat back in 2010. That said, I would not want a party like that to exist anymore. A woman once lied to campus safety about the concussion she suffered from a jello wrestling activity during my junior year. She proudly defended the fraternity from facing sanctions. I was at once grateful and disturbed.
We were never "in trouble." In fact, it was us who placed her in harm's way. Maybe we forget (or omit) the horrific aspects of our own good times when we retell them in our later years.
Our Alumni Are Right. Fraternity Parties Suck. . .
Perhaps I will one day join fellow alumni and shame students for going to college in a modern decade with different rules. That being said, I am not sure that fraternity parties suck for the reasons many of us think they suck. Fraternity parties do not suck because they are no longer "wild." They suck because students are not taught how to throw great parties and to be great hosts. Instead, they are taught to handle parties as one might handle surgery: sanitized and serious.
Drinking With Gloves On. . .
Fraternity leaders and professionals specialize in policy and safety resources. We roll our eyes when students suggest that fraternities are "social organizations." We lay out rules, we prosecute the offenders, and our standard for a "good party" is, "No one died!" Of course, none of this affects how Greek Life professionals socialize with one another at professional conferences. There is a lot of alcohol and even some predatory behavior, but students are rarely present to call our bluff in those moments.
Somewhere along the line, fraternity leaders labeled "party" the same way they label "rush" or "pledge." To use the word marks you as a traitor to the almighty and noble cause of frat life. Parties are a problem to be dealt with. They are something we seek to amputate from the fraternity experience. As a result, our solutions lack creativity (except for the occasional gif in an Alcohol Skills Training Program slide deck).
Balancing Two Extremes
Alumni want parties to be "wild" again, and so students up the ante to create something "epic." They share recordings of their wildness with outlets like Total Frat Move or Barstool, hoping to get a stamp of approved epicness.
On the other hand, fraternity leaders and higher education professionals offer little more than rules and threats, and so students work overtime to cover their tracks. The combination of alumni and professional desires is an obvious recipe for disaster. That disaster is playing out in real-time all over the news.
What would it take for fraternity parties to be great again? As I see it, we need to understand the relevance and value of parties and social functions within and beyond the undergraduate fraternity experience. We can teach members to be great hosts and to throw memorable parties as a competency. (For those who don't know, "competency" is the marketing term for "soft skills" in the era of big data and assessment.)
Challenging The Party-Planning Process
REMINDER: Follow the rules. I don't have to say that. . . but someone's mom might sue me if I do not say it.
Exclusivity and guest satisfaction are two simple ingredients to put together a good party. People should want to attend an event and the people at the event should forever remember it as a wonderful time. So, we should limit the number of people in attendance and make sure they remember the party as a good time. How do we accomplish those two things?
First, limit guests to friends. Strangers are less likely to care about you, your facility, and they bring along many unknowns. What is their tolerance? Are they angry/destructive/abusive drinkers? Do they plan on using your party to sell meth? So, we limit guests to friends and people we know. That should be easy. Make a list of your friends - the people you would like to be around - and invite them to your party. As the host, it will be your responsibility to make sure people are having a good time. That is easier among friends, but you want to keep the number of total guests limited and manageable.
Think practically. Many times, during recruitment training, we suggest that great conversations occur between groups of 2-4 people (4 AT MOST). So, limit the total number of guests to 1-3 guests per member. If each brother can invite 1-3 people of his choosing, then it is simple enough to assume that he is responsible for their good time. What else (beyond friendship and exclusivity) makes for a good time? My favorite parties from college were brotherhood events and social functions with guest lists (or limited to one or two other groups). If you want a big party, organize a concert and let professionals handle the booze.
"I actually remember that I had a good time!"
You want people to remember your party as a good time. You want people to tell others that they had a good time with you. This is not because you are a fraternity man, but because you are human. Only serial killers and sociopaths get a kick out of people having a poor experience with them. You do not want people to leave your function sick, upset, or offended. That makes a better tabloid for CNN than it does a good fraternity party. Part of that problem will be addressed by inviting friends and people you know. They are more likely to understand one another, look out for one another, and de-escalate situations that may lead to disaster.
The second tip is to drink (or supply) fewer, higher-quality drinks. If you are going to run the risk of pooling money together to buy drinks (given that it is against most school/fraternity rules), then get something tastier than Natural Light or Popov Vodka. Might as well drink something delicious before you lose your charter forever, am I right!? (That said, several fraternity/inter-fraternity execs have privately told me they support bringing kegs back to combat hard liquor). Bring Your Own Beverage (BYOB) rules are the best way to both abide by the rules and to ensure that people drink what they like. They will not want to spill what they pay for and they'll drink it more responsibly than whatever nasty Nile Juice-type concoction your self-proclaimed bartender put together.
Next, check-in with your guests (and brothers!) to make sure they are doing well and that they are not in a bad mood. Do you know what makes a party terrible? An ambulance. Keeping tabs on your guests will let you, the host responsible for everyone else's good time, know when to cut someone off before they pass out in a puddle of puke. Do not get people to the point of puking at your party. You will either have to clean it or have to smell it while you wait for someone you pay to clean it. Neither case is enviable. Also, vomit is not cool, elite, or anything close to what you want your function to be remembered for.
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Your brothers should know all of this. Emphasize the value of being a good host to your brothers before a party. That does not mean you cannot have a good time, but the best parties are thrown for their guests. Make your guests the stars of the function, make your party literally memorable (as in no one blacking out in a puddle of vomit), and your reputation will reap the rewards. Ensure your guests are having a good time and you can have a good time too!
I visited dozens of college campuses over the course of my career. Fraternity men would always brag that their chapter was "the one others thought was chill." Follow these tips, loosely based on the policies you are likely mandated to follow anyway, and you might actually be chill. You don't need Nile Juice from the penis of a Sphinx to have a jolly time. You just need to choose guests wisely, to make sure they have a good time, and to teach your brothers to be good and gracious hosts.
Students: I hope that the world gets its act together and tries to help you make your parties more fun, less about fame, and therefore less desperate or lame. (What a rhyme!) Until then, use this article as a general guide to a good social function strategy.
Fraternity Leaders & Pros: You might hate this article, but I hope you understand that parties are not surgery, and you do not need to treat them as surgery to make them safe. Try considering how to make a party a good time, not just a safe time, and you'll find it easier to explain rules and policies. Learn to persuade.
Alumni members attending a Homecoming event: Tell great stories and acknowledge the stupidity of your times. The members of my chapter at Stetson are organically great at this. I'll let you Zoom in to our next Homecoming meeting to hear it first hand.
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