It is my understanding that students regularly respond to prohibitive sanctions and policies by taking their activities elsewhere. That’s a problem.
Removing dangerous behavior from a chapter facility tends to be the objective of the above-mentioned measures, whether related to hazing, substance abuse, or sexual misconduct – which makes sense when one takes into account how fraternities are insured (more on possible reforms to that process here).
Such measures are often established with bigger goals in mind. Most of us wish to entirely eradicate dangerous forms of hazing, substance abuse and sexual misconduct, not simply to move them from a chapter house to a private residence off-campus. Still, most of us also understand that chapters are often changing their behavior around our policies, not through them.
Note: For the purposes of this post, assume that when I’m talking about parties and themes that I’m not resorting to the most negative possible impression of fraternity men, but instead focusing on having fun with one’s friends and enjoying an unforgettable evening together.
The Blindspots Of Current “Guidelines”
Fraternity and sorority houses contain many students, many of their possessions, and many rooms ill-fitted for parties. Many houses contain commercial fire-safety mechanisms and kitchens, but they are not banquet halls designed for hundreds or thousands of guests.
We advocate that chapters follow a certain set of guidelines (which are or are based off of FIPG policies). That said – FIPG party guidelines serve more to deter students from parties than to reform how parties are organized. In effect, fraternity men and women have three options:
- Throw an intensely managed, sanitized party at their facility
- Throw a similarly managed and sanitized party at an approved vendor (such as a bar or club)
- Take the party to a random member’s house, transport a bunch of students to the house, and wild out until the cops show up or someone gets hurt
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most students don’t understand FIPG policies, let alone know that they exist. The planning and financial investment required by FIPG rules compare to planning a small wedding, and effectively price smaller chapters out of hosting their own functions. That’s not a dig at FIPG, it’s reality.
On the other hand, taking parties off campus (whether following the guidelines by using a vendor or not) involves the mess of transportation and sketchy “annex” houses which likely better enable dangerous activity than any on-campus building. What about a safe ride program? They’re often banned, too. . . terrific!
Expediency is something we cherish, and so these policies and guidelines around social functions (more than what exists for every other element of the fraternity experience combined) can push students to that third and most dangerous option. Perhaps we should compliment our policy changes by offering support in the opposite direction.
What if we decided to encourage fraternities and sororities to host parties on campus as a safety measure? What if we provided a unique type of support to help chapters manage the hurdles of our policies and provide a vibrant social experience.
The Party House
Think about that one high school friend’s house where the parents say, “I’d rather you drink here where I can watch you than go to that college party.” You might still be drinking, and drinking may still be illegal for a high schooler, but at least you’re safe, right?
Fraternity policies are put in place for safety, but their enforcement becomes difficult if students simply take the fraternity experience away from college campuses. So where possible, we should consider the establishment of on-campus facilities specifically designed for students to organize social activities.
I imagine a facility much like a banquet hall, but laid out more like a one story home with several large rooms. Outdoor furniture would be spread throughout the rooms, it’s walls and floor would be commercial-grade, spill proof, and foam party-proof (ew), and it would operate like any banquet hall specifically designed to meet FIPG guidelines without making a party as lame and tedious as a trip to the DMV/BMV.
Fraternities schedule out their use of the facility for social functions, mixers with sororities, date functions, you name it! A list of local options for security, bartending, and cleanup are made available to party planners and offer a reduced rate of service. Ideally, fraternities would jointly invest, and share an interest in maintaining such a facility.
Use of the facility protects fraternity property, makes following FIPG policies simpler and less uncool, and offers opportunities for the wider student body to have access to a new kind of on campus facility – one designed to allow students to get creative with themes, to have fun, and to then get home safely.
Maybe It’s Not Feasible
Many colleges and universities offer shuttle services to students so that they can enjoy safe rides between their campus and the local bars, this follows that same premise. Rather than ban students from going to bars or driving drunk (which is already a law), the schools prefer that they get to and from the bars safely.
Rather than prohibit alcohol and throw barriers in the way of making social functions happen, we can make an FIPG-friendly party more accessible by creating shortcuts to the required services. Joint ownership of the property means that its maintenance after events can be determined through collaboration between fraternity/sorority councils and relevant staff at the college.
Heck, it could even provide a better, safer space for chapters to organize their meetings, ceremonies, etc. Far too often I’ve heard reports that chapters are too large to host meetings in their facilities, or that their houses aren’t well-designed for ceremonies. Well what about a kind-of house that’s a single story with a relatively open layout and enough space for hundreds of people at once?
Perhaps a party house is too great a pipe dream for most schools. Perhaps there are comparable workarounds or existing structures which could be used instead.
There is no need to make throwing a party feel like a vice rather than a celebration, and there’s no need to punish students in the name of prevention. The preventative steps we take are often the exact same things we do after an incident to punish a chapter; that shouldn’t be too hard to notice.
Maybe a party house isn’t a great idea or makes universities too liable to garner their interest. That’s not important. What’s important is that we start addressing our risk issues from new perspectives, one of which can be, “How can we help them make this awesome without it being shady and dangerous?”