Leaders and professionals who deal with Greek Life have a relatively predictable response pattern to crises. Take our responses to hazing and substance misuse as an example.
Several fraternity organizations adopted alcohol-free housing policies after a string of hazing deaths – which involved alcohol – in 2017. NIC member organizations later agreed to a ban on hard liquor at fraternity functions.
Fraternity organizations and Student Affairs professionals have created processes for chapters to register events with alcohol. The regulatory hurdles and costs associated with registered events (bouncers, drink tickets, byob, guest lists, wristbands, etc.) are too high for many chapters. So unregistered parties continue where they can. We are all aware of this.
The rules are so technical and numerous that they are nearly impossible to maintain. There are certifications and professions built around enforcing alcohol and hazing policies among college students.
Let’s Talk About Sex
Our approach to sexual assault and sexual misconduct is decidedly different. One could imagine that banning sex in fraternity houses would be philosophically consistent with banning alcohol or hazing practices. If the men aren’t having sex, then how can they partake in a sexual assault?
Sexual assault is a well-reported problem within fraternity organizations – just like hazing and substance misuse. So why do we limit our approach to seminars and bystander intervention workshops?
Why haven’t we mandated that fraternity men abstain from all degrees of sexual intercourse as we have with hazing? I have two thoughts:
1. Prohibition is, generally-speaking, an [accepted] failure
I wrote this post about how prohibition pushes activities underground, making them more dangerous. For example: marijuana laws penalize individuals based on how many ounces they carry. So, marijuana dealers simply keep less of more (and increasingly) potent weed. Hard liquor became more popular during prohibition, and new, home-grown, unregulated alternatives to heroin pop up every year.
Our nation – with the might of our military and police forces – could not effectively prohibit alcohol. What would make us think that the central office staff of a college fraternity could do any better?
Behind closed doors:
Not much, actually. Fraternity leaders acknowledge the limited effects of prohibition in private conversations. Some suggest that banning kegs forced students to turn toward hard liquor. (which aligns with the “prohibition leads to more dangerous alternatives” argument) At least one of the hazing deaths of 2017 – Max Gruver, Phi Delt at Louisiana State University – occurred in a fraternity with an alcohol-free housing policy.
At least one organization is reconsidering their alcohol-free housing policy. Other leaders indicate that they’d be open to maintaining a hard liquor ban, but allowing for the return of kegs. If you work in the field of fraternity/sorority life then you either know this or are an expert at selective hearing.
DESPITE ALL OF THAT – blanket prohibition is the go-to response for fraternities and student affairs professionals in the face of almost any crisis or crises. The fact is that being quietly hypocritical is better (optically) than being labeled complicit by a journalist, parent, or angry tweeter.
2. Sex is popular. (& positive!)
This is where things get hairier and political. Still, I believe this makes perfect sense when coupled with the realities of the previous point.
Abstinence-only education is generally unpopular. Most prefer a so-called “blended approach”: Talk about the benefits of abstinence, but teach students safe sex practices – just in case. There is no equivalent rationalization when it comes to other risk management problems, particularly hazing.
Well … that’s not true. Many people are “cool” with the idea of a “blended approach” to hazing. Dr. Lori Hart’s “Ladder of Risk” would not have been so popular if that weren’t the case. But fraternity hazing policies interfere with any such approach. An organization cannot approach topics like hazing or alcohol misuse with a “blended approach.” It would make organizational leaders or student affairs professionals complicit, and therefore liable in our zero-tolerance world.
Plus, the public generally supports bans on hazing in all its forms. (for students – things apparently change when you join a major league sports team) That is an interesting point. We acknowledge that sexual assault is at least as prevalent of a problem as hazing or substance misuse. Are fraternity leaders and professionals simply enacting populist policies to please the masses?
Questions not answered (…or maybe just not seriously considered)
Why aren’t we encouraging fraternity students not to have sex? Why is so much of our time spent trying to explain how one obtains consent? Eliminating sex should eliminate the problem, just like eliminating hard alcohol supposedly reduces binge drinking.
Is there a philosophical difference between banning alcohol to prevent substance misuse and banning intercourse? Does sexual violence not stem from the existence of sexual relationships? Why can alcohol-free policies be waived with the approval of an adviser? Could an adviser sign off on consensual sexual intercourse?
“Moral High Ground”
Author Robert Greene advises his readers never to abandon the “moral high ground.” Fraternity leaders do not risk their moral high ground when they ban hazing or alcohol. Who is going to defend underage drinking, binge drinking, or forced consumption?
Fraternity press releases indicate that our approach to hazing or alcohol abuse is based on our moral foundations. It’s hard to see it as anything other than virtue-signaling. There is nothing difficult about prohibiting what are already illegal or immoral activities. Hazing prohibition is an easy win for public opinion, even if it doesn’t generate worthwhile results. Plus, we can still feign shock and awe when a new crisis erupts.
Maybe we haven’t banned sex because we know such a ban would be ineffective, but also because it is an unpopular idea. It is particularly unpopular with the generally sex-positive crowd of student affairs. I do not mean that as a dig – only an acknowledgement. If the world believed in abstinence only education, would fraternities do the same?
Hazing; however, leaves no room for tact or debate. There is no “blended approach;” it’s all or nothing. It is “abstinence only” enforced by those of us who might otherwise laugh off such an idea.
It’s a shame. We are say we are the leaders of society, yet optics and public opinion are routine drivers of fraternity/sorority policy and procedure.