Greek' life settles down
Since a former student's death from alcohol, Fresno State has clamped down on drinking.
By Doug Hoagland / The Fresno Bee
Nearly a year after a 19-year-old man died of acute alcohol poisoning at a Fresno State fraternity, drinking is still a problem on campus.
But the university is pushing back against the party-hearty ways of fraternities and sororities by levying sanctions and by hiring a new get-tough adviser.
Some students have nicknamed Laura E. Williams "The Hammer" for her strict enforcement of policies.
"I don't let any police report slide that has the name of a fraternity or sorority in it," said Williams, who started in June as Greek Life and Activities Advisor. "And no issue is too small to call a chapter president into my office for a discussion."
Fraternity and sorority members, who are often called "Greeks" because their organizations are named with Greek letters, number about 900 and represent 4% of students at California State University, Fresno.
Officials were looking for a new Greek adviser before Danny Daniels Jr. died in January - his blood-alcohol level more than four times the legal limit for driving.
Daniels, a former Fresno State student, reportedly drank on a Saturday night during a party at Phi Gamma Delta and was found dead the next day at the fraternity's house. Fresno State banned the fraternity for five years because of Daniels' death and because of other alcohol-related violations.
The death gave new urgency to the adviser's job, which other university officials had covered along with their other duties for two years before Williams' arrival.
Fraternity leaders say they were shaken after Daniels died. "God forbid that it happens again," said Gus Rios Jr., vice president of the Inter-Fraternity Council at Fresno State.
Amanda Halvorson, 20, a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, said Daniels' death "scared a lot of people."
Kim Hockert, 21, said all new members of Kappa Alpha Theta have to take an online course on alcohol.
Mark Torres, 21, a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, said the Greek social scene is more tame since Daniels died. Some drinking has gone underground - behind closed doors rather than outside the Greek houses near the campus, he added. (Less than half of the 38 Greek organizations at Fresno State have houses for members.)
Torres said fraternity members went to alcohol awareness sessions after Daniels' death. And the sessions worked, said Torres' fraternity brother, 20-year-old Steven DeCosta: "They put a little seed in the back of your mind: 'Maybe I shouldn't be drinking tonight.'"
But some Greeks continue to over-indulge, resulting this year in a tumble off a roof, legal citations and noise complaints to police.
In March, a drunken, underage student fell two stories from his fraternity house roof onto a concrete parking lot. The student, who had climbed out of a bathroom window, was not seriously injured.
Fresno State penalized the student's fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, for serving him alcohol. The penalty included doing manual labor at two community nonprofits and holding no parties with alcohol for one year.
But in October - while the sanctions were still in effect - a few Delta Sigma Phi members allowed underage sorority women to drink at the fraternity.
University police cited the women as they walked home with cups of vodka mixed with Rockstar energy drink and charged them with misdemeanors for being minors in possession of alcohol. The women were not jailed.
So far in 2006, university police have made five arrests on liquor law violations at Greek houses, while Fresno police reported nine alcohol-related incidents at the houses. Sometimes, both agencies go on the same calls.
In 2005, university and Fresno police made 10 arrests at the houses.
After the October incident with the sorority women, Fresno State penalized Delta Sigma Phi fraternity again, and this time the penalty included a mandatory meeting with police.
Delta Sigma Phi president Jerrod Hill said the fraternity imposed $75 fines on the three members who allowed the women to drink.
It's hard to change attitudes of some fraternity members, Hill said: "Guys feel they have the right to drink. That's why they paid their money and joined."
Most Delta Sigma Phi chapters went "dry" several years ago for insurance reasons. National leaders know that the Fresno chapter is not dry yet, Hill said: "We are trying to change, but it's tough to go from one extreme to the other."
Williams, the Greek adviser, said she tries to help Fresno State's Greeks follow the policies of their national organizations.
"The way I look at it," she said, "Greeks are the cream of the crop at Fresno State, and if they're messing up - and not upholding the beliefs and values that we proclaim to be important - then we're not what we say we are."
Williams, 26, said she uses "we" because she was in a sorority during her college years in Ohio and she still considers herself part of the Greek system.
But Williams - who has a master's degree in student affairs - said she is an administrator, not a student. In that role, she counsels chapter leaders on how to recruit and how to help troubled members. And she meets regularly with university police and Fresno police about noise, alcohol and safety issues among the Greeks.
But she doesn't patrol their houses, and she isn't called out when police investigate loud parties or issue citations.
Williams said it's important for Greeks to police themselves, which she said is beginning to happen: "I won't say that every chapter holds every member who has negative behavior accountable every time. But it's something they're working on."
Noise complaints against fraternities are among the biggest problems facing Greeks.
Fresno police in 2006 have received 18 reports of loud parties, loud music or yelling and screaming at Greek houses, according to records. In 2005, Fresno police got 24 similar reports. Most complaints were aimed at fraternities.
"Many times it's the drinking that led to calls for service," said Fresno police Capt. Lydia Carrasco, northeast district commander. "Sometimes, we find people who are sloppy drunk, and sometimes they are under the influence but not inebriated to the point where they can't function."
Carrasco said Fresno police handle the calls in a variety of ways; making arrests in some cases and sometimes calling cabs or friends to pick up students. Officers use their judgment in handling the cases, based on the circumstances, Carrasco added. Noise landed one fraternity leader in legal trouble less than a month ago. On Oct. 27, Fresno police cited Alpha Gamma Rho president Chris McKenna for allegedly violating city noise laws.
McKenna, who was not jailed, said the citation was unfair. He acknowledged that people at the fraternity house were drinking, but he said that alcohol didn't contribute to the noise. McKenna said he has a Dec. 26 court date on the misdemeanor charge.
He added that the university sanctioned Alpha Gamma Rho for the Oct. 27 incident, with penalties including no parties and no alcohol at the fraternity through Aug. 31, 2007. Two fraternity officers also must do a ride-along with Fresno police.
McKenna said Oct. 27 was not the first time police came to Alpha Gamma Rho. Last fall, officers responded when a fraternity member fired a shotgun in the air while at the house, McKenna said.
University police officer Tatevos Manucharyan, who patrols past the fraternity and sorority houses, said he has no statistics to prove it, but he believes underage drinking among Greeks went down after Daniels died.
Said Manucharyan: "It was eye-opening for students."