Members of Phi Delta Theta at Tacoma’s University of Puget Sound embrace an alcohol-free policy as part of their fraternity experience.
By MELISSA SANTOS
The News TribuneTacoma, WA
After a full day of classes, football practices and student government meetings, the brothers of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Puget Sound head back to their fraternity house to relax.
They have a freshmen recruitment activity in less than two hours. But in the meantime, they tidy up the house, study, watch TV, or play Xbox 360.
No one cracks open a beer to help unwind. They’re not allowed to, as all Phi Delta Theta houses nationwide are required to be alcohol-free. And members of the UPS chapter say they’re glad to have it that way.
“We don’t like to use alcohol as an incentive to join our house,” said chapter warden Joe Newland. “Instead we do a lot of great hanging out as guys – as brothers.”
Since Phi Delts went dry nationally in 2000, the UPS chapter has seen its freshman recruitment numbers grow from an average of about 12 new members a year to nearly 30.
The chapter recently received a most-improved chapter award by the Phi Delta Theta national office for strides it has made in recruitment numbers and grade-point average. The chapter’s GPA hovers around 3.0, up about 0.3 from its average four or five years ago. The award also recognizes the chapter’s relationship with its alumni and its philanthropic contributions.
The UPS Phi Delts said they’ve found that their alcohol-free policy attracts more members than it discourages from joining. The other three fraternities on the UPS campus allow members who are 21 or over to drink in their houses.
“People want things to put on their résumé,” said Mark Delbrueck, the chapter historian. “People don’t join our house to find a place to drink.”
About three-fourths of the UPS Phi Delts are involved in varsity sports, making alcohol consumption one of their last priorities, said chapter president Brian Ames.
“Everyone’s involved with other things on campus,” Ames said. “There’s not a lot of time for drinking.”
Nationally, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity decided to go dry to reduce insurance costs and lower the number of alcohol-related incidents at its fraternity houses, said Bob Biggs, executive vice president of the organization, based in Oxford, Ohio.
Since the fraternity began phasing in its dry policy in 1997, the number of open injury claims against the national organization has steadily declined. In 2000, the first year all Phi Delt houses were required to be dry, only five claims were filed against the fraternity nationally, compared to 19 open claims in 1991 and 12 in 1997.
Only one claim was filed against the fraternity in 2003, and no claims were filed against it during the 2004-2005 school year.
That reduces insurance costs for fraternity members, whose dues go toward purchasing liability insurance for their house. The UPS Phi Delts pay $125 per person for liability insurance, while the average amount for a men’s fraternity in 2004 was $149, according to a 2004 survey conducted by the Fraternity Executive Association.
Other benefits of the policy are less tangible, Biggs said.
“We have seen improvement in recruitment, improvement in scholarship and just a better quality student attracted to the fraternity experience,” Biggs said. “It’s not about attracting them to entertainment and having beer in the fraternity house and drinking it illegally, because that’s not what we’re about. They are looking for that values-based experience.”
Eight other national fraternities have adopted similar dry policies since the late ’90s, according to the Phi Delta Theta office. The North American Interfraternity Council, which comprises 69 fraternal organizations, doesn’t keep track of how many fraternities or fraternity chapters are dry, said Peter Smithhisler, the organization’s executive vice president.
Newland, the warden of the Phi Delt house at UPS, said he’s glad the house doesn’t host wild keg parties.
“It’s good to know coming here that your things are going to be safe in this house,” Newland said. “You don’t have to worry about things getting messed up or trashed. We try to take some pride that this is our house, and hopefully it always will be.”
That doesn’t mean the Phi Delts don’t do many of the same activities that other houses do. They hold formal dances and throw tailgate parties with a neighboring sorority before football games.
Most members of the house also make it a point to go together to Logger football games – especially since about 30 members of the house are on the football team. That’s just one way in which the members of the house try to support one another, said Delbrueck, the chapter historian.
“I asked every house what it stands for, and this is the only one that said it stressed brotherhood,” Delbrueck said. “Everyone has each other’s back, no matter what.”
Members who are over the age of 21 sometimes go to bars together. But because they’re out in public rather than in the comfort of their home, Ames said, they’re less likely to overdo it.
The dry policy has the support of UPS administrators, who see it as a way to reduce unsupervised alcohol consumption and underage drinking.
“At third-party locations, it’s easier to control the flow of alcohol,” said Moe Stephens, UPS’ assistant director for student activities for Greek life. “The bartenders have the liability for overserving or serving minors, not the fraternity.”
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