Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Frats Need to Get the Good News Out!

The fraternity life
Despite vilification, fraternity life at the University remains above reproach
Josh Levy

IT'S THE end of January, which means we're right in the middle of Inter-Fraternity Council Rush. For hundreds of students this means lots of fun and the start of lifelong friendships. But Rush also brings on the perennial onslaught of critics. Every year these pages are filled with angry letters and editorials from students and professors alike. There are many legitimate criticisms of IFC fraternities, but the critics are rarely interested in those.

The most prevalent unfounded criticism hurled at IFC fraternities is that they're all about drinking. As one female Resident Advisor told me last year, "All you guys care about is getting my residents drunk." While on the surface this may appear to be the case, in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do fraternities not encourage drinking, they actually mitigate its effects.

The fact is that drinking at the University does not occur because of its fraternities. Drinking is a widespread social phenomenon among college-age Americans. Those who wish to argue that fraternities are the cause of the drinking culture must be able to explain why non-Greek men throw apartment parties, CIOs throw drinking parties and high school students who can't possibly belong to fraternities drink. Drinking has become a form of social bonding, so to blame fraternities is to confuse cause with effect.

Moreover, drinking is much safer at IFC fraternities because they are so heavily regulated. Every IFC fraternity is under the jurisdiction of both the IFC Judiciary Committee and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. All the IFC fraternities, except for one, are also under the jurisdiction of their national organization. That means every time something goes wrong at a fraternity party, that fraternity can be punished up to three separate times for the same mistake. None of these safeguards exist for non-fraternity parties.

I'll take a very realistic example. A first-year student, I'll call her Emily, goes out on a Friday night. She has a few drinks too many and her friends, being responsible University students, take her to the hospital. She later meets with a Dean of Student Life and has to explain herself.

Suppose she tells the dean, on her honor, that she was drinking at a specific fraternity. The dean will file a report to OFSL, which will pass it on to the IFCJC. The IFCJC will conduct a full investigation and then hold a trial. Assuming the girl did, in fact, drink at the fraternity on trial, the fraternity will be punished, probably with social probation. In this process, the fraternity's nationals will most likely find out about the wrongdoing and can heap additional punishments on the chapter like fines and community service. Should the guilty fraternity get in trouble again, the punishments will escalate until its charter is revoked.

Now suppose Emily tells the dean she was drinking at some apartment on Fourteenth Street. What happens to the students who threw the party and served Emily so much alcohol she had to be hospitalized? Nothing.

The threat of punishment causes good behavior. IFC fraternities have a strong incentive to monitor their guests' alcohol intake while other parties have none. Other universities have tried to crackdown on drinking, but to little effect. A study released last month by the University of Bath found that "anti-drinking advertising campaigns may backfire by inadvertently glamorizing the habit." Zero-tolerance programs can also backfire by inducing students to take many shots in their room before going out rather than having a few beers over an entire night. If drinking can't be stopped, then the best policy is to regulate it.

So why the anti-fraternity sentiments? There are two reasons. First, the IFC is just awful at public relations. It is always reactive, never proactive. Instead of just responding when something goes wrong, the IFC ought to be touting its accomplishments. Second, sadly, is prejudice. I'd like you to picture a member of an IFC fraternity. Did you picture a rich guy with long hair in a Lacoste polo with a Southern drawl? I bet you didn't picture a short-haired, middle class New Yorker who writes for The Cavalier Daily.

Too many members of the University community make unfair generalizations about IFC fraternity men. They claim to be open-minded and to value diversity, yet they shun members of their own community who contribute so much. IFC fraternities raise thousands of dollars every year for causes as diverse as the Children's Hospital, March of Dimes and the Charlottesville Boys & Girls Club, just to name a few. They also provide a sense of brotherhood and belonging to nearly a third of all University undergraduate men. It's high time for people to lay down their prejudices and embrace fraternities.

Josh Levy is a former IFC fraternity president and a former HeadInvestigator of the IFCJC. His column appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at jlevy@cavalierdaily.com.