Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Phi Delts Have Alcohol Free Housing

Fraternity life without keg parties safer, saner, say Phi Delta Theta guys
Joshua Gunter / The Plain Dealer

Sitting on couches stacked stadium-style in their Case Western Reserve University fraternity house, members of Phi Delta Theta wait for a school-sponsored alcohol education program to start. Attendance at the program is mandatory for all members, whose international fraternity has banned alcohol use on all its properties since 2000.

Joe Beres' mom and dad were dead set against him joining a fraternity at Case Western Reserve University. Although their son had been a nondrinker in high school, they thought joining a Greek organization would mean keggers every night.

"My parents were anti-fraternity. They only knew 'Animal House,' " said Beres, 23, a senior mechanical engineering major who has since transferred to the University of Akron.

But there are no keg parties at the fraternity he joined at Case -- or at any chapters of Phi Delta Theta. Since 2000, the fraternity has prohibited alcohol in all of its 157 chapters in the United States and Canada.

The Phi Delts' international headquarters in Oxford, Ohio, doles out big consequences for alcohol violations. "If they find out you have it, they'll shut you down," said Wes Schaub, director of Greek Life at Case for 20 years.

Since 1997, Phi Delta Theta has closed 35 chapters because of violations of its risk-management policy, including alcohol and hazing abuses. Despite its no-booze policy, Phi Delt recruitment has increased 2 percent to 3 percent per year since 2000 -- three years after the fraternity's national president went on NBC's "Today" to announce the ban, which began with a few chapters.

Alumni are happy with the impact of the policy -- those at the University of Akron have ponied up $1.2 million for a new chapter house that will open this fall. Parents are relieved, and the guys, who number 8,500 across North America, don't seem to mind.

"It's not like we're all teetotalers," said Beres, a former vice president of the Akron chapter. "We just don't bring it into the house."

Chris Center, president of Case's Phi Delta Theta chapter, guides a guest through the fraternity house, a converted dorm with about 40 10-by-10-foot single rooms. It has scuffed floors and worn furniture, but it's clean. "It's the kind of place you could bring your mother to and she wouldn't cry," said Center, a senior from Cincinnati.

No alcohol is a good thing, says Bryan Storch, a Case management and finance major and Phi Delt from Avon Lake. "We're not cleaning up constantly." Or breaking up fights "because someone's drunk."

Temptation is less, too, because of the no-booze policy, Center adds. "You don't say, instead of studying, I'm just going to sit in my room and have a few."

The statistics resulting from "having a few" are sobering. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that an average of 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year as a result of unintentional alcohol-related injuries. In addition, 500,000 are injured; more than 600,000 are assaulted; and more than 700,000 are victims of alcohol-related sexual abuse or date rape.

About 25 percent of college students report poor academic consequences resulting from drinking (missing class, receiving poor grades). About 11 percent report that they have damaged property while under the influence of alcohol.

Fraternity members are the biggest offenders, according to a 2001 Harvard School of Public Health college alcohol use study that surveyed 119 colleges and universities. Greeks are much more likely to engage in heavy drinking (consuming four or more drinks in one sitting) than nonfraternity members -- about 75.1 percent versus 48.6 percent, the study found.

Living in a fraternity or sorority house increases the chance that members will drink -- a lot.
The study found that 75.4 percent of students living in fraternity and sorority houses are heavy drinkers, compared with only 45.3 percent of students living in non-Greek residence halls.
James Favor, president of James R. Favor & Co., a Denver insurance brokerage that sells insurance to more than 15 national fraternities, said that alcohol is a factor in 90 percent or more of all fraternity or sorority claims. He calls the Phi Delt anti-alcohol move "historic and bold. You can't convince me that the effect has not been positive."

Just compare the insurance figures, said Favor. In the 10 years before the alcohol-free decision in 2000, Phi Delta Theta averaged 12.3 liability claims a year, totaling an average $812,951 per year in insurance payouts. That made it a full-fledged member of the "Booze Brothers," as he calls imbibing fraternities.

However, from 2000 to Dec. 31, 2007, the last statistics available from his firm, the fraternity, now dry, averaged three claims a year with an average total cost of $15,388 annually.
"Numbers don't lie," said Favor.

That's good news for young Phi Delt chapter officers -- who can be named in liability suits -- and the rest of the members, who pay less to live in a dry house compared to houses that allow drinking. Phi Delta Theta international executive vice president Robert Biggs estimates that individual Phi Delts pays at least $65 less per year in insurance costs. At Case, each Phi Delt pays $130 a year for liability coverage. Members at one "wet" fraternity pay $232.50 a year.
Although other fraternities limit alcohol use, only Phi Delta Theta and Farmhouse, an international fraternity in Kansas City, Mo., that has 30 chapters, have no-alcohol/no-exception policies that are this stringent in all houses and surrounding areas, such as parking lots, yards and sidewalks.

Bob Deloian is the Denver dentist and former Phi Delta Theta international president who went on television in 1997 to tell the world his fraternity was going dry. He had no choice, he said. Phi Delta Theta -- as well as other Greek organizations -- was dealing with the ramifications of rampant alcohol use -- poor grades, bad image, low recruitment, run-down houses, and disgusted alumni and parents.

"I had seen parents cry because they are leaving their sons in such dumps -- beer, vomit, feet stuck to the floor," said Deloian, who eventually had to close down his own old fraternity house at Arizona State University in Tempe. The house, designed by Phi Delt Frank Lloyd Wright, had $400,000 in property damage, a problem Deloian blames on alcohol use.

Going dry was a gamble, said Deloian. "We thought we would lose 10 to 20 percent [of our members], but we agreed that if we lost 50 percent, we would not miss a beat."

But how can fraternities realistically enforce an alcohol ban? "We do what any parent does. We lay out the policy, then we educate like crazy," said Rudy Porchivina, the international president of Phi Delta Theta. (In addition to programs sponsored by the international fraternity, last month Case's Phi Delta Theta chapter required all of its members to attend an alcohol education presentation sponsored by the university.)

A report of alcohol possession gets a personal visit from several Phi Delt officials. "We talk to every single person in the house to find out if it was an isolated incident or a don't-care policy." The latter would mean the chapter is closed or reorganized, with the perpetrators bounced out.
And how can a fraternity exist whose central focus isn't alcohol, said Biggs. "We have proven that a fraternity can do very well. There are students who are attracted to a values-based experience." In fact, among more than 65 international fraternities, Phi Delta Theta is in the top 10 in number of student members.

At Case, a Phi Delt get-together involves lots to eat. "Our parties are based around food," said Center. "We have chicken parm and steak dinners, and during rush weeks, we grill hot dogs and hamburgers near the freshmen dorms." (Case does not allow alcohol at any Greek rush parties throughout its campus.)

There was a time when alcohol was an expected feature of college life for some students, but that's not the norm any longer, said Porchivina. "Fundamentally, we're getting a different kind of kid than we were getting in 1997."

Members such as Nick Schillig, 23, a University of Akron Phi Delt and student teacher from Louisville, Ohio, say they don't miss the booze other fraternities permit in-house. For one thing, Schillig said, a Phi Delt house is quieter. "In a wet house, people come back from the bars and keep on partying."

"It's like coming home to your parent's house -- in a good way," adds his Phi Delta Theta brother Beres. "You can go out and have a good time, but it's not going to follow you home."
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