Administrators announced strict social regulations for fraternities and sororities last month, much to the dismay of many students both in and out of Greek life, after a student conduct investigation of Timothy Piazza’s tragic fall down the basement steps at Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Though these new policies will take effect starting during the 2017-2018 school year, Penn State is “late to the party” if you will in a number of risk management categories.
Fraternities will only be permitted to host 10 socials with alcohol each semester – down from a previous limit of 45 set by the Interfraternity Council – and it seems the university will strike with an iron fist against the underage drinking often associated with frat parties.
While Penn State has allowed IFC to maintain relative autonomy in its risk management practices, other universities have already stepped in to implement these policies at an administrative level.
Rather than using only an independently contracted security company as the IFC has done in the past to enforce its regulations, Penn State says student leaders and university staff will now also be responsible for ensuring these new policies are followed.
Damon Sims, Vice President for Student Affairs, explained to the media on a conference call these reforms aren’t just about one nationally reported incident or even just a few nationally reported incidents. Penn State Greek life has been in the negative spotlight on separate occasions over the past few years between the death of Piazza and an incident involving members of Kappa Delta Rho sharing photos of nude women taken without their consent in a Facebook group in 2015.
“Fraternity and sorority members are four times more likely than the general student population to be heavy drinkers,” the statement from the university on these new regulations reads. “Sorority women are 50 percent more likely than other female students to be sexually assaulted, and fraternity men are 62 percent more likely to commit a sexual assault than non-fraternity men.”
The statement also says administration is no longer confident in the Greek organizations’ ability to effectively govern themselves.
“We no longer believe that vesting so much responsibility in the self-governance of these groups will produce positive outcomes,” Sims said. “Today, Penn State is drawing a line and imposing critical changes.”
Some fraternity and sorority members even opted to protest in front of Old Main the evening after the regulations were announced. Based on turnout relative to the size of the Greek community, the event was ultimately a flop.
But are these new regulations truly groundbreaking? After all, they’re already in effect at peer institutions throughout the Big Ten conference.
Penn State plans to take a stand on who’s allowed to go Greek in the first place — undoubtedly due to hazing allegations that have surfaced against multiple fraternity chapters. Sims said Penn State received five accusations of hazing in the Greek community in the week following Piazza’s death alone.
Students will not be permitted to rush until they have completed 12 credit hours as a full-time student. Basically, first-semester freshmen can’t go Greek — and the university has covered all its bases here to ensure dual enrollment or AP credits don’t provide the loophole so many incoming freshmen are now seeking.
It’s the same at Northwestern, where fraternities and sororities can’t offer invitations to first-year students until the beginning of their winter quarter, which started on January 3 this year. Actually, Northwestern is even stricter than Penn State in this regard. Freshmen aren’t even allowed to attend events at fraternity or sorority houses during the first three weeks of the fall quarter — and after that, they’re only permitted if there’s no alcohol present. The university calls this a “Freshman Freeze.”
Alcohol is prohibited at Penn State socials through the end of this semester, but beer and wine will be allowed in the fall if served by RAMP (a certification available to bartenders) trained servers. Again, at Northwestern, “alcohol must be purchased and served by a licensed and insured pourer who has signed the Northwestern University Undergraduate Events With Alcohol Rider.” Only drinks classified as beer, wine, and cider (or non-alcoholic) are allowed at Greek social events at Ohio State.
We can draw parallels from daylong policies in place at neighboring Big Ten institutions, as well.
IFC regulations previously let fraternities register daytime social events from either 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The University of Maryland only permits registered social events between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. or 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. To schedule a social at any other time at Maryland, the IFC or Panhel Vice President of Risk Management must approve the event at least 10 days in advance.
Other Big Ten schools maintain similar policies, as explicitly outlined in Student Affairs documents readily available on their respective websites. These regulations aren’t outlandish — so why are students reacting as if they are?
For more on Greek life policies across the Big Ten: