An unknown visitor, a party, and alcohol. By the end of the night, members of Sigma Phi Epsilon found their fraternity reported to the Interfraternity Council (IFC) judicial board for a conduct hearing.
The hearing concluded with the fraternity’s punishment— a two-year social probation. The probation, however, was little more than a slap on the wrist. A second violation, the University said, would result in another probation, this time over 5 years.
Sigma Phi Epsilon’s lax punishment seems to fall in line with consequences other fraternities have faced for misbehavior at Illinois. According to data obtained from the University’s Interfraternity Council, half of UI’s 42 recognized fraternities committed alcohol violations at least once in the last four years. However, only three fraternities are currently on conduct probation.
Its no secret fraternities have been under fire. A study by Professor Hank Neur of Franklin College found a majority of recent student deaths have been fraternity members. Moreover, Neur found a majority of the deaths involved alcohol.
Although universities are ultimately responsible for monitoring their campuses’ respective chapters, the call for fraternity reformation has been largely targeted toward the Fraternity National Organizations (FNO).
Kevin Bergbauer, a former member of Alpha Chi Ro at Illinois, says the fraternity’s nationals took action to punish the chapter, not the University.
“Our charter got pulled after a girl fell and injured herself after drinking,” says Bergbauer. “Ultimately it was our nationals that decided to pull our charter after a recommendation from the alumni board.”
Sigma Nu, Pi Kappa Phi, and Beta Theta Pi are just a few fraternal organizations facing lawsuits for failing to enforce hazing and alcohol policies.
Many of the universities, however, are not facing lawsuits. A family member suing Pi Kappa Phi went as far to say Florida State did nothing wrong. “We sued those who had a role in Andrew’s death,” said the father of the Pi Kappa Phi pledge.
A number of national organizations have responded by implementing a dry-house policy, a ban of all alcohol within the chapter house, regardless of age.
The pressure to reduce alcohol affiliation is being by fraternity members throughout Champaign. However, many members have found ways around their national policies.
Anthony Diperte, a member of Acacia Fraternity, believes the fraternity’s national organization is trying to implement social restrictions by banning liquor with an alcohol content higher than 10% at all events.
“We break some of the national rules, like the ban of hard alcohol,” says Diperte. “We feel it’s a little harsh. We have the feeling that with sober monitors at each party we can keep it safe and under control.”
IFC records show Acacia has been found in violation of alcohol policies twice since 2013, one of which occurred in November of 2017 for hosting an unregistered event with alcohol present.
Despite the violation, Acacia does not appear on the IFC list of fraternities under probation.
When questioned about alcohol policies, a spokesperson for Acaia’s national organization asked what the information would be used for and failed to respond further.
Alcohol policies are difficult to enforce because they are mainly monitored by national advisers who are not consistently present within the chapter house.
“We have alumni that oversee our chapter,” says Frank Acoste, a member of Kappa Sigma. “But they aren’t here all the time, maybe once a week.”
Another problem is that national rules differ from fraternity to fraternity. Jake Borla, a member of Theta Xi, says his fraternity currently “has no specific policy that outlaws consuming or possessing alcohol.”
Trenton Williams, a member of Phi Gamma Delta, says having a dry-house policy makes planning social events more difficult because without a house to drink in, members must turn to other locations.
“We turn to places like the bars because you can enter at 19, so a lot of our members still have a place to party at. Really only the freshman are affected.”
However, the push to move alcohol away from the chapter houses can cause problems, especially with some houses resisting the change.
“I would say we see more alcohol issues in the bars rather than the houses,” says Sgt. Joe Ketchem of the Champaign police. While FNO’s are rushing to adopt stricter alcohol policies, Sgt. Ketchum doesn’t foresee any changes to the campus bars.
While the bars seem like a safer alternative for fraternity members looking for a good time, alcohol violations continue to pile up among Illinois chapters.
There are many reasons why fraternity members break national rules on alcohol consumption and the University must tackle these reasons before alcohol can be entirely eliminated from chapter houses.
Fraternities feel pressured to keep hard alcohol to maintain their social standing among other frats and sororities
“I think that [if we enforced the rule] people would talk and word would get around,” says Anthony Diperte. “It would shy away people who don’t like other drinks.”
The fear of negative social backlash from reducing hard alcohol consumption is partly exacerbated by sorority members. Some members see fraternities as a familiar place that offers an outlet for drinking.
Julia Santos, a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority, “being in the houses is really cool because I like seeing the history. People have been in some of these frats for decades, it just feels like a traditional college experience.”
“Going inside frats is just fun,” says Margaret Kopoulos, a member of the Kappa Delta sorority, “I thought it’d be gross and I wouldn’t want to spend any time there, but they’re a really fun environment to be in and even if it gets rowdy I don’t mind, that’s fun too.”
Conformity and Tradition
Almost 25% of Illinois students are involved in Greek life. Some students believe the large number of greek students creates a culture of conformity to preserve traditional fraternity activities, like drinking.
“The biggest problem I have is the conformity,” says Ari Theodoropoulos, an independent student.“I think some people [in greek life] feel like they don’t have anything besides superficial things like these letters and these friends.”
Conformity among members, especially recently initiated ones, is one factor that can be attributed to hazing deaths but also presents a problem with adopting alcohol policies.
“[Banning hard alcohol] would hurt because other fraternities don’t follow this rule,” says Diperte. “We break that rule because nobody has it in place.”
However, many fraternities do have these rules in place. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, nearly one in five chapters in North America had adopted dry house policies over a decade ago.
“Our house recently adopted dry housing,” says David LaSota, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. “Many of the older members were really upset, a lot of them dropped. When the newer members see that, seeing how the older guys react, they want to be like that, so they already have a negative view towards these policies.”
If fraternity members are resistant to change, how will change occur? Shawn Dalgleish, a chapter councilor at Illinois, says it starts with leadership from within.
“You have three buckets,” says Dalgleish, “people who are bought in to these policies, people who aren’t, and the largest bucket, the people who need convincing.”
“Chapters need to have leaders that are bought in. That gives them credibility to convince the people in the third bucket to buy in. Once that happens, you can begin to disassociate the second bucket.”
Dalgleish believes these changes are inevitable because national organizations are cracking down harder than ever on alcohol policies.
“With the way nationals are heading, I believe chapters are going to have to buy in or face the risk of losing their charter,” says Dalgleish. “Many of the larger fraternity organizations, like Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Chi are discussing dry house policies, and usually when the large organizations adopt a policy, the smaller ones follow suit.”
The pressure FNO’s are putting on their chapters is beginning to show results according to Dalgleish.
“I’m seeing this change starting to happen at many chapters that I advise. I’m hopeful these undergraduate leaders can shift the culture positively and keep that culture going.”