Cornell University’s administration recently mandated that Greek organizations on campus adhere to regulations that strictly limit alcohol consumption and prohibit freshmen from attending Greek parties where alcohol is served. Though well-intentioned, the rules are not an effective way of addressing alcohol problems within fraternities and sororities. Instead, they incentivize drinking in secret and in potentially more hazardous environments, where underage drinkers and their peers may not be able to look out for one another, putting lives in danger. However, despite these undesirable rules, Greek organizations at Cornell and elsewhere do have a responsibility to re-define their culture so that it emphasizes more than just imbibing.
Prohibiting freshmen from attending fraternity or sorority parties not only restricts those freshmen who do drink, but also punishes freshmen who simply want to socialize without drinking alcohol. The administrative action cuts off what likely serves as the main social outlet for many freshmen. It provides them with no alternative, putting a damper on their social lives even if they are looking to have fun while staying sober. These rules are unfair to the freshmen who committed no legal offense to begin with.
The most pressing issue regarding drinking that must be addressed, however, is hazing. While drinking to be initiated into an organization is part of a long-standing tradition in many fraternities and sororities, forced consumption of alcohol is unacceptable because it endangers the lives of students. This is a risk no organization should be willing to take, and it is understandable that Cornell’s administration felt compelled to implement these rules to deal with such safety issues. However, these problems can and should be addressed in a different manner, one that does not force underage drinkers to turn to unsound alternatives.
Even Harvard’s final club culture is a standing example of how prohibitive rules can backfire. Barring male freshmen from final club parties often leads to high-volume binge drinking in their own dorm rooms or elsewhere; the record number of freshmen admitted to Harvard University Health Services last year for alcohol intoxication or poisoning might be evidence of this. The rules—while not mandated by the university in Harvard’s case—prompt underground action that may be preventable under monitored circumstances.
But, although less than ideal, the new regulations can certainly motivate fraternities and sororities to retool their images into something more meaningful than the drinking culture that currently seems to define them. Drinking should neither be the foundation for these organizations’ reputations nor the sole draw for joining them. It would be in the groups’ best interests to ensure that existing or potential members have something to look forward to—and to take pride in—other than the copious amounts of alcohol consumption for which fraternities and sororities are generally known.