This article was updated on April 5 at 5:36 p.m.
The Interfraternity Council banned alcohol at in-house events through January and February in an attempt to address the environment of sexual assault fostered at frat parties.
What the council failed to realize is that the problem isn’t alcohol, but where it’s served.
Unlike fraternities, most sororities are prohibited from having alcohol in their houses. Dani Weatherford, executive director of the National Panhellenic Conference, said in a statement that individual chapters of NPC sororities set the rules regarding alcohol.
“Our members don’t host events with alcohol in their living units,” Weatherford said. “Instead, they host functions in university spaces or off campus, often relying on third-party vendors and providing security.”
The mandate that sorority houses be dry is the main reason they typically do not throw parties. They do co-sponsor theme parties and mixers with fraternities, but fraternities are the ones who throw the “real” parties: the ragers with loud music, all-night dancing and all the alcohol you can drink. And predatory fraternity brothers are all too willing to take advantage of this position of power.
Sororities should offer an alternative to frat parties by lifting the restrictions that prevent their members from having alcohol in the house. By doing so, they could throw parties specifically structured to protect women and give them more agency.
Sydney Lim, a second-year political science and communication student, said she thinks frat parties are often built around getting women through the door and then getting them drunk.
“It happens everywhere, but especially at frats,” she said. “You have guys come up and you don’t want to dance with them, but they just keep coming back, and they just want to get you drinking.”
At many frat parties, a man stands at the door and decides if guests may enter. Men are unlikely to gain entry unless they know someone in the fraternity hosting the party. Women, on the other hand, are guaranteed entry, said Alison Tran, a second-year bioengineering student and member of a sorority.
Tran said she thinks the environment of frat parties is often unsafe for women, and said sorority members would be more particular about whom they let in.
“(A fraternity is) a strange place: You don’t know where anything is – it’s just dark, and you don’t know who’s there,” Tran said. “Girls are usually the ones who are in danger at these kinds of things, so we would be more aware of who we let in.”
Indeed, the scenario changes radically at a sorority party. A woman would stand at the door and admit people she thinks will respect and not take advantage of women at the party.
Sororities also offer protection just through the nature of being on home turf.
“When you’re in your own home, you can go upstairs (and) lock yourself in your room,” Tran said.
So why aren’t such parties allowed? Emily Lewis, a third-year economics student and president of UCLA Panhellenic Association, said the reason is typically tied to the cost of insurance for fraternity and sorority chapters.
“It’s mainly a financial thing,” said Lewis. “It’s much cheaper to have these insurance rates in place without having alcohol in each chapter facility.”
The dues members of Greek life pay go to the national chapter of their organization, which in turn provides a single blanket insurance policy for chapter facilities and any mishaps within them. Thus, policies with restrictions on alcohol are evenly applied to all chapters of a particular sorority or fraternity, regardless of that chapter’s location or preference.
One New York Times comparison noted that while sorority policies typically cost under $50 per member per year, fraternity costs hover around $160. The driving difference, of course, is alcohol. While fraternities, for example, found fame for inventing “butt chugging” – inserting a hose rectally to deliver alcohol straight to the intestines – dry sororities appear to be a relatively safe bet for insurance companies.
But with the prevalence of sexual assault at frat parties, such an increase in dues is warranted.
“I know enough people who have gone through bad stuff at frats that, yeah, it would be worth (raising dues),” Tran said.
If sorority parties end up attracting enough women, fraternities in turn would be forced to adapt their policies to make their spaces more welcoming to women, lest they find themselves throwing parties with no female attendees.
To be fair, the IFC is making such adjustments already. The council now requires that all fraternities have third-party security guards and bartenders at every registered event, which is a reasonable attempt to make parties safer.
But the changes in place are too slow and may be too often ignored to make much of a difference. Tran said in her experience, the new restrictions aren’t being enforced.
Banning alcohol doesn’t solve the problem of sexual assault. And why would it? The world has yet to see an effective answer to underage drinking. And rape isn’t a problem of people drinking too much alcohol in the first place.
The choice now is whether women should be able to feel safe when they drink, or if they must continue to rely on the track record of fraternity brothers’ questionable restraint and decency.