Examining problems posed by Greek life

CAMPUS ISSUES: It should not take alcohol poisoning and sexual assault to spur change

This academic year, at least one student death was caused by alcohol intoxication on the premises of a fraternity house.

In the sobering aftermath of tragedy, we point to individual failings: Why weren’t friends looking after him? Why did no one cut him off from drinks? Why weren’t paramedics called until the morning?

But the UC Berkeley community, from fraternity members to administrators, needs to look at how the institution of Greek life — not individuals — often contributes to our campus’s unsafe party culture. Though issues stemming from it, including extreme alcohol intoxication and sexual assault, are not endemic to UC Berkeley alone, they are, nonetheless, inexcusable.

Moreover, on campus, there seems to be a stark discrepancy between how men and women view the issue of sexual assault. In a survey conducted by The Daily Californian, those identifying as Greek females rated sexual assault as the No. 1 pressing issue on campus. Greek men, on the other hand, rated it as the fifth most pressing campus issue, ranking it after academic experience, tuition and fees, mental health and sustainability.

In interviews with members of the ASUC Sexual Assault Commission, the campus police department and the Interfraternity Council, the Daily Cal’s Senior Editorial Board focused the discussion on achievable solutions.

The answer is not, as the Dartmouth and other voices have suggested, a simple banishment of the entire Greek system. If UC Berkeley ceased to recognized all fraternities, some would likely continue to operate unaffiliated with the campus. But unaffiliated fraternities perhaps pose the greatest dangers to students. They do not receive the same training or face the same regulatory pressures as chapters of the Interfraternity Council.

The IFC has proposed a number of solutions that, while not sweeping in nature, will help mitigate some of the more dangerous aspects of party culture at fraternity houses in the short term. The IFC cannot regulate everything within its member chapters, but it certainly exerts a level of supervision that is abundantly absent from unaffiliated houses. For instance, after the death of UC Davis student at Zeta Psi, an unaffiliated fraternity, the council banned all hard alcohol from being purchased or served at events in IFC fraternities. According to Daniel Saedi, the IFC vice president of external affairs, houses found violating the ban on hard alcohol can be fined at $20 per member.

If licensed, third-party vendors purchased and served alcohol at events — something Saedi said is in the works — there would be fewer cases of alcohol intoxication. Though professional bartenders do not come cheap, they are well worth the investment if they help prevent alcohol transports and further tragedies. A second but less preferable option would be to have sober women, in addition to fraternity members, bartend at parties. In either case, fraternities need to ensure that sober members patrol their houses to look out for students exhibiting symptoms of alcohol poisoning or overdoses — a measure that is one part of a bill on standardized risk management practices that will go before the ASUC Senate on Wednesday.

Sororities have also played a vital role in pressuring unrecognized fraternity houses to change dangerous practices by prohibiting their members from attending events until those houses have complied with certain safety regulations. That kind of social pressure, if coupled with a genuine interest from fraternity members in improving their protocols, is what will ultimately lead to a culture shift.

Both fraternity and sorority chapters need to foster an environment that prevents incidents of sexual assault and respects the decisions of survivors. Consent and bystander intervention workshops, often held by Greeks Against Sexual Assault, are crucial to educating fraternity and sorority members. But Meghan Warner, a former co-chair of GASA and the director of the ASUC Sexual Assault Commission, said fraternity members were sometimes disrespectful during workshops. So rather than having outside organizations present to chapters, we believe fraternity and sorority executive officers, who hold more clout among members, should attend intensive training sessions on sexual assault education and go back to their own houses to teach. A member of GASA could also be there to support those officers.

Change comes slowly and begins with a cultural shift inside chapters. It should not take students dying and reports of rape to change the attitudes and practices within houses, nor should it take multiple semesters to implement solutions. Whatever these solutions are and whomever they come from, we know that an environment of binge drinking and sexual assault is one that needs to be changed swiftly and permanently.

Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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