Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
The Daily Californian sat down with Daniel Saedi, president of UC Berkeley’s Interfraternity Council, to discuss both the current and future state of the Cal Greek system.
The Daily Californian: Do you think that Greek parties have gotten more or less safe in recent years?
Daniel Saedi: I think there’s such a culture and attitude towards safety now that I didn’t see my freshman year. As a junior, I’ve only seen about two and a half years of the Greek party scene, but I distinctly remember my freshman fall semester going to numerous fraternities (and) having open access to hard alcohol. There were handles just flowing around the party. And now, when I go around to other fraternities, I see closed access points of service, bartenders at every point where alcohol is being served, no hard alcohol — there is so much an attitude towards safety. We see chapters voluntarily adopting consent talks at the door; all the doors are locked that aren’t being used for a party now. … I know a lot of people from the outside haven’t been able to see that kind of timeline … but I’ve definitely seen not only a huge cultural shift but a real shift towards making our parties safer for everyone — not only for Greeks, but for non-Greeks who attend as well.
DC: The consent talks thing is actually something I was going to ask you about. I didn’t know that there were certain chapters that have voluntarily implemented those — would that be something that IFC would be trying to make mandatory, in the way a lot of clubs and the co-ops do?
DS: So, I actually went to a couple Berkeley Cooperative parties last semester, just to see what they were up to. We heard from the city that BSC had mandated consent talks at their door, and I was really amazed by how not only efficient it was, but how effective it is to gently remind people at the door about consent laws in California. Pennsylvania, where I’m from, has completely different consent laws than California, but I wasn’t even familiar with either (set of laws). Just reminding people at the door really imprints it in their head at the beginning of a party. So what we’re working on right now is trying to implement (consent talks at the door) in the fall as part of our Group Living Accommodation functional equivalent. We’re working really hard with Berkeley Police Department, because one of the problems that smaller chapters have is that (the talks) create a line at the door, which could create an impediment to the right of way on the sidewalk. I’m really, really impressed by what the co-ops have been able to do so quickly. I really want to emulate some of the good things that they’ve done in our own community.
DC: With all that being said, do you look at instances of sexual assault, alcohol poisoning, and — in the most extreme cases — death, as aberrations that are just always going to exist in any party setting, or as symptomatic of problems that we could actually hope to solve?
DS: I think it’s both, but at the same time, it’s still unacceptable. When I talked to the city of Berkeley, one thing that we agreed on was that in an ideal world, there need to be zero transports. I think that that is something we can strive to achieve, but I think (the problem) is symptomatic of a culture in America towards alcohol. … I don’t think there’s enough education. I’m really happy that the university is starting to move towards educating freshmen about the dangers of alcohol, because most of these calls are not for sophomores, juniors or even people in the Greek system — where we have mandated education every semester. (Many) calls are coming from freshmen from the dorms. People are being exposed to alcohol for the first time, and it’s in such excess that — I don’t really blame them, a freshman who has never had alcohol before coming to college and has four or five drinks at a party — that could cause alcohol intoxication, and we need to educate people and warn them and be proactive about it.
I think that having a partnership with the university in terms of the new freshmen orientation program is going to help that, but it also comes down to just limiting the amount of alcohol that’s being served at our events, and that’s something that we moved towards with the hard alcohol ban and something that we’re actually going to be rolling out in the fall is a over and under-21 wristband system that other large, class-one research universities are using, like Texas and Penn State.
“I know a lot of people from the outside haven’t been able to see that kind of timeline … but I’ve definitely seen not only a huge cultural shift but a real shift towards making our parties safer for everyone — not only for Greeks, but for non-Greeks who attend as well.”
DC: How do you respond to people who say the problem isn’t with alcohol safety or the implementation of consent talks, but with the fact that Greek life itself is rife with social problems — elitism, sexism, etc. — and these are parts of Greek life that are always going to exist and that cause the danger?
DS: I think that the problems are more emblematic of American culture and college culture in general. If you look at universities that don’t have Greek systems — such as some of the Ivy League schools like Princeton or Harvard, or even schools like Cal Poly San Luis Obispo that don’t have large Greek communities like we do — we still see the same problems with alcohol intoxication and sexual assault. I think a lot of it just has to do with the lack of education that American youth gets before they come to college.
DC: What does the future of the Greek system look like to you, then? In terms of safety, in terms of inclusivity — do you see it transforming significantly over the next few couple years or even the next 10 years? Or is it basically going to stay as is?
DS: I think that we’ve already seen a lot of the change in terms of student-led initiatives. In the Greek system at Cal, specifically, we’re going to have to be the first ones to initiate the kind of change that we want to see. One of the things that we’re already seeing is a more independent, more accountable Greek system. We didn’t have a Standards Board when I joined IFC a year and a half ago, and just this past Sunday, (IFC) handled three cases regarding hard alcohol and doled out fines to chapters, going independent of Student Conduct and just holding ourselves accountable. In the future, I think that with the Group Living Accommodation and all the other stringent regulations we’re going to have to impose upon ourselves, I think (there will be) more opportunities for students themselves to hold each other accountable. And we’ve seen that it’s much easier for us to do than it is for Student Conduct. I hope that by the time I graduate, we’ll see an independent Standards Board handling a lot of the cases that Student Conduct would have seen. I’m seeing the consent talks at the door and all these things becoming an open conversation now, instead of being held behind closed doors. Individual members — not just executives, IFC members, Panhellenic Council members — but individual members (are) talking about these issues and how they can stop them, so that we can really get rid of them.
DC: Since you said you do think we’re having conversations: do you think the conversation is big enough now? Is it significant among individual members?
DS: Sure. Being at my regular chapter meetings, people are talking and giving suggestions about how to make our parties safer. We started serving water and having non-salty snacks at my fraternity even before GAMMA (Greeks Advocating the Mature Management of Alcohol) mandated that last semester. That wasn’t an executive decision; it was from suggestions at regular chapter meetings. I know that Kappa Alpha — one of the first fraternities to have the consent talks at the door — got the idea came from a regular member, not from their president or from their cabinet. I think that these conversations are happening. Even if you walk down Piedmont, it’s like one out of 10, one out of 15 conversations are about sexual assault. And that’s what needs to happen. It needs to be at the forefront (of conversation) if people are going to change their behaviors and create the cultural change we need to see. I am just really impressed with what I’ve seen firsthand in the past two and a half years.