As you open the doors and step across the threshold, the dense, hot air instantly envelops you. The accompanying darkness is sliced only by strobe lights as music blares from the speakers so violently that your lungs rattle within your ribcage. You’re jostled to the center of a massive cluster of moving bodies, the walls lined with kegs, the bottoms of your shoes sticking slightly to the floor. It’s a classic fraternity party. Or sorority party, for that matter.
Well, for Dartmouth College’s Sigma Delta sorority, maybe.
For years, nationally affiliated sororities have not allowed their members to consume alcohol within chapter houses. As Tyler Kingkade of the Huffington Post indicates, this rule not only prevents sororities from hosting house parties, but also means members don’t even have the right to sip a glass of cheap wine while watching Gilmore Girls in their bedrooms. Some sorority chapters even forbid members from having empty alcohol containers within their walls, Kingkade says.
Such sororities are certainly allowed to host parties — but only at venues aside from their own homes, and stocked with alcohol from a third-party vendor.
This stands in sharp contrast to the policies in place for fraternities, which are allowed to host their own parties (and often do so two or three times each week in off-campus houses and on “the Hill”). Granted, Lehigh fraternities are only allowed to serve beer and must register all chapter house parties with the university. But the rights, risks and liabilities remain divided among the two sets of Greek organizations.
Sigma Delta, a sorority without any type of national affiliation, holds parties with alcohol at its own house in Hanover, New Hampshire, The New York Times reported. Events feature female bartenders, female members monitoring the doors and women designated to remain sober and supervise the scene, according to The Times.
The motivation? Avoiding sexual assault and rape.
Such issues have become hot-button topics on college campuses, especially in recent years. Greek life is under a particularly high level of scrutiny, fueled in part by a November 2014 article by Rolling Stone detailing the gang rape of a first-year student at the University of Virginia.
Although the piece was subsequently discredited for its use of misreporting, officials at the University of Virginia have taken the allegations seriously. In fact, national sorority chapters ordered members at the university to stay away from fraternity events on campus this past weekend, according to The Washington Post. Such orders were issued before an event known as Boys’ Bid Night Jan. 31, which is notorious for its incorporation of heavy drinking and has led to accusations of sexual assault in the past, Bloomberg Business reported.
A 2007 study financed by the Department of Justice found that women who frequently attended fraternity parties were significantly more likely than others to be sexually assaulted. Furthermore, several NASPA journal studies, which focus on student affairs in higher education, have found that men in fraternities were significantly more likely to have committed rape than non-Greek men, and that heavy drinking by both sexes, a staple of many fraternity parties, was also strongly tied to many cases of sexual assault.
The notion that all rape or sexual assault occurs among members of Greek life, or that all members of Greek life commit such heinous crimes, is a gross generalization. But in light of the statistics, the women of Sigma Delta have a solid strategy.
By having their own parties, the women have the ability to determine everything from the people allowed beyond the doors to the content of the punch, The Times said. They’re theoretically able to retreat to their own rooms if necessary, and without the fear of having to then escape.
But letting sororities have their own parties isn’t necessarily about preventing sexual assault. It’s about putting Greek life on an equal playing field. People must recognize that these two issues, while linked, remain separate. Solving one won’t automatically solve the other.
If you refuse to clean a wound and simply slap a Band-Aid on it, it might heal. But it’s likely to become infected. The same holds true for Sigma Delta’s approach. Will it prevent some sexual assaults? Probably. Will it stop sexual assault as a whole? Not a chance. It’s a good solution, but an admittedly temporary one. Mentalities don’t often change overnight.
Telling women — rather, telling anyone — to avoid parties in an effort to avoid being raped may be a good practice in theory. The fact that this is considered idealism at its finest, however, is a sad, sad reality. It may indeed save some people from sexual assault. But with such a strategy, we aren’t teaching people not to rape. We’re teaching people to avoid becoming victims.
“Don’t drink the punch?” There shouldn’t be anything other than punch in there to begin with.
Even worse that a “bandaid” response is perpetuating simplistic (even if politically acceptable) ideas such as a sharp distinction between “victims” and “victimizers” on campus. The fact is that most of what gets labeled as “sexual assault” at our colleges (which now includes such atrocities as unwanted kissing or touching through the clothes) is the result of an alcohol-lubricated hookup culture in which both sexes participate with (literal) abandon. Alcohol use (or, rather, abuse) is for the purpose of lowering inhibitions to make the hookup easier – even if it is likely to be later regretted.
What used to be called “bad manners” is now “sexual assault”, and college women’s choices and behavior play as much a role in it as do the choices and behavior of college men. So a sorority choosing to hold its own parties is responsibility in action. Dry sororities, on the other hand, only encourage hard partying at the frat houses – which then shoulder the weight of blame that should be shared by both Greek genders.
The elephant in the room, however, is the binge-drinking hookup culture, which no one seems willing to tackle head on.