Editorial: Returning to the Hill

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If someone saw the list of all the registered parties that take place during a semester at Lehigh, they wouldn’t believe we’ve been ranked as a top 10 party school.

At night, students migrate down the Hill for parties hosted in basements that are over capacity and don’t have the necessary exits in case of an emergency. The Hill, where majestic frat houses adorned with Greek columns and spacious interiors line the campus’s mountainside, stands silent on these rowdy nights — alcohol only to be found in the off-campus residences of those members old enough to supply it.

The great migration of students down the Hill at the beginning of the evening and then stumbling up once the parties are done is a weekend staple of life at Lehigh. So, no one questions it.

But not too long ago, parties were being held on the Hill. Fifth-year students and current seniors might remember these times, but for younger students, this has only reached our ears through hearsay. Fraternities used to host parties in their chapter houses, so what happened?

There doesn’t seem to be one incident that set off the change, since the social policy has been constantly changing since the raising of the drinking age in 1984. Pennsylvania is usually considered one of the strictest states in regards to alcohol consumption. Yet, one of the most impactful policies to come out of that is Lehigh’s social policy.

As of now, the social policy outlines how parties should be registered, administered and planned when using on-campus facilities.

If a fraternity were to host a party on the Hill, it would have to register the party with the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs more than a week in advance, or 21 days in advance in some circumstances.

It then needs to hire two or three event staff members to monitor the party by helping sign in students and give wristbands to those over 21 years of age. The also stand by the bar to make sure hosts are only giving alcohol to those with the appropriate wristband.

Hosts manning the bar at these events must have completed the social host training administered by OFSA. These events may not last for more than four hours and must only use one entrance and exit.

The list of requirements and rules goes on and on — for 16 pages to be exact — so it’s no wonder registered parties are an anomaly.

Off-campus parties pose more of a risk to students than parties hosted on the Hill.

The safety of students should be of paramount importance to the university, and since they can’t control the amount of parties fraternities host off campus, they should switch their focus to make sure parties are hosted in controlled environments. Students are going to drink regardless of the rules the university sets, and underage drinking on college campuses is a national trend. Lehigh should focus on creating a safer environment.

One step toward safety would be to bring parties back to the Hill — with consideration for the inevitability of parties, and the need to make sure they’re happening safely. Although a new pilot program aims to bring back some parties to the Hill, it’s still focusing on registered parties.

We believe bringing parties back to the Hill would have many benefits, the most important one being the state of the facilities in which parties are thrown. Instead of a dark, unsafe basement, parties could be hosted in rooms, which were — back in the day — specifically designed to be event rooms and hold a high volume of people. These rooms are equipped with safety exits, sprinklers and are an overall safer environment than an off campus basement in an old house.

The change in venue would also create less of a walk between parties and some residence halls for students, and might help make TRACS less crowded. Especially in colder months, this shorter walk between parties would be safer for students.

It could also help the strained relations between the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities, since fewer parties off campus means quieter weekends for residents, as well as less trash and general rowdiness. In part, our strain with Bethlehem residents stems from how disruptive partying students are to their day-to-day lives. Moving parties away from their residences could bring about better relationships in the community.

The change could also help Greek unity, because if they were to host open parties on the Hill, not every fraternity would need to host parties every night. And, if fraternities start to partner with student organizations other than sororities to host parties, our campus as a whole could become more united.

There are drawbacks to consider. It could have the opposite effect on campus and further divide Greeks and non-Greeks. Or, it could create an even more exclusive campus. There are, of course, limitations in regards to what the administration is able to do about unregistered parties, underage drinking and state law. The arguments laid out should still be considered in whatever capacity they can be achieved, because general student safety concerns should trump most of the arguments against changing the social policy.

For a school whose principles of equitable community state we should worry about each other’s safety, the best way to do so is by bringing Lehigh’s social life into a controlled environment — back to where it began — on the Hill.

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3 Comments

  1. Amy Charles '89 on

    Well, it’s true you guys don’t remember.

    I was at Lehigh from ’84-’89. The PA drinking age change you mention was entirely meaningless. I graduated before I was of legal age in PA to drink, and cannot recall a single instance of being refused — hell, of not being offered — booze at a party either by other students or by professors or staff (wine and cheese events were routine, as was terrible cheap champagne at semiformals. The presidential balls had fancier booze, if no less terrible: one night of Midori was plenty for me). The story was no different off-campus: I was never carded, despite the fact that I looked about twelve, and the only time one might have expected to be carded was on St. Patrick’s Day in New York. There wasn’t any reason to set foot in a state store: the whole university was awash in booze. There were guys rolling in kegs during Aronson’s big economics lecture during Greek Week.

    The Hill was actually a dangerous place. Kids died of alcohol poisoning and falling off balconies, now and then, and the administrators I talked to as a B&W reporter treated the deaths as regrettable but — well, these things happen. Sexual assault was routine. The phrase “date rape” wasn’t really in use yet, but I bet that if I polled my classmates, the proportion would be high. I was raped by a fraternity brother, assaulted by others. It was a stupid, and stuporous, and frankly disgusting enough environment that few of my friends bothered with the Hill after sophomore year. And for those fraternity brothers prone to alcoholism, it was a complete disaster. There was no way to get away from the booze — in fact their parents were required to help pay for it through social dues — and once they’d chosen to live in the houses, they lost their housing rights in the dorms. Everything in their living environment pushed them to drink. The official panhel calendar had them hosting boozefests Wednesday through Saturday nights, not counting Greek Week and the odd sunrise cocktails. If a kid did start majoring in beer, wandered off into the squares club, and left school, it was regarded as a shame but really his own fault. The fraternity, and the greek system, certainly weren’t to blame. They weren’t, and aren’t, big on accepting blame.

    What made things change was lawsuits and insurance, not PA law. Lehigh didn’t give a rat’s ass about PA law so long as it wasn’t going to cost money or reputation. In the 90s, though, people started coming after universities for their children’s deaths from drinking at frat parties, and as the arguments over “in loco parentis” got slugged out, the universities tightened up. Removed liability. Those fraternity-house officers or what have you are there not as chaperones but to prove that Lehigh is diligent in protecting its students. If you run off privately into some recess of the house and drink yourself into a coma, Lehigh can still show it did all it reasonably could to protect students.

    If anything, the litigation environment for universities has gotten more dangerous, not less, particularly surrounding sexual assault. That alone, I would think, would (and should) make Lehigh less willing to allow the return.

    It doesn’t help that fraternity brothers at Lehigh continue to behave abominably. Assault, arrests, racial slurs…as a parent, I really don’t want to hear that it’s “just some brothers”. If you allow this in your system, if the only time it’s notable is when people get caught — when there are arrests and disciplinary actions, and even then there are complaints about how it isn’t fair and everyone’s too darn hard on these poor funloving boys — then you have a problem with the institution, which apparently tolerates such things.

    So, you know. Behave better for a decade, police yourselves, and maybe future students get what you want.

  2. Absolutely. The only reason, “The Hill” exists was that the university built the houses in the 1960’s to get the frats move onto campus in the first place.

    Yeah, there was a lot of drinking, but it was confined to the weekend when the school was all male and tough engineering and business courses were predominant and required intense study the rest of the week. And no driving or impact on the surrounding community was involved. – Gary Wilson, ’72.

  3. Doug Albert '85 on

    I have to agree with Amy on the reasons that parties left the hill. It is certainly the strong possibility of lawsuits that brought the 16 pages of rules for an on-campus party.

    I do however respectfully disagree with Amy on the danger that the Hill presented. My years: ’81 to’85 were some of the best years of my life, at least in terms of being carefree. To go out on a Friday or Saturday without a car and visit the parties was a great way to socialize with almost everyone without driving cars or driving the neighbors crazy. Those students who developed alcoholism were going to develop it drinking either way, on campus or off campus.

    In my view, the parties were a way for people to not be trapped in basements or small bedrooms without other peers supervising. Fights and other things that happen in bars did occasionally happen. Unfortunately, I think those days will never return until the legal environment changes.

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