Letter to the editor: Why we need the Hill

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As a senior getting ready to graduate, I can believe why so many people say that Lehigh is one of the craziest party schools in the country. There are very few places anywhere in the world where you can be around the smartest people you know while chugging Natty Light in a crowded, sweaty basement. But if we are so smart, why have we moved in such an unsafe direction?

I am a member of one of the fraternities on the Hill and for the last two years, I have lived off campus. I do not live with other members of my fraternity, but rather a mix of other members of different fraternities as well as non-Greek members. Our house is set up to live five people comfortably. Yet, we continue to host parties here.

Now I’m not saying we hate throwing parties here. In fact, the exact opposite. Every time one of us lets our organizations party here, everyone has fun. I have yet to see a majority of people leave my house disappointed after a rager. But it isn’t all fun and games.

When my fraternity hosts a party at my place, it isn’t a party for me. At that moment, I am assuming responsibility for every single person who walks through my door. From the moment we start to set up to when the last beer can is recycled — yes, you read that right — my mind is constant racing about the safety and well-being of the people who are here as well as those who live here.

I would not call every off-campus house safe. When I toured my house three years ago, I was worried. The floor between the main level and the basement was just rebuilt after one crazy party left a massive hole in the floor. There is only one bathroom with a toilet that has been on its last legs longer than I have been at Lehigh. The steps leading to the basement and up my back porch feel like they are going to give out or get very slippery to the point where you question if you even want to risk using them.

It is not fair to assume that all off-campus houses are like mine. Most have at least a second bathroom. But it is fair to assume that all are about the same size and are in the same style of neighborhood. Most students would agree that you could walk to these houses for a party with your friends, but if you go alone or go a block in the wrong direction, you could be in some serious danger. Last thing I would want to hear is that someone got hammered at the party at my house before stumbling onto the wrong street and was mugged or worse. That scares the heck out of me.

Yes, I get there are more pressing issues than parties, but the number one rule I have always lived by is safety. And I find it hysterical that Lehigh says the same thing when it comes to parties.

Stop and think about this from a sober perspective. How safe are you at a party off campus? And do not just think about in the spring time when it is warm, but in the colder weather when we are here the most. Odds are that you probably bring a jacket with you and there is a solid 50/50 chance someone accidentally taking yours, leaving you to drunkenly stumble back to your place of residence without a jacket on. It would be terrible to get sick from that cold that freezes all the way down to the bone, wouldn’t it?

So after thinking about all these factors, I am left wondering why Lehigh is now making a push to bring parties back to the Hill.

In terms of location, it should be a no brainer: Having a party on campus is way better. No one will complain about having to walk so far up and down a mountain when there is TRACS. It is also more centrally located. Yeah, it sucks to be a first-year in Upper or Lower Cents, but at least you can get a ride back to your dorm.

In terms of facilities, again it is a no-brainer. If you have ever been inside a fraternity house on the Hill, you know how big and beautiful they are. Wide open spaces for people to dance, more bathrooms than an average party goer would expect and more emergency exits than a set of rickety stairs in case something goes wrong. It is the perfect place to have a party.

The biggest reason that most fraternities do not use their houses on the Hill is out of fear, and that to me is stupid. If you have an unregistered party and get caught, you can kiss your house goodbye. Throwing a registered party is a whole other animal. The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs has so many rules in place that you have to plan almost months in advance for an event that might not even happen. My fraternity has tried to have registered parties and the last few times, OFSA tells us that a) they do not think we are able to host one b) we did not follow all the rules or c) they just plain forgot about it. That leaves us upset at the time and effort we put in to let Lehigh know that we are going to play by their rules, only to have them not take us seriously. At that point, my fraternity would rather take our event off campus where at least we know we will be able to have an event and have fun.

Personally, I find Lehigh’s stance on social life to be an unnecessary one. First off, people party here whether it is once a semester or every day. Do not try to fool yourself otherwise unless you want to pull specific cases. At that point, why even bother. Second, It is such an unnecessary hassle to get Lehigh on board with whatever event you are trying to plan. This is the place where we model efficiency in class so why not implement that in your social aspects?

That said, I think there is a fair middle ground that Greeks and Lehigh can agree upon, so that parties are once again encouraged on the Hill. I am not going to suggest what that is because I have had my chance and done nothing with it. It is up to you to demand and cause change. Bring everyone to the table and hash it out. Come in with an open mind so that everyone can make the best of their time here.

I want to look at Lehigh for my kids in the future. This school has done so much for me that I would want my own children to experience it. Hopefully when I am doing college tours, I will get the chance to come back to Bethlehem and see a changed Lehigh, where outside the classroom, everyone is as safe and social as they are in class. Where students are not worried about the places they go to party. Where fraternities are once again proud of their houses and willing to display them to others. A school where the Hill is once again the place to be.

-Brandon Fink, ’16.

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1 Comment

  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 care 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.

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