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Greek Life and Alcohol: Sorority Alcohol Ban

by Nick Murdock

College is often looked upon by high schoolers as a time of unending lack of parental oversight and a land of alcoholic milk and honey. While the stereotypical house music and strobe lights of an otherwise dimly lit fraternity isn’t the party scene for every college student, the appeal for some is very real.

Greek life on college campuses is often perceived as the headquarters for casual alcohol use. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that while men likely increased their alcohol intake during the first two years of college more than women did, “Both gender and Greek involvement significantly predicted increases in alcohol use and problems over the first 2 years of college.”[1] Drinking doesn’t come without its risks, though. A separate study from the Journal of General Psychology in 2006 found, “Alcohol drinkers are more likely to have been insulted by others; been confronted with unwanted sexual advances; been a victim of date rape or sexual assault.”[2] While the risks of binge drinking on college campuses have been well promulgated, one potential solution is often overlooked—the role of women in party culture.

The sororities of nearly every college campus (including those of Berkeley) have a ban on alcohol in the house. Some believe, however, that lifting that ban would make party culture safer for women. In the current climate, fraternities have all the power when it comes to alcohol. Parties at their houses with their rules and their ability to turn away or accept anyone. If sororities could host parties, many feel that the tide could turn to having more female-led and empowered parties.

Some sisters here at Berkeley have expressed they’d feel more comfortable if they could host. Allison, a sister at a Panhellenic Council-affiliated sorority, said, “Yeah of course I’d feel better if it were at [my own house]. I think that it’d be fun but I also wouldn’t be at risk of being drunk at a random place where I don’t really know where I am.” Similarly, Natalie from a different Panhellenic Council-affiliated house says, “As a former social chair, I realized that lot of the events with alcohol at fraternity property placed power in the hands of men. The men were the ones that would dictate the type and the amount of alcohol that women could consume at parties, which impacted their level of inebriation. Because many sorority women go to fraternity parties simply for the alcohol, a lifted ban would let themselves be more in control of the alcohol.” Natalie continues by saying that she’d feel “safer know what type of alcohol I was consuming and where I was drinking it.” These advantages seem like simple things to ask for, but achieving them would drastically change other things about Berkeley sororities.

These sisters also expressed some concerns about hosting parties. Allison commented that if her house were to start throwing parities they could quickly lose some of the perks of living in a sorority and not a fraternity, like having a clean house or even the ability to have chef to make meals for them. There’s the likelihood that either costs of living in the house would be increased to afford the necessary alcohol, or their staff might even get fed up with having to deal with the increased frat-house nature of these once nice and clean sororities. Natalie continues by saying that sisters in possession of alcohol is a “huge liability risk, which is the reason the ban exists in the first place.” Natalie is also concerned by the possibility that allowing alcohol in sorority houses could indirectly implement a drinking culture at houses, something that not all sisters are interested in when they join a sorority. She fears that girls will feel pressured to drink if the alcohol is readily available at sorority houses.

Disagreements about sororities hosting parties continue to rage on, but the likelihood of policy change is not high. As Allison says, “There’s nothing we can do about it, though. It’s all up to our national organization.”

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