The drinking game
The best alcohol policies should be driven by students, not administrators
For those students who considered attending the College of William & Mary, their decisions to matriculate at the University may now be vindicated. The administration at William & Mary is currently debating a policy to ban beer pong tables at fraternity houses after an assessment of the Greek community. The potential ban is only one recommendation among many to ensure that the Greek experience does not conflict with the school's institutional and educational priorities.
Outside the state of Virginia, Cornell University also is attempting to revamp its Greek system, no longer allowing freshmen to attend parties during which alcohol is served and removing such events from the recruiting and pledging processes. The administration allotted two years for Greek organizations to implement such changes slowly, acknowledging that these adjustments will have a significant impact. "Clearly, you're going to have to recruit in a very different way. You're going to have to reimagine the recruiting process," said Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, according to The Cornell Daily Sun.
Of course, the University has no such policies in place on Grounds. Although there is little doubt that binge drinking - particularly during one's first year of college - is a severe and widespread problem, these institutions' approaches hardly seem like viable solutions. Banning beer pong tables, for example, does not even necessarily prevent games from taking place. Would the ban remove all tables of "regulation" dimensions? Would a dining table of similar length in the fraternity house also be forbidden? Moreover, the elimination of beer pong tables is not an obstacle to consuming alcohol. Similarly, at Cornell, it is likely that Greek organizations simply will move alcohol-related events underground. Thus, it seems as if neither of these policies would effectively improve the Greek experiences at these schools or lessen the number of threatening incidents involving alcohol consumption. The farther such events are pushed from the public eye and its scrutiny, the more dangerous they could become for students.
William & Mary is considering several other recommendations to change the system, such as developing a series of educational programs about alcohol abuse for students. More advantageous, however, would be for the individual fraternities and sororities to evaluate their own procedures and events. An overarching program from the administration gives these organizations very little incentive to follow through - it puts fraternities on the defensive. Additionally, removing alcohol or drinking games from Greek events simply would cause an increase in the number of parties unaffiliated with fraternity and sorority life. Unlike private parties hosted by students, Greek events at least receive some degree of supervision and have more accountability to college administrators than other functions.
It is true that binge drinking, especially within the Greek system, is problematic and must be diminished. In 1998, there were 1,440 alcohol-related deaths among U.S. college students, according to a recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. In 2005, there were 1,825 such incidents. The same study concluded that about 35 college-aged people in the United States die each week because of alcohol.
But top-down directives will not be what solves such a far-reaching problem. Rather than allow University officials to revamp Greek culture through overly restrictive administrative policies, fraternities and sororities should take a proactive approach to considering drinking policies. The best way to embrace student self-governance and preempt invasive decisions like those at William & Mary and Cornell is for students to demonstrate a sincere desire to self-police effectively. This means more than just obeying the rules - it requires thoughtful reflection about policies and a commitment to making decisions that will sometimes be difficult. Fraternities and sororities foster values like maturity and independence in their members when they function more or less autonomously. But such a privilege is best preserved if the University is given no compelling reason to intervene.