Feeling the rush
Fraternity, sorority leaders, administration should extend alcohol regulations through the semester to combat unsafe drinking
The bids are in. Fraternity and sorority rush is over. This year the revelry got out of hand after Inter-Sorority Council recruitment ended Jan. 21. That week, more than 10 University students went to the emergency room for alcohol-related reasons. Two — now recovered — were placed on life support.
It is important to note that alcohol misuse is by no means restricted to members of Greek organizations. Alcohol abuse in Greek organizations, however, may be easier to remedy than in the student body at large, because fraternities and sororities are held accountable to central bodies such as the ISC and the Inter-Fraternity Council.
James Turner, director of Student Health, said in an email the number and nature of ER visits this year are no different than in previous years. What is different is the amount of attention they’ve attracted. Whether because of stronger fraternity and sorority leadership or less leniency on the part of the University administration toward unsafe drinking, the incidents have sparked serious backlash. In response to the hospitalizations, the IFC cracked down on alcohol misuse. It barred hard liquor from rush functions, required six or more sober brothers at events and imposed 2 a.m. end times for parties.
The success of these measures remains to be seen. Student Health does not receive ER reports until 48 hours after the visit, so data for Boys’ Bid Night — a prominent time for high-risk drinking — is not yet available. And alcohol-related ER visits or hospitalizations are an imperfect way of assessing student alcohol abuse. Though alcohol-related ER admissions point to excessive drinking, they also show students seeking appropriate treatment for intoxicated friends.
Scrutiny of student ER visits, then, requires a balanced perspective. On the one hand, a rash of alcohol-induced medical emergencies — as we saw two weeks ago — is troubling and suggests serious flaws in the rush process. On the other, we do not want to excessively condemn the Greek community for its role in the incidents, lest we create a set of incentives that lead students to decide against seeking proper medical care for fear of getting in trouble. Still, if an unusually high number of students went to the ER Saturday, it would be reasonable to conclude that the IFC’s regulations failed — or were not followed, which amounts to the same thing.
University officials dealt with late January’s alcohol incidents in classic Virginia fashion: by appealing to student self-governance. Dean of Students Allen Groves on Jan. 24 challenged IFC and ISC leaders to create a plan to reduce Greek-related alcohol incidents. The IFC regulations may have seemed more legitimate to fraternity rush participants because they came from fellow students rather than administrators.
But we must judge by results. If alcohol emergencies declined in frequency after the IFC’s rules took effect, chalk up another victory for student self-governance. If not, student safety rather than self-governance should be the more prized ideal, and the University administration should step in.
Though bid night is behind us, more Greek tragedy may await later in the semester. The last few weeks have rushed past, but now the path to fraternity initiation lies ahead. Fraternity leaders should make a pledge of their own: to make safe drinking more of a priority. If it turns out the temporary rush rules helped reduce alcohol-related emergencies, IFC leaders should consider extending such rules to the fraternity pledging process. If the rules were unsuccessful, however, the University administration should take more decisive action to combat high-risk drinking in Greek organizations as rushing turns to pledging.