SMITH: Let sororities party

By allowing sororities to serve alcohol within their houses, women have an opportunity to smash sexist dry policies

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Given the lack of competition within the Greek system for alcohol, fraternities dominate the campus party scene at many universities.

Megan Vickery | Cavalier Daily

Alcohol undeniably drives the social lives of thousands of University students. Because of this, students flock to fraternity parties, which present an easy way to get alcohol. Fraternities benefit from this exchange — they hold a monopoly on easy-access alcohol, allowing them to accumulate unrivaled social power on Grounds. This forces both Greek women and many University women in general to attend fraternity-initiated parties to drink. Given this reality, the National Panhellenic Conference — the governing umbrella organization for sororities — should reverse its rule banning alcohol within sororities in order to restore power back to women to make their own decisions concerning when and where they can drink. 

The NPC enforces this zero-alcohol rule upon its 26 constituent sororities by threatening fines or probation upon the particular house in question. However, the reasoning behind enforcing this ban is nebulous at best. For example, many students believe the urban legend that sorority houses would be brothels under law if they acquire alcohol within the house. This belief is blatantly false — the NPC remains the only enforcer of sororities’ dry status.

The real reason NPC wants sororities to stay dry boils down to money — it’s exceptionally cheaper to insure sororities devoid of alcohol. The price differential is significant. Cindy Stellhorn — an insurance broker that works with many sororities — states that “insurance policies cost $25 to $50 a year per sorority member,” while “fraternity brothers pay up to $180.” Because of this, the NPC is incentivized to strip women of their right to drink within the safety of their own home in order to suppress costs.

This is troubling for multiple reasons. While the NPC touts itself as an institution for female empowerment, ultimately the establishment values its bottom line over women’s right to autonomy. Moreover, the sorority system in and of itself was created to promote and protect women against a backdrop of patriarchy. In light of the NPC alcohol restrictions, sororities are infantilized, rather than reaffirmed in the feminist principles that brought forth their founding. There is a massive display of internalized misogyny, which steadily impacts more women over time, as the NPC reported that its membership jumped 58 percent from 2007 to 2015.

Given the lack of competition within the Greek system for alcohol, fraternities dominate the campus party scene at many universities. While these parties are free and require no ID, the risk many women take to drink within fraternity houses is high. A 2007 study by the Department of Justice concluded that women who attended fraternity parties were significantly more likely to be sexually assaulted. And while clearly not all fraternity men will commit violence against their female peers, there’s still imbalance in social power, given the difference of freedom between the two Greek systems. Sorority women have no option but to be dependent on fraternity events, given no other choices within their own institutions.

Thanks to select sororities that have broken free from NPC, such as Dartmouth’s Sigma Delta, there are now examples of liberated sororities who are empowered to make their own choices about alcohol consumption on their property. In a reverse of the norm at universities, Sigma Delta parties feature “female bartenders, female members at the doors and women designated to remain sober and monitor the scene.” Because of this, Sigma Delta’s social chair claims that many women are “much more comfortable coming to our sisters for help if they need it, rather than men having almost all the power.” She goes on to state “that dynamic is one of the key reasons fraternity members feel so entitled to women’s bodies, because women have no ownership of the social scene. You can’t kick a guy out of his own house.”

At this point in time, sororities have no privilege to drink on their own premises. This only benefits the NPC, which benefits from a better bottom line, but leaves the average sorority sister suffering the consequences. University sororities should petition the NPC to reverse its current mandate for dry sororities. The reality of modern sororities’ antiquated rules has become the material of actual comedy — look no further than the film Neighbors 2. In the movie, one of the main characters states after learning the NPC rules, “This is sexist and restrictive system.” The sad reality of the situation is that she’s absolutely right. It’s time for NPC to actually empower women.  

Katherine Smith is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at k.smith@cavalierdaily.com. 

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