The “substance-free” label doesn’t usually come to mind when talking about fraternities, but three campus houses are trying to buck that stereotype.
Sigma Chi, Phi Delta Theta and Beta Theta Pi fraternities have substance-free houses, according to Mike Friedman, president of the Interfraternity Council. And while such a policy may deter some, officials from these fraternities said being substance-free has many advantages.
Substance-free fraternities tend to attract men interested in “focusing more on the professional relations and less on the social,” Friedman said.
“Internally, it communicates the shift in focus in the organization,” Friedman said. “Externally, it gives a certain image and reputation, and from a risk management perspective, it sheds a lot of the liability that a lot of fraternities willingly take on.”
Though the substance-free fraternities aren’t allowed to host parties with alcohol at their houses, they are permitted to do so elsewhere, Friedman said.
Friedman said the substance-free fraternities are a “part of the same community” as the other fraternities.
At the University, all sororities are substance-free.
LSA junior Tom Hardenbergh, president of Phi Delta Theta, said the fraternity’s national organization became substance-free about 10 years ago.
Hardenberg said the impetus behind the change was to reduce liability. Ever since, the fraternity’s insurance — both at local chapters and nationally — has gone down “dramatically,” he said.
“Our house on the inside is fantastic,” Hardenbergh said. “It’s so much cleaner and well maintained than anywhere else.”
Having the house in such great shape has led to increased donations from the chapter’s alumni, Hardenbergh said. It also frees up money for home improvement and educational programming for their members and other members of the Greek community.
Though the house itself is substance-free, Hardenbergh said he doesn’t feel his fraternity is missing out on much.
“The great part of Ann Arbor is that everything is close, so there are many other places to go,” he said.
Officials and recruits discuss the fraternity’s “dry” status during recruitment, but Hardenbergh said it hasn’t noticeably affected interest.
“Dry and wet fraternities will attract certain people,” Hardenbergh said. “It comes down to that person deciding what kind of environment they want to live in, what kind of brothers they want to be around and what they want their next few years to be like. Do they want it to be filled with doing a whole lot of cleaning and worrying over liability or do they want to have that greatly reduced and more time to focus on studies, athletics or their social life?”
Phil Fernandez, director of re-establishment for the University’s chapter of Beta Theta Pi, said Beta chapters across the country and in Canada aren’t required to be substance-free, but any new or returning chapter must be.
Beta returned to the University this semester after the national organization closed the campus chapter in 2007 for not being up to certain national standards, Fernandez said in an interview last month.
Fernandez, a Beta alum from Miami University of Ohio, said Beta is clear with its interested members on their substance-free policy.
“That may be a distinction of ours, but we’re not saying that our way is (the) right way,” he said. “We are just choosing to have alcohol not be in the house.”
Being one of three substance-free fraternities on campus isn’t an issue for the chapter, Fernandez said.
“Is it different?” he said. “Yeah, but we embrace that difference.”
He added that though alcohol isn’t permitted inside the house, Beta has no problem with its brothers who are of legal drinking age drinking out of the house.
Fernandez said substance-free fraternities aren’t anti-alcohol fraternities. Instead, with Beta in particular, Fernandez said, by taking alcohol out of the house, they are “trying to create a classier experience and fight the stereotype.”
Every year, Beta National Headquarters does an analysis on both its substance-free and standard chapters, Fernandez said. Each year, the results come back the same — the chapters that are substance-free out-perform the other chapters in academics, hours of service, campus involvement, leadership positions and less risk management incidents, he said.
“The numbers don’t lie,” he said.
Sigma Chi, the third substance-free fraternity on campus, mandates this policy strictly on a local level, not as a requirement of its national organization. The fraternity declined to comment on the topic.