On October 15 1998, Courtney Cantor went out to party with friends at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. Late that night, she took a cab home with her friends. When she got back, she climbed up to her top bunk in her sixth-floor dorm room at Mary Markley Hall – and ended up falling off the ladder, out of the window, and on to the pavement below. She was found dead on the University sidewalk near the loading dock at 5:48 the next morning. Her autopsy revealed that she had consumed a date rape drug called Gamma-Hydroxy Butyric Acid, or GHB, which intensifies the effects of alcohol.
Courtney’s death is a horrifying example of what can go wrong at any college party – and it does not stand alone in the University’s recent history. In the fall of 2000, Engineering sophomore Byung-Soo Kim died after trying to consume 21 shots on his 21st birthday. In the fall of 2003, Kinesiology junior Evan Loomis suffered kidney failure, after being hazed at the Sigma Chi fraternity. That same year, 25 percent of University students reported that they binge drink on a frequent basis.
In light of these incidents the Interfraternity Council and the University’s Office of Student Activities and Leadership have led a two-pronged movement to improve the safety of life on campus for students. The IFC recently passed a controversial revision to its social policy and SAL has recently reorganized its student groups to better protect the health and safety of students, and the liability of the University. The two movements, while independently prompted, executed and motivated, strive to remedy similar concerns.
Formalizing the University’s group recognition process:
Susan Eklund, dean of students, said that the incident with Loomis was a wake-up call for the University, sparking it to take action. Two of the more controversial proposals the University discussed implementing were postponing rush until the winter term and having live-in guardians within fraternity houses.
“We thought that students might have time to find themselves a bit more, and maybe would be able to withstand the social pressure behind hazing,” Eklund said.
Both proposals were wildly unpopular among students.
Deferred rush had been discussed at the University even before Loomis’s incident. After the death of Courtney Cantor, her father, George Cantor, told the Michigan Daily that he hoped fraternities and sororities would delay rush until the winter term to give students time to adjust to life at a big University.
The idea of deferred rush was highly unpopular on campus, and as a result of the way in which the University recognizes student groups, deferred rush is not an option at this point in time, because fraternities and sororities are recognized the same way as any student group. If the University were to impose a deferred rush policy for the Greek system, they would have to restrict every group from recruiting new members until the winter semester.
Some Universities operate successfully under deferred rush. At Emory University in Atlanta, all sorority rush events are delayed until after winter break, and all freshman fraternity rush events are also delayed. While upperclassmen at Emory can rush fraternities in the fall, the big push comes after winter break, at the start of second semester. About a third of students at Emory participate in Greek life, compared with about 15 percent at Michigan. The bigger the school, the smaller the percentage of campus that participates in Greek life, because fraternities and sororities can only accommodate a limited number of people. At the University of Texas-Austin about 4,200 out of 52,000 students participate in Greek life – about 11 percent.
Emory IFC President Brian Espie said that the deferred rush provides several advantages.
“A pretty large percentage of the freshman class registers for spring rush,” he said. Espie also said that a large number of those who register for rush eventually accept bids.
He added that the system is a good compromise between the Greek organizations and Emory’s administration.
“I think that it’s good . (because) you have a full semester to find your identity and invest yourself in different groups and organizations,” he said. The administration likes it because they think it cuts down on the alcohol-related incidents.”
The University has never taken steps to pursue this measure beyond preliminary discussion. Instead, it decided to revise its relationships with all student groups on campus, and treat its relationship with the Greek system like every other student organization.
Up until last year, the University of Michigan was one of the few universities in the country that did not have a formal recognition process for its student groups.
In the fall of 2004, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, asked Eklund for permission to gather information from other universities, as well as Michigan faculty, staff and students, in order to make a recommendation regarding the University’s recognition process for student groups.
From this report, a committee approved the SOAR application process, which has five steps.
All groups must have completed these five steps in order to be fully registered with the University. The University offers registered groups different advantages, depending on the degree to which the groups are connected.
SOAR divides all student groups into three primary categories, based on the requested benefits or independence. The first category, Non-Affiliated Student Organizations, do not have formal affiliation with the University. An NSO does not have access to benefits and resources that the University provides.
The next category is a Sponsored Student Organization.
An SSO must be sponsored by either an executive officer, dean or director of a major academic or operational unit committed to providing significant financial and staff support to the student organization. The group’s mission must also be consistent with the University’s and the sponsored unit’s.
The final category is a Voluntary Student Organization, which is a compromise between the previous two. A VSO is a student organization that seeks access to certain University-controlled benefits and resources and is accountable to the University for legal compliance, fiscal responsibility and adherence to established community standards.
The IFC will be an SSO, which means that it will have full access to the University’s available resources, and the full responsibilities of being an SSO.
The deadline to complete the registration process with SOAR was Feb. 1, 2006. A thousand student groups have begun the process and are interested in completing it. Seven hundred of these groups have already completed the process.
“It appears that the majority who missed the Feb. 1 deadline are still working on constitutions and clarifying missions,” Eklund said.
Eklund pointed out that SAL has received an increasing number of questions for assistance and resources, while at the same time SOAS questions and confusion about financial paperwork have declined following the workshops required of group treasurers.
Eklund also said the student complaint organization process is working relatively smoothly, relying on existing bodies such as the Greek Activities Review Panel within the Greek system and the Central Student Judiciary within MSA.
GARP has been one of the focal points of the revision to the Social Environment Management Policy which was first introduced in 1991, to control two aspects of parties: the distribution of alcohol, and the size of the party.
Risk management: tightening the Greek social policy
IFC approved a new policy in December 2004, which took effect in January 2005.
The new official policy of registered IFC parties is to not provide alcohol. Guests of restricted events are allowed to bring either one 12-pack of beer or one plastic pint of alcohol, which can be a maximum of 80 proof. Parties that exceed 200 guests can only bring beer.
“The previous policy placed an enormous amount of liability on the chapters by providing alcoholic beverages,” IFC spokesman Brian Millman said. “The-bring-your-own-alcohol aspect of the policy is a progressive step to minimizing the liability for the presidents and the members of a particular house.”
Mary Beth Seiler, Greek life director, said the amount of alcohol one person can bring still seemed a bit high for one individual.
“They’re still larger than what I think they should be, but the students have them in line with what they think they should be,” Seiler said.
Millman said that overall, the old policy was broad and overarching, and could not adequately maintain a safe environment for the varying social atmospheres that fraternities regularly created. A joint task force, composed of members of IFC, various fraternity presidents and input from the Panhellenic Association, revised the policy in order to maintain the highest level of risk management at larger parties and smaller gatherings.
The new Social Environment Management Policy divides events into three specific categories: restricted events, alcohol-free events and third-party vendor events.
“Ultimately, the (fraternity) presidents realized that fraternities host several different types of parties and a party of 30 people potentially poses different risks than a party of 400 people,” Millman said.
Restricted events are any event that takes place on chapter property, allows alcohol and has more than 25 women in attendance. Presumably, the restriction is placed on the number of women, because there is not a consistent number of men living in any given fraternity house.
These events are divided into three sub-categories. Restricted events must have to have applications submitted to the Office of Greek Life by 5 p.m. on the Monday before the event. A restricted event cannot be held on Sunday or Monday, but can be held on other days. A party with more than 200 people can only be held on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
A first-tier party can have as many as 100 people plus live-in membership, and must have at least three sober monitors. A second-tier party can have as many as 200 people plus live-in membership, and has to have six sober monitors. Third-tier parties may have as many as 400 people. These parties must submit registration one week prior to the normal registration deadline, in addition to providing a list of sober monitors to the SRC executive board, along with a statement of intent and registration. Third-tier parties must have six sober monitors plus at least one sober monitor for every 30 people over 200, and can serve beer only.
“The policy has been a proactive step by the presidents in ensuring a safe social environment,” Millman said. “The varying degrees for party-size registration allow for stricter rules to maintain a safe atmosphere during larger parties, which pose more risk management issues for fraternities.”
The new SEMP also restricts the types of guests allowed at the parties to Greek-only. Guests must present a Greek ID or a state driver’s license that can be cross-checked with a master list of Greeks. A house may have a guest list with non-Greeks, which cannot include more than four times the number of sober monitors.
Last semester, these imposed restrictions were extremely controversial.
“(The new restrictions) may give the impression to freshmen that the Greek system is an organization only open to certain types of people,” Jacob Strumwasser, a brother of the Sigma Nu fraternity and a former IFC president, told the Daily last fall.
The fear was that incoming freshmen would not have as much access to Greek parties, and therefore wwouldn’t be as likely to show up to parties. People were terrified of a lower rush turnout.
“I honestly think that it’s going to ruin the whole Greek system,” Nathaniel Staley, a sophomore in Psi Upsilon, told the Daily last semester.
The numbers suggest that these concerns were unfounded. Membership for fraternities in the IFC and sororities in the Panhellenic Council are up 10 percent from last year. In fact, the response has been so big that the IFC is looking into adding new fraternities.
Eight hundred and twenty four girls went through Panhellenic recruitment this fall, a 10-percent increase. Each sorority was allowed 50 spots to give to pledges. Seiler said that every sorority except for two gave out 50 bids.
How well is the new social policy working?
Some students are skeptical about the effectiveness of the current policy. Kyle Anderson, a current pledge at Beta Theta Pi, said he doesn’t believe the policy is achieving anything.
“I remember hearing about it, and seeing it being enforced around the beginning of the year,” Anderson said. “Candidly, a lot of those rules aren’t really being enforced, and it doesn’t really change the fact that people at these parties are getting wasted.”
“The IFC can put as many restrictions as they want, but there will always be ways to get around it,” he added.
Brian Perry, advisor for IFC at University of Texas-Austin, said that the IFC at Texas operates under a similar document to SEMP, which is based on risk-management recommendations from the Fraternity Information Programming Group. Perry echoed Anderson’s sentiments.
“A document is only as helpful as the people who are enforcing it – some years it might be more effective than others,” Perry said. He added that the policy seems to be effective at solving some problems at Texas, but they are still having problems with others.
Millman said the number of fraternities and sororities that have registered parties is up significantly, which indicates that more fraternities are adopting the policy, which he said ultimately translates into a safer party scene.
Lauren Kraus, president of the Panhellenic Association, said that the council believes the policy enforces a safer environment, and that therefore, “we strongly encourage our members to attend only parties that are registered through our policies. Parties that are not in compliance put our members at a greater risk because they often lack key risk management elements such as sober monitors.”
But according to Anderson, sober monitors aren’t really making it onto the scene of these parties much anyway. It is too early to make a sound judgement about the effectiveness of the policy, but the only way to avoid incidents in the future is to take the policy seriously. If Greek organizations start to slip from their guidelines, then they might as well not have a policy.
Both the University and the IFC have taken significant steps over the past few years to implement positive change for the students on campus. The next few semesters will be important for tweaking specific rules and observing trends and effects, in order to continue keeping these movements heading in a positive direction.