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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

GW Fraternities Combat National Opinion in Wake of Hazing Deaths

The GW Interfraternity Council has 102 additional members as a result of its September 1997 rush process.

In the same month, the 12 fraternities of the IFC were among the many students across the nation shocked by the recent deaths of two freshmen fraternity pledges at Louisiana State University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The two tragedies induced all college campuses, and specifically fraternities, to examine the relationship between the pledge process and alcohol abuse, which caused the deaths.

“They (the deaths) are tragic incidents, but should not be used to make generalizations across the nation,” IFC President Ethan Baumfeld said. “At GW, fraternities are committed to a pledge process that stresses anti-hazing.

In a liquor-induced haze…

Baumfeld pointed to the existence of a mandatory Anti-Hazing Seminar, which all new GW pledges must attend.

“I do not believe that fraternities and sororities promote drinking and alcohol abuse,” GW Substance Abuse Prevention Center Manager Dana Henderson said. “The nature of our policy does not allow the latitude for alcohol to be the central component of any event. The University takes all precautions possible to ensure that alcohol is only used as an enhancement to an event, not a promotion.”

Vania Smith, director of GW’s Greek Affairs Student Association, also defended Greek-letter organizations. “The sororities and fraternities at GW do the exact opposite. Instead of encouraging drinking, they recognize it as an issue and accept that it will always be one,” she explained. “True, many (Greek) parties have alcohol at them, but the emphasis is placed on individual choice and personal responsibility.”

The University Alcohol Beverage Consumption and Distribution Policy states in its preamble that “the misuse and abuse of alcoholic beverages . and illness due to excessive consumption of alcohol . pose a danger to the individual members of the campus community.”

The University Hazing Policy defines hazing as “any action taken or situation created intentionally . to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule,” according to the 1997-98 student handbook.

“The situations (at LSU and MIT) were stupid,” said freshman Brian Leuchtenburg. “They were just irresponsible. We watch out for each other. I haven’t been pressured to drink.” Leuchtenburg was one of 24 Sigma Chi pledges to attend the hazing seminar.

At the program, pledges discussed possible confrontations with hazing and signed an anti-hazing agreement. The seminar is sponsored by the University, the IFC and the Panhellenic Association.

Theta Delta Chi Rush Chairman David Soutter says he supports the University’s anti-hazing policy. “We don’t believe that a fraternity can promote brotherhood through forced drinking,” Soutter said. “(But) Theta Delta Chi is a social fraternity, so if new members wish to drink they may be provided with an avenue to do so.”

But Dr. Henry Wechsler, a professor at Harvard University and author of a 1995 study on binge drinking, counters responses like Soutter’s. “Every college has its own horror stories, most not as deadly as the one at LSU,” Wechsler told ABC News. “This is not a single occurrence. Something like this will happen again.”

“Although I don’t know the practices of other fraternities, I do know that the kind of situations at LSU or MIT could never happen at GW,” Soutter said. “If someone looks like he may have had too much to drink, he is shut off.”

The hard line

But alcohol abuse remains a sore spot on campus. In 1996, the University Police Department referred 117 cases of alcohol misuse to Judicial Affairs, according to UPD Director Dolores Stafford.

“I couldn’t even venture a guess as to how many of those were related to fraternities,” Stafford said.

And controlling fraternities at GW not officially recognized by the University makes the job of combating alcohol abuse even harder.

“The fraternity SAE is difficult to handle for the University because (University administrators) have no control over what they do,” said a Theta Delta Chi brother who wanted to remain anonymous. “Phi Sigma Kappa (at MIT) is now facing a similar situation. SAE is thriving and it is giving IFC-recognized fraternities incentive to leave the IFC and give up GW recognition.”

“If GW wishes to have some control of Greek life, the school must first give fraternities a reason to stay,” Soutter said. “Such as providing houses for fraternities and sororities, giving greater latitude in dealing with the University, and becoming more `Greek-friendly.’ “

Even if universities and fraternities develop better relationships, many experts believe binge drinking will continue to be a problem on campuses.

On a binge

David Hanson, a sociology professor at the State University of New York at Potsdam who has been studying campus drinking for 30 years, told ABC News that higher drinking ages and dry campuses actually compound the problem in some cases.

“The exaggeration of the problem creates a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Hanson told ABC News. “Most college students think their friends drink more than they actually do. When you show people that their friends drink less, then they drink less. It’s a cheap and easy way to reduce drinking.”

John Cassir, a freshmen who recently pledged SAE, says he does not see pressure for fraternity members to drink.

“If you don’t want to drink, it’s not like someone is putting a gun to your head,” Cassir said. “You’d think someone would have more common sense. People should know their limits.”

Cassir’s roommate, Ben Mears, is also a SAE pledge. “I don’t drink, and the reason I joined SAE is because they did not pressure me to drink,” he said. “It’s an unnecessary part of Greek life.”

But according to ABC News, a recent Harvard study shows that Mears is part of the minority. The study found that 44 percent of students and 89 percent of fraternity members are binge drinkers – drinking four or five drinks in a row.

“The frequency of binge drinking at fraternities and sororities leads to an Animal House style of living,” Wechsler told ABC News. “It should cause great concern and immediate action at every institution hosting these groups.”

“Of course there are brothers who drink,” concedes Soutter. “But unlike movies such as Animal House, fraternity brothers are not all drunks. Drinking is a very small part of my fraternity. We do countless hours of community service (100 hours in September) and provide events for the GW community.”

“We have used this event (the deaths) to create greater dialogue on the problems of alcohol consumption on campus,” Jonathan Brant the executive vice president of the National Interfraternity Conference told ABC News. Two of the NIFC’s fraternities already have ordered all houses across the nation to be alcohol-free by 2000.

Sigma Nu, one of the two fraternities that will be dry in a few years, has a GW house. It remains to be seen whether the deadly cocktail of hazing and drinking will lead to a dry Greek system.

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