alcohol free fraternity

This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a question you want me to answer go here to submit it: Fraternity Advice.

Question:

I am a junior in a fraternity and running for president, we have not yet held fraternity elections. We are a dry fraternity nationally and this chapter has been dry for the last 3 years I have been in the house.


Before that we were ok with drinking in private rooms not big parties. Now we sometimes have isolated incidents of drinking in the house, and if we have blatant evidence we give a fine. Some members feel we should have the opportunity to drink in the house, with certain individuals moving out the office of presidency in my chapter will have to decide to secretly allow drinking or to continue being truly dry.  I think my chapter is going through withdrawals from alcoholism.

I feel both ways on this issue. I feel we still can do a lot to make our fraternity better in other ways than drinking alone can help. Also I am concerned from a standpoint of liability, if we drink in the house what the consequences could be on me the president.

If we allow it we can’t have any written rules on it, if the drinking causes some kind of problem we don’t have the resources other wet houses have. And if one of our chapter advisers comes by they could shut us down.

I want to build my brothers up and give us more opportunities and push us into doing more for ourselves and campus.  How can I make this place better and continue having dry housing. I’m looking for advice on how to deal with this issue; with my brothers when talking about my potential presidency. I feel we can do a lot of other things to make our brotherhood better before we deal with the alcohol issue.

Answer:

Your integrity is a valuable thing.  It should not be compromised.  You, and every brother in your fraternity, have agreed to abide by the policy of your national fraternity.  No one put a gun to your head to join.  You were free to join any fraternity knowing these rules.

By sneaking around the policy now you are essentially saying that your word doesn’t mean much, and that you and the brothers in your chapter are not trustworthy.

My advice is to follow the policy, work to get it changed, or quit the fraternity.  Any other action is dishonorable and shows weak character.

That being said, it is very easy to thrive under these conditions.  Thousands of chapters all across the country do.

Your brothers’ biggest worry is probably that this policy will impact the social scene of the chapter.  It doesn’t have to.  You can have the same great events, with alcohol, at third party locations.  And there are benefits to doing it this way.  There is no set-up or clean-up, and a lot of the risk management responsibility will be transferred to the third party vendor.

The risk management piece is an especially big benefit.  I recently worked with a chapter that was put on probation because an underage girl was caught drinking by campus police.  They asked her where she was, and she said she was at this fraternity house for a party.  The fraternity and the girl claimed they did not provide her with alcohol.  However, the school disagreed and the chapter was given a semester of social probation for this incident.  This issue would not have happened at a third party location.

For the record, I do disagree with a mandated dry-house policy.  I understand how it helps chapters, but I think that taking away choice and freedoms is not something that a fraternity should do.  I wrote an article not too long ago titled: The Pros and Cons of a Alcohol Free Fraternity House and is definitely worth a read.

That being said, you guys have already made your choice to belong to an alcohol free house.  You can either be the type of guys who play by the rules or don’t.  Remember that honor and integrity are precious things, and are easily lost.  Be men of honor.

My advice – step up and lead.  I realize that some of your brothers have an issue with this policy.  But if this issue didn’t exist there would be another one.  True leaders will learn to overcome these issues and inspire their fraternity to greatness.  You can still have great social, athletic, academic, philanthropic and brotherhood programs with an alcohol free house.  Focus on making those areas even better.  If you do, the brothers will not be as bothered by this issue and the protests will quickly go away.

This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a question you want me to answer go here to submit it: Fraternity Advice.






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2 thoughts on “How Honorable Men Handle Alcohol Free Fraternity Housing

  1. I adamantly disagree with dry fraternity housing, for completely practical reasons.

    Many universities would describe a fraternity house as a living-learning environment. They would like it to be an alcohol free floor of dorm rooms with an older adult RA treating them like children, stacked on top of a floor of the library. That is complete miscomprehension of what a fraternity is about.

    A fraternity property is NOT about a place for people to live, study, or to have parties. It is about common spaces. Specifically, the business spaces necessary to operate your business at a high level – office(s), conference room, project spaces, etc; large common spaces where you can regularly assemble your entire chapter in one place (mtg room, living room, deck, etc); and, hangout spaces (not party spaces; large RV room, game space, deck, etc – activity spaces where people will spend unstructured time together on a daily basis). That is ALL!

    The ONLY reason we have residents at all is to pay for the square footage in the needed common spaces. Once you’re looking at a facility like this, there are bonus opportunities like integrating ritual and social specific spaces.

    Sorry for the tangent, but that is what fraternity houses are supposed to be.

    I believe fraternity houses should primarily be wet for practical reasons. Everything Pat said about third-party events is true. You can transfer a portion of the liability, however, you are still the event host and ultimately responsible regardless if the bar served the drinks or not. Depending on your state, the bar may not even carry liquor liability coverage that would cover if someone gets in a wreck after drinking at their establishment. You do avoid some setup and clean up work, though if all your chapter has to offer is hanging out in bars you could go to without them then why would anyone want to be in a fraternity? However, the pros in that process come at a financial cost. Depending on they socioeconomic background of who your school accepts, and the cost of doing business in your town, it may very well be impossible financially to do all your events that way. When you find yourself in that position, what you get is a chapter forced to break the rules to survive – which means dangerous behavior and no insurance. I personally feel the actual safety of individual members and guests is often compromised through the practical reaction to such policies in order to avoid liability risk to the organizations.

    I support the right of individual chapters and nationals to decide for themselves if they wish to be alcohol-free. When nationals do this, I personally very strongly disagree with the reasons given. Not to pick on PhiDelt – I have some good friends over there – but Joe posted them as a reference so I’ll speak to the justifications they list:

    Where you drink does not in any way return focus to founding principles. It has nothing to do with the character of your members, ongoing member development, and how seriously they take ritual.

    It does not combat alcohol dominated culture. It trains members from freshmen to senior to spend a whole lot of time in bars.

    It does not necessarily impact academic performance. These fraternities are doing the exact same things as every other fraternity, and with just as much focus. If anything, being forced to do expensive events at bars creates more during the week events that can negatively impact grades. How seriously your members take their academics is not about their being able to have a beer in their own living room or there being a party downstairs on the weekend. If they need to study, they’re going to be in the library.

    I do not believe it meets needs of modern college students or that those needs significantly differ from previous generations. It attempts to fulfill those social needs through alternative means.

    I do not believe it re-involves alumni. Quite the opposite. In the locations I’ve had to deal with policies like this, it seriously angers alumni that they can’t have a drink when they visit their chapter house – often that they paid for.

    However, I do agree that:

    It slows deterioration of facilities. Obviously not doing parties there will make the place last longer. However, you will pay out exponentially more than the savings in ongoing social costs. You are transferring costs from alumni capital investment to undergraduate dues. The net effect is to make chapters more economically exclusive and miss opportunities at otherwise great members that can’t afford it.

    Most importantly, it does control the cost of liability insurance. Ultimately, a fraternity cannot exist on a national level without a very large insurance policy backed up by a significant income stream and endowment. When a national loses too many lawsuits in a short period of time, it very literally endangers their ability to survive. When a national fails to create financial stability at the top, and fails to adequately regulate undergraduate chapters, it can find itself in such a position. When that happens, some make a conscious decision to hamstring a percentage of their chapters and accept certain consequences on a nationwide level by mandating alcohol free. I understand where that comes from, but I don’t agree with it. I feel it should be a case by case basis with local determination. But, I feel it is highly disingenuous to state these other false justifications to spin what is a national survival decision.

    No offense or disrespect to PhiDelt. I would say the same things about any other national with a similar policy. I absolutely support their right to make that decision. What I do not support is the right of schools to impose such a policy on sovereign entities. The national trend right now, most recently with Missouri, is for schools that had such policies to repeal them. It is unenforceable on a certain level, but most importantly there have been recent cases in which the fraternity was found not to be liable for an unsanctioned event conducted by a few members, while the school’s failure to enforce a rule that gave them the latitude to declare what is or is not a fraternity property (versus what is owned/leased in the name of the fraternity or by officers on their behalf) makes them completely liable. There are 3-4 ongoing cases in which schools are about to pay out several million because of their inappropriate over-paternalistic intervention in private property rights. I will always defend against universities exceeding their authority by limiting individual, corporate, or private property rights.

    All this said, the guy asking this question knew (or should have) from the start that he was joining a fraternity with an alcohol-free housing policy. If he wasn’t prepared to do what is necessary to enforce that, then he should have picked another fraternity. You absolutely cannot allow alcohol in a house under such a national policy. You completely negate your insurance when you do. Literally if there is a lawsuit over something that doesn’t involve alcohol at all and they can show one member had one beer in the fridge in his room when it happened, they will not pay and it is almost certain that your chapter will be closed. Doing the right thing is often not popular, but it is essential. Fraternity men may go to lots of parties, but we’re ultimately about character and making the world a better place in line with our ritual. That has to be the guiding force of your decision making as President. It may not be the best thing to address in your election speech, and you may lose if you do, but you have to stand up for what is right. You chapter is screwed if you don’t, and you shouldn’t even be a member if you’d consider the alternative, much less president.

    Sorry that’s long & probably bounces around a bit. This is something I feel very passionate about and have spent many hundreds of hours working on over the past two years in support of a particular Greek system that is in the process of getting such a policy overturned.

  2. I was a part of a dry-housing fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, as an undergrad and continue to be a proud alumnus of a dry-housing fraternity. It works. The evidence is out there. If you need to see it, Dr. Ed Whipple’s white paper on the subject is the single best defense of the policy around. It can be found here: http://www.phideltatheta.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1315

    In regards to your presidency, this IS the crucial issue apparently. Your values and your actions set the tone for the chapter. If you feel that your chapter should abide by a policy that every members was aware of and agreed to willingly, then say as much. Do not worry about recruiting or retention. Those are issues that are completely independent of alcohol. Keep us posted on any other questions you may have.

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