Banning hard liquor from fraternities long overdue

  • Seeking answers: Jim Piazza, right, seated with his wife, Evelyn, centre, and son, Michael, left, holds back emotions while discussing the death of his son, Penn State University fraternity pledge, Tim Piazza, during an interview in New York. Jim Piazza and Rich Braham both lost teenage sons to hazing in recent years. They are among the parents who have formed a national Anti-Hazing Coalition, partnering with leaders of organisations representing nearly 100 national fraternities and sororities (Photograph by Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Colleges that have banned hard alcohol say the step has helped to combat some of the most pernicious effects of campus drinking.

They report less consumption, fewer alcohol-induced medical transports, hospitalisations and arrests, as well as a decrease in binge drinking and other high-risk behaviours.

So the recent decision by a leading association representing fraternities to no longer allow hard liquor at chapter houses or events is a welcome step, even if it is long overdue.

The North-American Interfraternity Conference, the trade association that represents 66 international and national men’s fraternities, announced last week that its members had given near-unanimous approval to a resolution prohibiting “alcohol products above 15 per cent A.B.V.” from being present in any chapter facility or chapter event unless sold by a licensed third party.

The ban, which will go into effect by September 1, 2019, applies to both common areas and private living spaces, whether or not students are over the legal drinking age of 21. Chapters on 800 campuses will be affected.

The new policy was announced the same week that the family of Penn State University student Timothy Piazza settled a lawsuit with a national fraternity that stemmed from the 19-year-old’s death last year during a hazing ritual. Made to consume large amounts of alcohol, including vodka, the sophomore engineering student suffered injuries to his brain and spleen after he fell down stairs and was left unattended by other students.

A doctor calculated that his blood-alcohol content was about four times the legal limit for driving. His needless death, along with those of three other students last year during booze-soaked pledging rituals, was the catalyst that finally made the inter-fraternity conference realise it couldn’t leave it up to individual chapters to clean house.

“We’re going through an intense period of reflection,” said Judson Horras, chief executive officer of the inter-fraternity conference, as he acknowledged the impact of last year’s deaths.

He said a year of study and talks with students revealed “the unequivocal, No 1 thing” was a need to address the dangers of hard alcohol. Hard liquor lets students get drunk faster; it has become a staple of dangerous hazing rituals and has given rise to such high-risk behaviours as “pre-gaming”, in which students get drunk before even leaving home for parties or sporting events.

To be sure, a ban on hard liquor will not cure all the problems caused by underage drinking. Beer, wine and malt beverages, all still allowed for those of age to drink them, also have the potential to be abused.

That is why schools that have banned hard liquor with largely positive results, including Dartmouth College and Purdue University, have also put in place other health and safety initiatives.

As fraternities spend the coming year developing plans to implement and enforce the hard-liquor ban, they would also do well to study what other measures are needed to make campuses and fraternities safer.