clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Fraternities and sororities that cork the bottle don't miss the `Animal House' days

When Carmen Kipp became a charter member of Phi Delta Theta's University of Utah chapter in 1944, it was no "Animal House."

In fact, it was no house at all until 1947, when the fraternity finally got its own house on east 100 South adjacent to the campus.And even then, it was as "dry" as the math lectures across the street. It stayed that way through the happy days of the '50s and the turned-on '60s.

Kipp, who admits to enjoying a drink now and then, then and now, said the no-booze-in-the-house policy enhanced rather than crimped the fraternity's style.

"Members could drink, of course, just not in the house. I think it relieved a lot of problems and made all the members feel more comfortable there," said Kipp, a Salt Lake attorney who was also the chapter's alumni adviser for more than a decade.

But the policy changed sometime around 1970, and Phi Delta Theta, like its neighboring houses on fraternity row, hit the bottle.

Now, it's back to the future.

For the first time in more than 20 years, Phi Delta Theta is "dry" again, becoming the first U. fraternity to cork the bottle. It's not likely to be the last, however, as at least one neighboring house, Sigma Nu, has joined Select 2000, a pilot program to ban alcohol in fraternities and sororities.

Also, the recent deaths of two students following drinking binges at frat houses at Louisiana State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has had a sobering effect on chapters and college administrators nationwide.

"I strongly believe that within three to five years, 90 percent of all national fraternities and sororities will have substance-free policies," predicted Tiffany Evans, associate director of student activities and "Greek" adviser at Utah State University.

If so, USU, will have been way ahead of its time. The Logan-based university adopted a substance-free policy for all its affiliated houses in 1995. The action was prompted by a report that showed 90 percent of the Greek-letter men, many of them underage, were binge-drinking on a regular basis.

One administrator said USU's fraternity row had degenerated into a "row of saloons."

At the same time, membership in USU's chapters had dwindled from a high of about 1,200 in the early 1960s to only 303. The houses were on the verge of self-destructing, according to Evans.

Nevertheless, many fraternity members and alumni at USU and the U. warned that alcohol bans would hasten the demise of the houses. Hasn't happened, said Evans.

Leafing through the preliminary rosters for fall quarter, Evans estimates that membership at USU's fraternities and sororities has risen by 20 percent since 1995.

"It's building back up," she said. "After two years, we're seeing the benefits. I think it's been a success."

Todd D. Wakefield, a Park City attorney who is serving as the Phi Delta Theta alumni adviser at the U., said he, too, heard dire warnings when his house was thinking about implementing the ban three years ahead of the 2000 target date.

One fellow alumnus told him their old house would be dead within a year. After revisiting the house, however, the skeptic changed his mind.

"He said he was really encouraged by what he had seen," Wakefield said. "The house is a nicer place to be, there were more brothers, and the number of prospective members was much higher."

Chapter president Chris Gunderson, confirmed that assessment, saying membership and interest in the house has grown since it announced the change.

"There wasn't a problem with drinking here, but there were chapter members, including myself, who realized this policy would create an atmosphere that is more conducive to academics and a wider variety of functions," said Gunderson.

Some members were initially opposed, "but most of them have come around," Gunderson added. The house isn't getting "trashed" anymore and the liability risks are down. With liability insurance skyrocketing at frat houses, the latter benefit is no small matter, Gunderson said.

Wakefield, who made a personal choice to stop drinking at the frat house after his sophomore year, said the younger generation of brothers made the right call.

"Working with college men the past six or seven years, I've found them to be more than thoughtful than they were 10 or 20 years ago. More of them are working their way through school. They have less interest in spending time and money strictly for entertainment," Wakefield said. "They are more interested in substance than substance abuse."

According to Wakefield, his old fraternity and others are returning to the principles upon which they were founded: friendship and scholarship.

"They like to have a good time as much as any one else," he added, "but drinking in the house doesn't have to be part of it."

Down the street from the Phi Delta Theta house, Beta Theta Pi chapter president Peter Paulos said alcohol isn't necessarily a problem. Students don't join the fraternity for the drinking, he said.

"Our national organization was the first to adopt a 2.5 GPA standard," Paulos said. A fraternity brother isn't going to maintain those kinds of grades if he's into binging, Paulos said. "Also, for me, living in the house, it's like being a landlord. The house is kept up."

Still, if the fraternity were to decide to go dry, Paulos said, "I could live with it."

At USU, the substance-free policy has been accompanied by regular information meetings dealing with responsible drinking and related issues. Evans says the school has adopted a pro-active approach designed to help the fraternities and sororities make the right choices.

The fraternity council at USU is now turning its attention to a social events policy and enforcement of the alcohol ban, which up to now has essentially been self-policed.

"I can't say there will never be any problems with alcohol at the houses, but we hope the direction we've taken will result in students watching out for one another," Evans said.

Noting that there have been only two alcohol-related incidents at the houses since the 1995 ban went into effect, she added, "We're pleased so far."

Gunderson, a U. senior majoring in English, said though Phi Delta Theta's ban is only two months old, it, too, appears to be a success.

"I think we'll be able to show it's best not just for us, but for the fraternity world as a whole," he said.