— Srcih Lelrim (@ChrisAMillerNow) December 7, 2014
There’s been a growing chorus of bloggers arguing that an approach to lowering sexual assault on campus shouldn’t just target frats, but also empower sororities – to throw their own parties. Anna Merlan is onboard:
The advantages are pretty clear: the sorority would have a far greater ability to control the alcohol, including keeping an eye on what’s in the mixed drinks. And they’d be able to control who enters the house, as at Sigma Delta, who also appoint sober monitors to keep an eye on the scene. And many, many other people have made that argument from every side of the political spectrum: Robby Soave at the Libertarian magazine Reason, sociology professor Michael Kimmel writing for TIME , Charlottesville’s alt-weekly C-Ville. … Plus, the greatest benefit of all to having a party in your own house: at any point, you can lock your door, put on your pajamas, fire up Netflix and cease all social interaction, the best part of any night out.
Juliet Lapidos also sees sorority parties as a good path: “Telling fraternities not to throw parties is overbearing; telling undergraduates not to attend frat parties won’t work; and telling undergraduates to control their drinking at frat parties probably won’t work, either.” So what’s getting in the way?
As The Times’s Alan Schwarz explained on Monday, most national Greek-letter sororities do not throw keggers. They are, in fact, barred from serving alcohol at their residences. Julie Johnson, an officer at the National Panhellenic Conference, said in an interview that the point of the ban was to “ensure safety” as well as compliance with drinking-age laws. She also said she did not foresee the rule “changing anywhere in the near future.”
But Amanda Hess counters:
For the national organizations and local chapters, banning alcohol is a financial calculation, not a moral one:
staying dry helps them to avoid the legal liabilities shouldered by raucous fraternities. Drinking contributes not just to campus rape but also to physical fights, accidents, poisoning, and other destructive behaviors. James R. Favor & Company, an insurance company that covers more than a dozen fraternities, told the Times in 2012 that one national fraternity was paying an average of $812,951 in annual settlements until it went dry, at which point its annual payout dropped to $15,388. An officer with the National Panhellenic Conference told the Times that “she preferred to preserve the relative calm of sorority houses, and continue to let fraternities assume the cost, risk and cleanup of house parties.”
Jenny Kutner, on the other hand, doesn’t think sorority parties would make any difference:
[I]t simply fails to address the problems at the root of the campus rape crisis: binge-drinking and lack of education (about healthy alcohol consumption and sexual consent). But what also goes unaddressed are the perceptions of rape culture as a “so-called rape culture,” as the Cornell student described to the Times. The problematic attitude toward partying and sexual assault that persists on many campuses is embodied in Williams’ words — specifically, in the failure to question why any woman should ever have to “wonder how to get out” of somewhere she doesn’t want to be. So long as attitudes such as Williams’ remain, it’s unlikely that shifting a perilous party culture from one house to another will do much to increase women’s safety.
But there’s also the question of how much sororities really will do to protect their own. While anecdotal evidence might indicate that the organizations will go further to protect the interests of individual members, sororities are businesses — just like fraternities, institutions that have been repeatedly charged with protecting their own best interests when accidents happen.
Robby Soave likes the idea of sorority parties but acknowledges that “there’s always the risk that moving the party into the sorority will have a corrupting effect on the girls, rather than a civilizing effect on the scene.” Olga Khazan elaborates:
[Sorority parties] could further the flawed assumption that women are the more dutiful sex; that we are naturally better at policing inappropriate behavior. The Responsible-Lady-Fixes-Everything paradigm is why we have TV commercials where a size-two mom cheerily Lysols every inch of the house while her gross husband watches TV. (Or, more generally, the thinking that women do more chores because they like things cleaner.)
This reasoning is evident in how some of the Times‘ sources explained why they don’t think sorority sisters should have parties: “Mr. Pendleton said that because sororities tended to be smaller and more intimately decorated, members should hold events with alcohol at outside venues like dance halls.” You see, the women’s intricate doilies and knick-knacks simply will not withstand the constant, salty spray of a “Natty Boh” keg.
Meanwhile, on the fraternity front:
Last week, just in time for the start of rush, University of Virginia fraternities signed a new set of rules intended to prevent excessive drinking as well as sexual assault at frat parties. The new rules prohibit punch and kegs (beer must now be served in cans; liquor, by a licensed bartender) and require that parties be supervised by sober fraternity members, which seems like a step in the right direction.