Scott Fishman, president of the Chapman College chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, stood at the entrance to the Davis Community Center on the Orange campus the other evening greeting fellow students with a nervous smile as they arrived at his fraternity's dance initiating rush week.
Though the 21-year-old senior had performed this membership recruitment ritual before--for two years as president of Chapman's largest fraternity--tonight his stomach was in a knot.
For the first time in their history, Fishman and his fellow Sig Eps were holding a "dry," or non-alcoholic, rush, and he feared the absence of alcohol, which has been called the "lifeblood of rush," would keep away potential pledges. "We're known for throwing wet , wet rushes," Fishman said forebodingly.
Later, as the dance neared it's frenzied denouement, a visitor happened upon Fishman in a back room using his commanding charm to sell 20 rushees on pledging his 56-member Sig Ep chapter. He talked exuberantly to the attentive rushees huddled about him because he sensed success; the number of pledges this fall would meet or exceed the 21 garnered the year before.
Interrupting his sales spiel to assess how things had turned out, Fishman said: "Things are going great! I couldn't ask for more. I'm talking to 20 guys (potential pledges) now. And you can see from the smiles of people on the dance floor that everybody's having a good time.
Planned Just Right
"We planned it just right: plenty of food and a fantastic DJ playing great dance music. We didn't need alcohol. . . . I have no regrets we took a chance on going dry."
Rushees such as freshman Bobby Hubbart seemed to share this view: "Even though it's dry, I think this is the best kind of rush," Hubbart said. It gives you a chance to talk to the guys in Sig Ep and find out what they're really like while everybody can think straight."
Fishman's Sig Eps have joined other Greek fraternities and sororities at Orange County's four-year colleges--UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and Chapman--that have been pressured into adopting dry rushes in the past year. The most dramatic turnaround has come among the county's 22 fraternities, where the number conducting dry rush has leaped from two to 14.
In fact, this fall's rush season--which ended last Sunday in Orange County with the conclusion of UCI's two-week round of festivities--saw the majority of the county's Greek organizations conduct dry rush. Even among the remaining Greeks who stuck with the traditional wet rush, many said they believe that by the time today's college freshman graduates, the age of alcohol rush will have ended in Orange County and the rest of the nation.
This movement to wipe out wet rush--and to decrease alcohol consumption by college students in general--stems from the widespread belief that abuse of alcohol by students on college campuses causes problems ranging from vandalism and injury to a lessening of academic performance, interviews with over more than students and administrators at UCI, Cal State Fullerton and Chapman show.
"Misuse of alcohol is the leading cause of death among college students," said T. Roger Nudd, Cal State Fullerton's vice president for student services.
Annual Student Deaths
"Each year 7,000 college-age students are killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents," Nudd said. As a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity's national task force on college alcohol abuse, Nudd is a nationally recognized expert on the nature and extent of this problem.
The effort to de-emphasize the role of alcohol in fraternity life took off in December, 1983, when the House of Delegates of the National Interfraternity Conference, representing most of fraternities in the United States, adopted a resolution to combat what it called the "increasing consumption and abuse of alcoholic beverages."
Ellen Thomas, UCI's new sorority and fraternity adviser and alcohol education coordinator, was present at that Kansas City, Mo., conference. The adoption of this unprecedented anti-alcohol stance, Thomas said, was all the more remarkable because the National Interfraternity Council, unlike it's sorority counterpart, rarely adopts resolutions because each fraternity belonging to this organization jealously guards its prerogatives to govern its internal affairs.
Yet, the Interfraternity Council felt compelled for a variety of reasons to seek "moderation" of alcohol consumption. Thus, it recommended the implementation of non-alcoholic fraternity rush. And for the remainder of the academic year, the council flatly forbade fraternities from holding "open" alcohol parties--those with unrestricted access.
Armed with the council's resolution, more than 100 of the nation's largest colleges have since implemented mandatory dry rush, according to the Fraternity Newsletter. This number has doubled in the last year alone, said UCI's Thomas, who has closely monitored this development.