Steve Schachter leaned against a tent post on a North Campus area at California State University, Northridge, swirling a can of cola in his hand as he mingled with his fraternity brothers.
The television management major acknowledged that he would prefer to be sipping beer with the members of Zeta Beta Tau as they tried to attract new members during rush week. But, Schachter said, going alcohol-free hasn't cramped his or his fraternity's style.
"Last year, we partied for 14 straight nights, mostly with beer," said Schachter, 20. "It's different this year, but the spirits are just as high."
Indeed, the absence of alcohol for the first time this week during CSUN's fraternity rush--typically a period of wild parties--has not been the downer that some had expected.
The sober atmosphere is resulting in membership increases, fraternities reported, and the parties are discouraging the "professional rushers" who are attracted more by the free alcohol than the prospect of becoming a member of the Greek system.
Nearby residents, who in the past have complained angrily about fraternity-house parties that got out of hand, say they couldn't be happier.
Little Trouble for Police
Campus police officers, who became involved in rush week for the first time because the parties are being held on campus, reported little trouble during the two-day festivities, which came to a close early Friday morning.
And students seeking to join one of the 12 fraternities at CSUN say they are getting a more reliable view of the Greeks to determine whether they want to pledge a fraternity.
"It's coming off better than we thought," said Dan Katz, president of Sigma Alpha Mu. "We're in a controlled area; we're away from the neighbors, and we don't have to worry about what someone may do if they drink too much."
The parties, which in the past have been held at off-campus houses or rented rooms, this year were held in open-air tents decorated individually by each fraternity just south of Devonshire Street, next to the university football field.
CSUN's Interfraternity Council voted in April to conduct a "dry rush" this year in hopes of improving the Greek image on and off campus. The previous school year had been particularly rocky for fraternities, with three being suspended for infractions ranging from drunken parties to a registration scandal.
In conducting a dry rush, CSUN fraternities are following the example of about 250 campuses nationwide where alcohol has been banned from recruitment parties, CSUN Greek adviser Tom Piernik said.
Besides dry rush, CSUN fraternities earlier this year signed commitments with the school's administration agreeing to respect the rights of their neighbors by not partying after midnight and to clean any mess in the neighborhood that resulted from their festivities.
Because of dry rush and what fraternity members said is a growing popularity of the Greek system nationwide, CSUN fraternities are attracting more pledges this year.
"We've already got 23 pledges. That's ahead of schedule," said senior Steve Garber, rush chairman for Pi Kappa Alpha. "When you get down to it, alcohol really defeats the purpose. What you want is a sober look at people."
Pi Kappa Alpha's rush parties this week were the wildest compared to the other fraternities, featuring go-go dancers, live bands playing under a tarp roof painted in fluorescent colors and plenty of soft drinks and juice.
On Wednesday night, a noise complaint was lodged against the fraternity, Garber said. CSUN Police Lt. Mark Hissong said that complaint was the only incident reported during the two-day party.
'Having Great Time'
"They seem to be having a great time. Going without beer doesn't seem to be bumming them out at all," Hissong said.
Neighborhood residents said they are also pleased. They said they had feared that the alcohol-free parties on campus would become drunken bashes once the fraternity members returned to their houses after midnight.
"I was kind of wondering when they were going to start up last night, but they never did," said Robert Mayor, who lives on White Oak Avenue near several fraternity houses on Halsted Street. "I slept soundly."
"I've had a couple of beer bottles thrown on my lawn earlier this week, but that doesn't really bother me. It's been rowdier in the past," said Margaret Harr, a Halsted Street resident.
Fraternity members said they probably won't hold rush parties in the tents next year because of the expense. It cost about $700 to rent each tent, and the Interfraternity Council had to pay the campus police staff about $420 to provide extra security, said Ray Hernandez, vice president of the council.
But dry rush, he said, has probably become permanent at CSUN.
"I think it will be the wave of the future," Schachter said, as he viewed the party going on inside his fraternity tent, where members were playing blackjack and roulette for entertainment.
Similar to the alcohol-free standard, the gambling was not sinful. There was no money at stake. Those lucky enough to win received containers of yogurt.