The college fraternity, one of the last bastions of Bacchanalian revelry, may never be the same.
Across the country, college campuses are opting for "dry rush," meaning no alcohol can be served during the period of open parties designed to attract new members.
But where dry rush goes, controversy follows. Last week it was UCLA's turn after the school's Interfraternity Council voted Sept. 4 for the policy, 12 to 8, with 20 of the 30 campus fraternities casting ballots.
Renting a Bus
Some dissenters hadn't changed their minds about it weeks later. At the Alpha Tau Omega house, for instance, a yellow school bus was rented last Thursday evening so that students could be driven off campus in search of booze (the dry policy applied only to serving alcohol in the houses in the open with potential members present). Plastered on the side of the bus was a handmade sign that read, "If dry rush is heavan (sic), then we're going to hell!"
"It was the house's idea to do this," explained fraternity president Karl Wolff, 21. "We voted against a completely dry rush. Most all other campuses that are doing it went into it gradually. If we had had more time we could have put a lot more effort into the (rush) party. But (when the vote was taken) people were on vacation, and there wasn't enough time to plan anything."
'It's an Addition'
While admitting that dry rush is "a positive step for the Greek system," Wolff added: "Alcohol isn't necessary (at a fraternity party), but it's an addition. We like to see pledges in all types of atmospheres, athletics, scholastics, and social events."
Not content to comply with the campus council's ruling nor wishing to face disciplinary action, Phi Kappa Sigma moved its party from the fraternity house to a crowded private apartment a few blocks away where beer was being served. (Rush chairman Michael Barron, 21, said alcohol was being served because it was a non-rush party not held in the fraternity house.)
Farther down fraternity row, at Theta Delta Chi, a few couples were on the dance floor and others were playing cards or talking. Cups of Coke or Sprite were the only drinks in evidence. "I personally don't mind there not being any alcohol," said Marlon Marquez, a 17-year-old freshman and rushee. "The fact that there's no alcohol allows guys to be themselves."
At the Beta Theta Pi house the door was open, but the party was elsewhere; the fraternity had decided to bus people to a small convention hall downtown for a "low-key dancing party," as president Scott Varner put it. "We made the decision (to have the party off-campus) to try and break the monotony of rush, if you will." He added that the fraternity did not provide alcohol, but it was available at the hall and some did drink. "There was a little bit of drinking, but it was controlled," he said. "The central theme wasn't alcohol; it was a dancing party."
Liability a Factor
The night before, Varner had been extolling the virtues of going dry. While a big screen TV behind him played "Animal House," he explained that not only did he vote for dry rush as a member of the Intrafraternity Council but that he had called the rush activities "more wholesome" without alcohol. Liability was a factor in his decision; last April at a non-rush-week Beta party, then-freshman football player Mike Beech tumbled 12 feet off a balcony, nearly losing his life. He required 14 hours of surgery and although has made a remarkable recovery, his plans to play football again are on hold.
While there was no evidence that drinking contributed to the fall, the incident was "part of motivation about voting for dry rush," Varner said. "Why increase the chances for liability?"
Farther on down the row, Zeta Psi was having no trouble attracting people with its loud balcony Hawaiian luau party. "Alcohol or not, they'll come by," said fraternity president Suresh Krishnamurthy, a 19-year-old junior who was sure that music and plenty of girls could still draw a crowd. "Alcohol is not the emphasis here," he added. "It's on good, solid entertainment, and good food. We do a lot of serious rushing."
One pledge, 18-year-old Donald Fried, said: "I didn't know it was dry until I got here, and it didn't make a difference."
And at Lambda Chi Alpha, which had originally voted against dry rush, president Tom Neiger, 22, now seemed convinced of its merits. "Things are so much better this way," he said. "We're meeting guys who are serious about rushing, and we don't have as much of the riffraff that we had in the past."
Liability, riffraff, complaints from the community and a nation-wide trend toward drinking less have all had an effect on campuses going dry. USC has been dry for three years, and this year's rush chairman, 21-year-old Todd Nelson, said, "The drop-out rate (for the fraternities) is much less." As to the liability factor, he said, "If you have alcohol at rush, people might get hurt, and the frats end up being liable."