Say It Ain't So: Frats Gone Mild
Colleges are on a binge to tame fraternities. But angry members (and alums) are fighting back
Four nervous freshmen huddle on the sidewalk outside the Delta Upsilon house at Colgate University. It's homecoming weekend at the 2,750-student school in upstate New York, the party inside the house is raging, and they're on a quest for beer. They take out their wallets, eyeball their fake ID s, and consider the wisdom of presenting them to the private security guards at DU's front door. Deciding the ID s won't pass muster, they keep walking.
They don't have to go far to find a party they can get into. In the backyard of a nearby private house, there are no security guards and no colored wristbands for the underage. This parallel party universe is the domain of the brothers of Delta Kappa Epsilon, a renegade fraternity that Colgate barred from campus for refusing to sell its house to the school and join a new student-residence initiative. But while the college threatened to expel any students who set foot in the DKE house, the order continues in exile. At the house where some brothers now live, they continue to provide for their classmates: kegs of light beer, rock music, and that ubiquitous collegiate drinking game, beer pong. And the occasional joint is smoked.
Homeless. This was exactly the type of scene Colgate University hoped to eradicate last year when it forced 10 fraternities and sororities to sell their houses to the university or face derecognition. In school-owned buildings, all parties must be registered in advance, and private catering companies--complete with ID-checking security guards--must run events where alcohol is served. DKE, the only fraternity that refused to sell, filed a lawsuit charging that the school violated its right to freely associate as well as antitrust laws by exerting monopoly-like control over the student housing market. Last month, the frat asked the local district attorney to investigate the legality of the housing plan. The university steadfastly defends its actions, saying its plan will bolster Greek life. The frat, however, feels endangered. "The situation sucks because we cannot sit down to dinner in our own house," says Sam Higgins, DKE president.
Colgate's effort is a particularly contentious example of a trend toward greater university control of Greek communities. In recent weeks, frats in at least five other states have been fighting derecognition, takeover bids from universities, and community ordinances aimed at quieting their raucous ways. For too long, many schools argue, the Greek system has been a haven for Animal House- style behavior: hazing, sexual assaults, and rampant binge drinking. Efforts to bring frats to heel have followed a similar pattern. Schools require more students to live on campus, depriving the fraternities of revenue generated by residents. Then schools either purchase property or, like Colgate, deny recognition to off-campus houses, compelling the fraternities to sell. Many schools, including the University of South Florida, George Washington University, and the University of Connecticut, have built Greek villages with dorm-style living for frats and sororities. Others have banned private fraternal societies altogether, to the dismay of traditionalists who call Greek life part and parcel of the college experience.