The Alphas, Betas, and Gammas: Working with Sororities and Fraternities

College is a time for making lifelong friendships, expanding civic engagement, and becoming part of something larger than yourself. For many students, sororities and fraternities provide that experience. However, college students who are members of sororities and fraternities drink more alcohol, and drink it more often, than do college students who are not in these organizations.

According to the 2001 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, 75% of fraternity men drank heavily, compared with 49% of non-fraternity men. Among women, 62% of sorority members were heavy drinkers, versus 41% of non-members.

Many factors contribute to a culture of drinking in Greek-letter organizations. One study found that fraternity and sorority leaders drink even more heavily than other members, setting a hard-drinking group norm. Research also shows that fraternity and sorority members are more likely than other students to see drinking as a social activity and a way of forming friendships. New students who intend to pledge are already twice as likely to be frequent, heavy drinkers when they arrive on campus as non-pledges. And nearly 80% of fraternity and sorority hazing activities involve the drinking of alcohol. So it’s probable that heavy-drinking students self-select into fraternities and sororities and that these organizations encourage drinking behavior.

Fraternity and sorority houses also provide an environment for risky campus drinking. College students who live in them are more likely to meet the definition of binge drinkers—four or more drinks in two hours for women, five or more for men—than students in any other living situation. Even fraternity and sorority members who don’t live on Greek Row are less likely to report this type of heavy episodic drinking.

Prevalence of binge drinking among college students 

Fraternity/Sorority house: 75.4 %

Fraternity/Sorority member:  64.3%

Off campus with roommate or alone: 54.5%

Residence hall: 45.3%

Substance-free residence hall: 35.3%

Off campus with parents: 30.1%

Fraternity and sorority houses are also host to alcohol-related consequences. Half of the student residents in these houses have reported poor academic performance on a test or project as a result of alcohol use; this rate is about twice that of all students. In addition, 70% of Greek-row residents have missed a class as a result of drinking, versus 33% of students in general. Residents of sorority and fraternity houses suffer from the drinking of others, too: 83% of these residents report experiencing consequences such as being disturbed while sleeping or studying, arguments, assault, property damage, sexual assault, and having to take care of a drunken companion.

And it’s an environment that can encourage other risk-taking. For example, approximately 10% of rapes on college campuses occur at fraternity houses. In addition, fraternity and sorority members are twice as likely as other students to have used prescription stimulant drugs for nonmedical purposes, and 13% of students living in Greek houses had done so.

Addressing the Risk

Fraternities and sororities and their national organizations know that they need to work with colleges to remain a part of campus life. These efforts often focus on the organizations’ public-service traditions. Studies have found that a high level of volunteering and community service can counteract the increased risk of heavy and frequent drinking (as well as intentional and frequent drunkenness) among members of Greek-letter organizations.

Campus policies can encourage fraternities and sororities to live up to their potential by:

  • Promoting their community-service efforts.
  • Prohibiting recruitment and rush of first-semester students.
  • Taking a strong anti-hazing stance and prohibiting alcohol during rush and recruitment week.
  • Requiring MyStudentBody Essentials as part of the pledging process, to make sure all new members have a basic understanding of the risks of alcohol, drugs, and sexual violence.
  • Being sure that fraternities and sororities understand their potential legal liability.
  • Requiring responsible alcohol-serving practices for all organizations and events on campus, such as using registered and trained servers, performing ID checks, and designating non-drinking security monitors at parties.
  • Prohibiting kegs and house taps for all organizations/events on campus.
  • Supporting organization standards that call for alcohol-free events and activities, and that encourage alcohol-free houses and chapters.
  • Promoting academically-based competitions among fraternities and sororities.
  • Urging alumni to refrain from heavy drinking when they return to campus for events such as Homecoming or graduation.

Colleges can cooperate with national fraternity and sorority organizations to develop minimum standards for local chapters, including a minimum level of academic achievement, community service requirements, and sanctions if the standards aren’t met. National organizations may even help establish alcohol-free sorority and fraternity houses.

References

Allan EJ, Madden M. (2008). Hazing in View: College Students at Risk Initial Findings from the National Study of Student Hazing. The National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention. Orono, Maine. Retrieved from http://www.hazingstudy.org/publications/hazing_in_view_web.pdf, October 28, 2011.

Cashin JR, Presley CA, Meilman PW. (1998). Alcohol use in the Greek system: Follow the leader. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 59 (1), 63-70.

Copenhaver S, Grauerholz E. (1991). Sexual victimization among sorority women: Exploring the link between sexual violence and institutional practices. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 24(1-2), 31–42.

Fisher BS, Cullen FT, Turner MG. (2000, December). The sexual victimization of college women. Retrieved October 17, 2007, from the National Institute of Justice at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf 

Harmon M. (2005). Transforming Greek Life. Chico Statements, Fall 2005. California State University at Chico. Retrieved from http://www.csuchico.edu/pub/cs/fall_05/special_feature_02.html, October 28, 2011.

The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention. (2008). Infofacts Resources: Fraternity and Sorority Members and Alcohol and Other Drug Use. Newton, MA. August 2008. http://www.higheredcenter.org/pubs/factsheets/fact_sheet5.pdf 

McCabe SE, Knight JR, Teter CJ, Wechsler H. (2005). Non-medical use of prescription stimulants among US college students: prevalence and correlates from a national survey. Addiction,99, 96–106.

Wechsler H. Eun Lee J, Kuo M, Seibring M, Nelson TB, Lee H. (2002). Trends in college binge drinking during a period of increased prevention efforts: Findings from 4 Harvard School of Public Health college alcohol surveys: 1993–2001. Journal of American College Health, 50, 203–217.

Weitzman ER, Chen YY. (2005). Risk modifying effect of social capital on measures of heavy alcohol consumption, alcohol abuse, harms, and secondhand effects: national survey findings. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2005 Apr;59(4):303-9.

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