In the midst of our ongoing and incredibly frustrating campus rape discussion, one odd fact keeps disappearing and reemerging from the conversation: sororities are formally prohibited from serving alcohol at official Greek events, while fraternities, um, serve quite a lot of it. Would allowing sororities to serve alcohol at parties make campuses safer for women?
A few disclaimers to start with: women not in college are even more likely to be sexually assaulted than college women, and on campus, as in life, rape can and does happen anywhere. But a 2007 Department of Justice study found "a surprisingly large number" of college women who reported being sexually assaulted said it had happened at a party, including 58 percent of the people who said they were "incapacitated" during the assault.
Sororities affiliated with the National Panhellenic Conference (that is, most of them), are required to have alcohol-free parties. (That, combined with their curiously intense emphasis on Spanx, makes sororities sound like no fun at all.) But a spate of stories and editorials, the most recent one in the New York Times yesterday, have suggested it's time to change that no-alcohol policy. NYT reporter Alan Schwarz spoke to members of Sigma Delta, a Dartmouth sorority not affiliated with the NPC. Their social chair, Molly Reckford, argues that it helps even out the power dynamic, one in which women "have no ownership of the social scene. You can't kick a guy out of his own house." (There's a huge power in having greater control and comfort in your drinking environment; it's one of the reasons the past few years have seen such a rise in appreciation and recognition for female bartenders.)
The advantages are pretty clear: the sorority would have a far greater ability to control the alcohol, including keeping an eye on what's in the mixed drinks. And they'd be able to control who enters the house, as at Sigma Delta, who also appoint sober monitors to keep an eye on the scene. And many, many other people have made that argument from every side of the political spectrum: Robby Soave at the Libertarian magazine Reason, sociology professor Michael Kimmel writing for TIME , Charlottesville's alt-weekly C-Ville. Also — just spitballing here — a sorority party might be slightly less gross: there would probably be snacks, and the toilets and floors might not look like they were crusted with ancient stalactites of grime. Plus, the greatest benefit of all to having a party in your own house: at any point, you can lock your door, put on your pajamas, fire up Netflix and cease all social interaction, the best part of any night out.
The drawbacks, though, are just as clear, as the NYT report points out: insurance costs for sororities would go up, passing on those costs to individual members. It would also bring the chaos of college Greek parties into sorority houses, which some members told Schwarz they'd just as soon avoid. And of course, it's not a panacea against rape, because nothing is or ever will be.
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