Sororities, fraternities share stark contrasts in regard to alcohol regulations


Lauren Grant/Iowa State Daily

The average person’s body can hold one ounce of alcohol per hour which is equivalent to one 12-ounce beer. 

Elaine Godfrey

For some, greek life at Iowa State carries a stigma of alcohol consumption and constant partying, but students might not know that there’s a large difference between campus sororities and fraternities, and even between individual chapters, regarding alcohol policies.

According to the Collegiate Panhellenic Council, the organization governing the national panhellenic sorority chapters on campus, alcohol is strictly forbidden in any sorority housing or on chapter grounds. Likewise, sororities are not allowed to co-sponsor events where alcohol may be present.

Fraternities, however, are governed under the campus Interfraternity Council, which designates three categories of fraternity housing: wet, dry and damp.

According to the IFC bylaws, alcohol-permitted housing, also called “wet” housing, allows the possession and consumption of alcohol on chapter property for people of legal age, as well as for registered events.

In alcohol-restricted, or “damp” housing, registered events with alcohol are not allowed on chapter property, but alcohol can be consumed on-site. A “dry” or alcohol-prohibited house doesn’t allow consumption or possession of alcohol at any time.

Out of the 30 fraternity chapter houses on campus, only seven are considered “wet,” including Alpha Kappa Lambda, Alpha Tau Omega, Delta Tau Delta, Lambda Chi Alpha, Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Sigma Pi, according to the Office of Greek Affairs’ 2014 greek magazine.

James McConnell, president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, said his chapter follows a set of strict guidelines from the Office of Greek Affairs in order to maintain its alcohol-permitted status.

“Being a wet house is like being in your own home,” McConnell said. “But it’s heavily enforced at our house that under 21 you can’t drink.”

Of Sigma Phi Epsilon’s 91 members, 47 live in the fraternity house and members are permitted to have outside guests. Everyone is allowed to drink alcohol on-site, provided they are of legal drinking age.

However, just like in most wet fraternities, members under the legal drinking age are still able to live in the house. Half of the fraternity’s in-house members are younger than 21.

Risk management is something McConnell considers to be of the “utmost importance.” Preventing accidents, as well as taking good care of their chapter house, means having strict alcohol policies.

The fraternity generally only has two registered parties per semester, after philanthropy events or to celebrate a Greek Week pairing, McConnell said.

For a registered party, there must be at least six sober monitors, as well as a 21-year-old member acting as bartender for the duration of the party. McConnell also said they are required to have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, as well as snacks, for party guests.

“Those are the majors,” McConnell said. “But then you list everyone who could have responsibility down the line, so that everybody can feel the liability.”

Risk, he said, is always a factor when alcohol is present.

“When you’re a wet house, obviously the risk side of things goes off the charts,” McConnell said, but he still thinks it’s worth it to be an alcohol-permitting house.

Violating the chapter’s alcohol rules results in what McConnell called “self-punishment.” Any member drinking under age at Sigma Phi Epsilon will be sent to the house standards board, or the “court room” of the chapter. Sober monitors who fail to keep an event under control will also face punishment determined by the chapter.

The Office of Greek Affairs is included only when a member is reported.

“It’s almost like we’re raising [our members],” McConnell said. “We’re teaching them how to live on their own, how to follow rules and self-punish.”

So is being a wet house a selling point to potential new members during recruitment?

McConnell said not so much. He said it might be a factor, but Sigma Phi Epsilon members are successful for other reasons.

“We got third place in grades last year,” he said, beating most dry houses.

John Beatty, senior in industrial engineering, said he sees it a bit differently. Beatty, who was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon before it became a dry house, said alcohol regulations are part of a house’s atmosphere and how a house is perceived.

“I did recruiting for SAE, and I could tell you that if it was a dry house, it would affect recruiting,” Beatty said. “Kids want to join an atmosphere where they can be free.”

Between October 2013 and June 2014, Pi Kappa Phi was suspended from campus and charged with misuse of alcoholic beverages. Executive board member Isaac Droessler said the fraternity was previously a wet house, and there were “many issues there.”

“People knew we had a wet house environment. That’s something people will still look for,” Droessler said. “That’s what I was looking for when I joined.”

Droessler said Pi Kappa Phi will return to its Welch address in the fall, but it will be a dry house until the end of 2016. At that point, he said, it will be up to alumni and current members to decide whether to return to an alcohol-permitted status, and Droessler said he hopes they do.

The picture is slightly different at Alpha Gamma Rho, where chapter president Matt Kerns said parties aren’t allowed, but casual drinking is, as long as you’re a member.

“We’re a damp house,” Kerns said. “Members can drink if they’re of legal drinking age and if they have it on second or third floor, behind closed doors.”

The main reason for this, Kerns said, is to prevent damage to their facilities. However, he also said regulating alcohol consumption prevents more than just housing consequences.

“Anytime that you increase the number of people that are allowed to drink at a chapter really opens yourself up for more risk,” he said.

Kerns said Alpha Gamma Rho has fining and “strike” systems in place to prevent alcohol policy violations. Most repercussions are dealt with internally.

For Kerns, being a damp house is a happy medium — a way to guarantee 21-year-old members a little freedom, while also reducing the risks of a party. But he doesn’t think it has to be that way across greek land.

“I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer,” Kerns said. “I think for us, being a damp house works. I have no complaints.”

Maia Palma, a junior in apparel, merchandising and design, is a member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority, which, like all sororities on campus, is completely dry. Alcohol isn’t allowed anywhere in the house or on the property, and members found in possession of alcohol could risk getting kicked out of the house.

“The way I view it is that it prevents any pressure from anyone who feels uncomfortable,” she said. “It just creates a safe zone for people, so they don’t feel like they have to [drink].”

Although she said she is happy to have restrictions at Gamma Phi Beta, Palma said society might be to blame for the significant differences between sorority and fraternity regulations.

“I think it’s the culture of the United States,” she said. “Girls are supposed to be proper and ladylike, and having alcohol isn’t very ladylike.”

Destinie Hsu, senior in elementary education and Delta Zeta alumna, remembers initially feeling upset about sororities’ alcohol restrictions.

“When I moved in, I thought, ‘Hey this is stupid that I can’t drink in my own house,’” she said. “But now, looking back on it, it helped keep our house clean.”

For Hsu, certain fraternities’ less restrictive alcohol policies allowed her to have a clean home, while still being able to attend parties.

“When I was younger, and too young for the bars, I did go to frat parties,” Hsu said. “Where else are you going to go?”

Gabe McCoy, former president of ACACIA fraternity and senior in mechanical engineering, doesn’t see an issue with alcohol in sororities.

“I actually find it kind of ridiculous,” McCoy said. “They end up keeping alcohol in other places, friends’ apartments, cars. They still have it even if it’s not on the property or in the house.”

McCoy said he also isn’t a big fan of ACACIA’s “dry” housing status.

“I would prefer it to be a [damp] house,” McCoy said. “There was a time when we discussed the possibility of changing it, but there was strong opposition from a few of our members.”

McCoy said certain members were concerned that changing the alcohol policy would change the culture of the house. He also added that parents seem to be more comfortable with dry fraternities, and recruitment might be significantly changed if they allowed alcohol.

“I don’t see anything changing in the foreseeable future,” McCoy said. “But I’m of the opinion that greeks in general have too many rules and care far too much about their rules.”

Erika Gebard, president of the Collegiate Panhellenic Council, as well as IFC President Corey Anderson were unavailable for comment.

Repeated attempts to schedule an interview with Billy Boulden, assistant dean of students with the Office of Greek Affairs, were not successful. 

Boulden emailed a response late Wednesday afternoon saying he would be willing to comment, but could not meet in person due to scheduling conflicts before the story printed and said he wouldn’t interview over the phone.