Two fraternities at Kansas University already plan to be alcohol-free by 2000; campuswide pilot programs are in place elsewhere.
The weekend begins tonight. Throughout the country, thousands of college students, of legal drinking age or not, will try to stake out tables or booths in crowded hot spots. Many will drink until closing time.
The question the country is asking this week: will all of them wake up?
Concern about drinking among college students -- specifically fraternity members -- resurfaced after Tuesday's death of a 20-year-old Sigma Alpha Epsilon member at Louisiana State University. He drank at an off-campus bar, then passed out and died in the fraternity. The student, who was reportedly celebrating pledge week, had a blood alcohol content of almost 0.6 percent.
Bill Nelson, associate director of Kansas University student organizations and activities and Greek programs coordinator, said the incident served as a sobering reminder.
"Situations like that are real," Nelson said. "We all need to take some very proactive steps on our individual campuses and within our individual fraternities and sororities to see that that kind of tragedy does not occur."
At KU, where one in six undergraduates is involved in Greek life, fraternities are working to erase the "Animal House" image. Some of university's 28 fraternities are considering whether to ban beer parties, opting to allow members' to drink only in individual rooms.
Last year, the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Assn., representing 23 fraternities and 14 sororities, approved regulations restricting the size of Greek parties. Security guards were mandated at all alcohol-catered parties. And plenty of non-alcoholic beverages must now be available.
In the spring, national chapters of Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Nu pledged to ban alcohol from their chapters by the turn of the century. Soon after, both KU chapters backed the plan. Last week, the two chapters at Kansas State University added their support to the idea.
Other KU fraternities have expressed interest. (Sororities have long been alcohol-free.)
Grant Eichhorn, corporate board president for KU's Sigma Nu chapter, said that "bad decisions were made" (at LSU), but that the student's death was nonetheless "tragic." In general, he added, peer pressure and binge drinking can be a dangerous combination.
Eichhorn said he planned to organize a meeting between leaders of Sigma Nu and Phi Delta Theta to address underage drinking and alcohol abuse.
"It's just a lot easier to discuss your concerns with a like-minded party," Eichhorn said. "It's important to talk about it campus-wide. With a Greek system, you have a more involved audience."
'Changing the environment'
Nationwide, colleges are taking steps to combat alcohol abuse.
Earlier this year, the National Interfraternity Conference announced four pilot programs designed to change the drinking culture in the Greek system. The campuses: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Villanova University, the University of Northern Colorado and Florida Southern College.
The crux: "changing the environment in which they experience fraternity," said Cathy Earley, director of leadership education for the NIC. The program, called Select 2000, would emphasize academics, leadership and connections to the community.
About half of the NIC's 64 fraternities have shown interest in adopting alcohol-free housing. Although, currently less than 10 percent of local chapters have enacted or announced formal rules.
At Oklahoma State University, campus officials have said they would begin making random, unannounced visits to fraternities to determine whether they are complying with strict, no-alcohol regulations.
At the University of Colorado, the Greek system in 1995 enacted a campuswide ban on alcohol use. This spring, after a reevaluation -- in the face of extensive non-compliance -- it was agreed that the policy would be phased in. Two registered events will be allowed at each chapter this fall, followed by one in the spring, and none the following fall.
Thomas Lorz, CU's associate Greek liaison, said the university's status as a pioneer in alcohol-ban policies brought the national media spotlight this week from Baton Rouge to Boulder.
"We've been besieged, due to the fact that we're seen as kind of a leader in that area," Lorz said, adding that MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and Time Magazine had called him or his student leaders. "(The incident) underscores the importance of responsible use of alcohol, the risk that fraternities put themselves in by having it on chapter property."