Recent news stories have reported that a number of college fraternity chapters are choosing to restrict or completely eliminate alcohol consumption in their houses.
Given incidents across the country, including a few at Kansas University, that certainly is a welcome trend. Enforcing such policies will be challenging, but just taking the steps to establish them indicates at least a slightly raised awareness of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption by college students.
KU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon received a tragic reminder of those dangers four years ago, when freshman Jason Wren was found dead at the SAE house after a night of heavy drinking. An autopsy determined his death was caused by alcohol poisoning.
Now, SAE is one of two KU fraternities — Phi Delta Theta was the first — to go dry, banning all alcohol from the house. That includes parties and applies to all members, including those who are over 21. Although Wren’s death focused unflattering attention, as well as a lawsuit filed by Wren’s family, on SAE, current fraternity members said they, not the national SAE office, suggested the alcohol ban, which went into effect this semester.
The SAE move appears to be part of at least a modest nationwide trend. The president of the North-American Interfraternity Council told a Kansas City newspaper that about 20 percent of its 5,500 members fraternities have banned alcohol. Fifteen years ago, that number, he said, was close to zero. Nine of 19 fraternity houses at Kansas State University are alcohol free, as are four of five houses at Wichita State. All KU Panhellenic sororities that have houses at KU also are alcohol-free.
Alcohol bans aren’t a perfect solution. Nothing in the policies bans alcohol at sorority and fraternity events held away from the houses. Under the SAE policy, a member won’t face expulsion from the house until after being caught three times in violation of the alcohol ban, which may or may not be rigorously enforced.
To be fair, not all young problem drinkers in Lawrence are fraternity and sorority members or even KU students. Members of SAE and Phi Delta Theta deserve credit for at least trying to address a serious problem. We hope their actions signal a meaningful shift in attitudes toward alcohol consumption not only among their own and other fraternity members at KU, but among college-age youngsters across the country.