Safest, healthiest sorority might not be driest

An article released this week in The New York Times floats the possibility that if sororities allowed alcohol into their houses, there may be a decrease in the occurrence of sexual assault on campuses across the nation.

A study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that 25 percent of alcohol or drug-enabled sexual assaults are perpetrated by fraternity members, and attending a fraternity party makes women 1.4 times more likely to be sexually assaulted. The argument in favor of allowing sororities to serve alcohol is that changing the venue changes the control.

When women attend parties with alcohol at fraternity houses, the men are in control. They dictate the guest list, the drinks, and the exits. The party scene of Greek life is entirely dependent on the fraternities and the choices they make, which leaves women more vulnerable to sexual assault.

By giving women in sororities the privilege of hosting parties with alcohol, they gain the ability to control their environment. There is also the added advantage that when women are in charge, they are less vulnerable and more likely to be proactive about sexual assault. If something suspicious appears to be happening, sorority sisters could look out for one another and police the situation more effectively than frat brothers might be able to on their own turf. While this will not eliminate sexual assault entirely, it gives more agency to the women, definitely decreasing the risk.

Yet sororities have a very long tradition of abstaining from alcohol use in the house. This is a policy dictated by the National Panhellenic Conference, which serves as the governing body for all 26 of the sororities it recognizes nationwide.

Even though sororities benefit from the policy in terms of lifestyle and health, its historical motivations are more financial. The New York Times article cites that while the average sorority member only costs about $25-50 per year to insure, each fraternity member costs around $160 per year due to alcohol-related incidents.

While it is understandable that cost is a consideration, there are certainly other factors that should play a hand in the decision. A spokesperson for the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) said that, despite the benefits, she found it unlikely that the policy would “[change] anywhere in the near future.” By refusing to consider the change, the NPC is favoring financial practicality over the possible benefits that may result. The issue deserves to be considered, as the sexual welfare and safety of members in the long-term should be more important than the resources that the research and insurance may cost them.

This plan does, however, place the onus on the victims to protect themselves. A more effective plan would be geared toward the perpetrators. Fraternities need to be responsible for programming that educates members on safe behaviors and then instituting policies that ensure that they are acting appropriately in high risk situations. On top of that, universities also need to take reported cases more seriously so that all perpetrators of sexual assault will face the consequences of their actions.