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The Right to Party

Could Sorority-Hosted Parties Reduce Sexual Assault?

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Maria Szczesny and her friend were having a good time while attending a party hosted by a fraternity at the University of Maryland. Suddenly, a man tried to pin her against the wall.

Her friend stepped in front of the guy and made him leave.

“I hadn’t even seen him in my life before, and he decided that’s just what he was going to do that day,” Szczesny said.

For college women, the fraternity party atmosphere can often be unsafe. Szczesny, a senior and sorority sister at the University of Maryland, has felt uncomfortable at fraternity parties on multiple occasions.

“I actually stopped going to [fraternity parties] ” Szczesny said. “Any woman who’s gone to a fraternity party or any other parties happening on campus, that’s going to happen to the majority of them, unfortunately.”

One in five women will be sexually assaulted in college, according to a 2014 study by the United States Department of Justice. On top of that, a 2007 study by the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice finds that fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape.

“Not everyone in a fraternity is a rapist, but they are in an environment that’s fertile for toxic masculinity, which is one root cause of rape culture,” said Maya Vizvary, the sexual assault prevention coordinator at American University.

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A solution that has floated around for reducing sexual assault is for sororities to host parties instead of fraternities. Vizvary explained that the change in power dynamics on who is controlling the parties could affect the college party landscape.

“I think [sorority-led parties] would be better because there’s more control than if going to a frat party,” Vizvary said.

Control of a party would mean women would decide everything — from theme, to what alcohol is being served, to who is invited.

“Fraternities have more potential to manipulate the situation or control what’s happening,” Vizvary said. “I think if sororities were having parties, and inviting who they wanted to come that just puts a lot more control in their hands.”

While some advocate for sorority lead parties, currently all national sororities are not allowed to hold parties with alcohol at their residences.

“I think from a feminist point of view it kind of sucks that sororities have bylaws that say you can’t host parties with alcohol or you have to have very strict rules, and frats just don’t have that,” Szczesny said.

Separate organizations lead fraternities and sororities. The North American Interfraternity Conference is the umbrella organization for 66 national fraternities, and 26 national sororities belong to the National Panhellenic Conference. The organizations take different approaches to how they lead their groups.

The NIC allows the fraternities to make decisions individually chapter by chapter. On the other hand, the sororities of the National Panhellenic Conference must adhere to standardized guidelines.

“The National Panhellenic Conference is very much a guiding organization that creates policies, and a lot of the decision making,” said Kathleen Tucker, the coordinator of fraternity and sorority life at AU. It is a lot more structured.”

If one sorority wanted to approve parties with alcohol, all 25 other sororities would have to unanimously agree to allow parties with alcohol in their chapters as well.

In a statement by Dani Weatherford, the Executive Director of the National Panhellenic Conference, the reason for this ban on parties and alcohol at sorority houses boils down to centering sororities on empowering women and to provide leadership opportunities.

“Of course, our organizations are also social by their very nature and chapters do, in fact, host social functions,” Weatherford said. “The key difference – particularly at a time when student safety is particularly top of mind – is that our members don’t host them in their chapter facilities.

If sororities want to throw events where alcohol is served, Weatherford encouraged them to host these events at third-party venues.

Yet, the idea for sororities to host parties remains a possible solution in creating safer atmospheres for college women.

“Some arguments I’ve seen before is women would be able to regulate their houses better,” said Tucker on having sorority house parties. “That they would be able to lock room doors, that they would be able to control access points, and that they would feel safer in the space that they are in.”

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A possible downside for parties held at sorority houses would be the increase in insurance costs for chapters, as well as an increase in liability. Fraternities on average pay higher dues to cover the insurance for allowing alcohol.

Resistance against sorority-led parties among members themselves source these as the main reasons for not wanting parties.

Lily Brown, the president of the Panhellenic Council at AU and member of Phi Sigma Sigma, expressed why she would not want sororities holding parties with alcohol.

“I don’t really care all that much about throwing parties,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of legal risk when throwing parties.”

Other sorority members share similar thoughts. Rachel Fariello, a junior and member of Florida State University’s Pi Beta Phi, does not want to take on the responsibility of holding parties. Currently, Florida State has suspended all Greek life after a Pi Kappa Phi fraternity pledge died of alcohol poisoning at a fraternity party.

“We shouldn’t have big parties because it keeps [sororities] on the elegant side,” Fariello said. “It keeps us out of trouble if we don’t have parties. We still hold functions and have philanthropic events.”

Szczesny does not think sororities holding parties would decrease the chance of sexual assault.

“I think it changes who’s providing the alcohol and providing the venue,” Szczesny said. “You’re just providing another outlet for people to drink.”

Brown and Fariello both pointed out that fraternity houses are better suited for alcohol hosted events. Alumni invest in many of the sorority houses that are decorated with quality furniture and design. Taylor Schnaars, a former member of Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Pittsburgh, noted the differences.

“We have a fancy piano, a chef, a maid and nice carpeting,” Schnaars said. “Whereas the frat houses have bare cement walls, no furniture and open rooms. They’re made for parties”

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Due to the constraints of the National Panhellenic regulations and the concerns in the increase of parties with alcohol consumption, Gracen Blackwell, a sister of the Kappa Delta Chapter at UCLA, does not believe that sorority-led parties would be feasible. However, she did note that she believes sorority-led parties could better monitor the prevention of sexual assault.

“[The] vast majority of sexual assault in terms of Greek life is when [women are] being led upstairs at a frat house,” Blackwell said. “I think frats are more likely to be like ‘yeah you go bro!’ Whereas if I saw one of my sisters walking upstairs with a boy, if we were having a party here, I think me, and my fellow officers would be more likely to say, ‘hey what’s going on? What are you doing? Do you feel comfortable doing this?’”

Blackwell, with other sorority leaders at UCLA’s campus, took it upon themselves to change the fraternity party scene on their campus. They demanded the fraternities to implement third-party security at all their parties, have third-party bartenders, as well as each fraternity having a certain number of sober fraternity officers supervising. The fraternities agreed to all their requests.

“The Panhellenic Council refused to hold any more socials with fraternities until something like [the agreed changes] happened, which is what we wanted,” Blackwell said. “We wanted them to take responsibility for what has been happening at their houses. I think it’ll help out a lot.”