What’s it going to take?
If the trag-edy of Carson Starkey isn’t enough to persuade fraternity and sorority leaders to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on underage drinking, what will?
It was, after all, just short of three years ago that Starkey, a Cal Poly freshman, died of alcohol poisoning in a fraternity hazing. Now, we learn that a binge-drinking episode at a sorority-related event sent an 18-year-old Alpha Phi pledge to the hospital last month.
Cal Poly’s administration ruled Friday that this constituted hazing under university standards, and suspended Alpha Phi chapter activities for five months.
That’s entirely appropriate — if anything, it may not be punishment enough.
No, this wasn’t the egregious type of hazing that Starkey experienced. These sorority pledges weren’t locked in a room and forced to drink alcohol, but they nonetheless may have felt pressured into meeting expectations.
Not only were these young women encouraged to drink, there were few, if any, steps taken to ensure they made it home safely.
As a university news release described it, the pledges were “left to fend for themselves.”
As bad as that is, the situation could have been far worse. At least the young woman who overdosed on alcohol was able to recognize that she needed help after she returned to student housing.
We don’t know whether that was a direct result of the university’s campaign to educate incoming students on the symptoms and dangers of alcohol poisoning, but it certainly couldn’t have hurt to have that information fresh in her mind. For that, we credit the university, as well as Carson Starkey’s parents, who have been campaigning for programs to educate students to recognize alcohol poisoning.
But that doesn’t absolve the Greek system at Cal Poly for allowing binge drinking by minors to continue. And yes, we use the word “system,” even though it was only Alpha Phi that was disciplined in this instance.
There is, unfortunately, plenty of indication that this continues to be a widespread problem.
Consider these findings in an extensive assessment conducted by a team of national Greek organizations:
“It was reported that hazing occurs in the men’s chapters, particularly physical/strength endurance, stealing and drinking.”
“It was consistently reported that alcohol plays a major role in the Cal Poly fraternity/sorority experience, especially within fraternity life.”
The report, issued in February of this year, was based on extensive interviews with Cal Poly students and staff, as well as with community members.
The reports of continued hazing — if accurate — are especially egregious, coming so soon after Carson Starkey’s death. Fraternities and sororities will no doubt deny such allegations, but if they are serious about wanting to shake this longstanding reputation for being little more than drinking clubs, they must be willing to be held to a higher standard.
At their best, Greek organizations provide social and academic support to their members; encourage formation of lifelong friendships; and foster involvement in the larger community, especially in the areas of philanthropy and volunteerism.
Those good things are happening at Cal Poly sororities and fraternities, but the positive aspects of Greek life are overshadowed by reports of hazing, underage drinking and the noisy, out-of-control partying that shows a complete lack of respect for neighboring residents.
Many in the community are disgusted, and would just as soon see Cal Poly’s Greek system shut down entirely.
That’s understandable, but we don’t believe such a drastic step is warranted at this stage.
It is, however, incumbent on the leaders of fraternities and sororities to recognize that they aren’t above the law.
Supplying alcohol to minors is a crime. Period.
Hazing is a crime. Period.
If they cannot put measures in place to ensure these laws are respected and obeyed, sororities and fraternities should be required to close their doors for good.