Frats, Beer, and In Loco Parentis

Last Wednesday night, Jonah and two of his housemates went to a frat party two blocks from their off campus house. His roommate, David (name changed), was a member of this fraternity. It’s a high end frat, according to Jonah, and one that he’s considering on pledging.

Everybody had a good time. They connected with friends that they hadn’t seen since last semester. There was a keg of cheap beer, but people weren’t totally smashed at that time. Jonah and his other roommate left early at around midnight, leaving David, a first generation kid whose dad is a pipe fitter from Philadelphia, with his fraternity brothers.

Around 2:00, Jonah was going to sleep and called David twice to see where he was. No answer. In morning, when he was bed was empty, they called him again. No answer.

By mid-afternoon, the housemates were stressed, so they tracked down his girlfriend through Instagram and heard that David had been in an accident on the way home.

It seems that David did come home, but slipped on the front stairs and fell on the back of head on the pavement. There’s a pool of blood about five feet from the stairs. He staggered around for a while, nobody know how long, before the cops found him and took him to the hospital.

He had four skull fractures and bleeding on the brain. At first, his brain was still swelling, and he couldn’t recognize his parents. By last night, he was eating food and his memory was returning. Still, he’s out for the semester with months of speech therapy, at the very least.

Did this happen because of booze or was it a freak accident? While Jonah insists the kid wasn’t smashed, he probably was. If I was the parent, I would have already employed an army of lawyers to wreck unholy vengeance on the university and fraternity. Weirdly, the cops and the university haven’t come by to talk with the kids. When we were there this weekend, I made Steve take pictures of the dried blood puddle, in case the parents should need it in the future.

Jonah was a hot mess, so he came home for the weekend where we babied him with special foods, hugs, and frequent lectures about responsibility, education, and the fragility of brains.

What should we do about fraternities?

 

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24 thoughts on “Frats, Beer, and In Loco Parentis

  1. Scary. Congrats on raising a kid who goes home at midnight. I hope his friend is okay.

    I don’t know much about Greek life, but I think typically sororities have more rigorous academic standards than fraternities do. If you had to get good grades to stay in a fraternity, the focus might shift slightly off nonstop drinking.

  2. I think that a lot of college socializing is based around drinking. My husband said that when he dropped off S at her off-campus house, there was a table with bottles of alcohol on it. And that house is known as a marching band-centered house called “flute house,” though I supposed that label will conjure up the phrase “this one time, at band camp.” And trust me, at this time of year the marching band has plenty to occupy themselves with other than nonstop drinking.

    I think the issue is that kids want what alcohol has to offer. I don’t blame them–first thing I do at a party is grab a drink. It’s a social lubricant, and these kids are massively anxious socially. They always have been; they’re teenagers. I really am of the belief that we need to teach them how to manage it before they get to college so they can experience the benefits of alcohol without the costs.

  3. Well, the best thing we could do is return to an 18 year old drinking age, which would permit alcohol to be served in university buildings under modest adult supervision. The worst thing we could do is drive the drinking further off-campus and further underground. Nothing we do will prevent heavy, abusive drinking among 18 to 22 year old students: that has been going on for at least 700 years and will continue. (Do you think the students who wrote Gaudeamus Igitur were sober?)

  4. If I was the parent, I would have already employed an army of lawyers to wreck unholy vengeance on the university and fraternity. Weirdly, the cops and the university haven’t come by to talk with the kids.

    Why? If he was admitted to hospital, there’s a record of what happened. The cops may have spoken with the fraternity. The student may face disciplinary consequences, (for underage drinking), but as it happened off campus, and he’s taking at least a semester off, that may not happen?

    The student chose to live and to drink alcohol off campus. I’m not sure why you would blame the university.

    You don’t mention his age, so I don’t know if the patient is underage. People do slip on steps, even while sober, but after midnight there aren’t many people passing by. Some alcoholics discover they are alcoholics around this age, when they are away from home.

    If you search “college student died after drinking,” you will find many incidents.

    I agree with y81. Young adults will drink (and use other substances.) Some start drinking in middle school. It’s just that leaving home means students have less supervision, which is actually the whole point of growing up.

    Not allowing fraternities drives everything underground, to off campus houses. Allowing fraternities opens the university up to charges of lack of supervision. It’s a no-win situation for the university.

  5. What should we do about fraternities?

    That’s an easy one. Aside from Phi Beta Kappa, just what do they have to do with getting an education? I went to one school that didn’t have one for my undergraduate degree and taught at another. Out of all the colleges and universities I’ve been associated with, those were by far the most intellectual and highest quality, so clearly fraternities serve no fundamental role in getting a good education.

    As far as I can tell, their sole purpose is to perpetuate the high school social scene for the mediocre but popular students in college. Get rid of them.

    1. What do climbing walls and football games have to do with getting an education? What do a capella groups and Intervarsity Fellowship have to do with getting an education? If you want to have a commuter campus where students come to listen to lectures and use the library, then go their separate ways, that’s fine, but that’s not what most people have in mind for the collegiate experience.

      There weren’t any fraternities at my college either, but that’s because the drinking age was 18. There are plenty of fraternities there now. Regarding Cranberry’s comment about a no-win situation, it’s the best deal the university administrations have been able to come up with: student socializing with a moderate degree of supervision but with plausible deniability on the part of the university. Laura’s hypothetical lawsuit against Rutgers for an incident at an independently-owned facility off campus, resulting from activity that is prohibited by Rutgers policy, will have tough sledding.

      1. What do climbing walls and football games have to do with getting an education? What do a capella groups and Intervarsity Fellowship have to do with getting an education?

        Well, in the time-honored tradition of a liberal arts education, the recipient of said education was supposed to be a well-rounded person. All of the activities you mention in theory contribute to this goal, although many universities have gone way over the top with the climbing walls and the athletics and could stand to reassess their priorities here.

        On the other hand, I am having trouble figuring out how drinking until you fracture your skull on a Wednesday evening fits into the liberal arts tradition but please elucidate.

        If you want to have a commuter campus where students come to listen to lectures and use the library, then go their separate ways, that’s fine, but that’s not what most people have in mind for the collegiate experience.

        Actually, the colleges that I was associated with that had no fraternities were top tier SLACs that parents drive their high schoolers into a neurotic mess to get into. Having either no greek life or a greatly diminished one is as likely to be associated with academic excellence as the sterile commuter experience you imply.

        There weren’t any fraternities at my college either, but that’s because the drinking age was 18.

        Really? You really believe that fraternities have only existed since the 1980s? Really?

      2. Aren’t fraternities and sororities much more of a thing on LARGE college campuses?

        Isn’t part of the problem that those are large, alienating social environments, and the fraternities and sororities provide a smaller, more manageable social unit?

      3. I described “my college,” not any other. But my comment has general applicability. (Caitlin Flanagan wrote an article about this.) Many if not most fancy Northeastern colleges did not have fraternities in the 1970s (or for many decades previous). They weren’t necessary for housing, because the college had on-campus housing sufficient for everyone, and they weren’t necessary for drinking, because there were parties in the residence halls (houses, colleges, whatever). Subsequent to the raising of the drinking age, those parties had to shut down, and there was a demand for fraternities.

  6. It’s not as easy as that.

    https://coed.com/2017/05/22/carleton-college-investigating-secret-social-club-dtx-for-hazing-extreme-drinking/
    https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-secret-sorority-at-penn-states-deadly-hazing-party
    View story at Medium.com

    Those showed up from a quick search of “underground fraternities.” If you’re an adult, you may not know of those groups, but as the Colby piece points out, the students know, at least the students who are interested.

    Both my kids who moved off campus mentioned the welcome change of not dealing with pot smokers in the dorms.

    I recommend the book, _Binge: What Your College Student Won’t Tell You_, although it was published in 2006, before the wave of marijuana legalization.

    1. Yeah, yeah, I’m well aware of underground organizations. At least when they are underground, they are underground. That is to say, away from the main life of the campus, so that the structure of the college or university is not centered around them.

      One of the frat-free schools I was associated with had a minor problem with underground former frats. It was a serious honor violation subject to up to automatic expulsion for anyone associated with them. There was no illusion that this would get rid of the underground organizations but it at least reined in their excesses.

      1. My kid is at the other college in Northfield. (Not only does her school not have frats, but it is a “dry” campus….mostly…) Carleton suspended the kids involved and took it seriously.

        I don’t think anyone is expecting kids not to drink in college but I do think that the school has to come out against any hazing-type activities – whether it is in a fraternity or a “secret society”. I doubt schools will completely ban fraternities, but they should be able to ban some of the more dangerous practices?

        I hope Jonah’s friend is OK. That is really scary.

  7. Scary. Hope Jonah is doing ok and that his housemate is on a positive trajectory.

    I am perplexed about solutions. I don’t buy the sentiment that more free access will fix the alcohol abuse and addiction. I don’t think “mild” supervision of 18 year olds will be effective, nor do I think schools will take it on (or bars). Parents will blame the institution for inadequate supervision. I also don’t think driving the drinking underground (“pre-gaming” horrifies me)works either.

    I kind of feel like better social skills, mental health, and maybe more structured socializing (I’m thinking dance cards) might help. But then I sometimes like to live in a fantasy version of 50s high schools.

    1. I’ve always liked the idea of dance cards and calling hours. Seriously, calling hours would be great.

      Barring that, I agree about structured social opportunities. I advise a 20-member student dance group that is entirely autonomous (i.e., I don’t have to do anything except sign some paperwork) – they audition for new dancers each year, rehearse twice a week for two hours, and also hold a two-hour study session at the library each week to support the members’ academics. They have a mentoring system so that the incoming freshmen feel supported.

      They are all, or maybe mostly, African-American women who don’t get any credit for this; they’ve just built this structure, based partly on the regular athletic teams (who require a lot of library study hours). I suspect they’re doing more for the health of our students than most of the rest of us who work here.

    2. bj said,

      “I kind of feel like better social skills, mental health, and maybe more structured socializing (I’m thinking dance cards) might help. But then I sometimes like to live in a fantasy version of 50s high schools.”

      I’ll add here that a lot of the non-academic extracurricular stuff at colleges that people love to gripe about is designed to provide wholesome alternatives to non-stop drinking.

  8. There was a guy about my age who I was talking to in the bar one night. He was trying to get into contact with a high school-aged son that he had never spoken to. He was showing me the texts and taking about how he wanted to reply. Then, the next time I went back to the bar, I found out he was dead. He went in for a hernia operation and died from alcohol withdrawal because nobody knew how dependant he was.

    I forget my point. Maybe ”it’s okay to lie about drinking except to a surgeon”?

  9. Shall I note that Phi Beta Kappa was originally a secret society? And that one of its early rivals at William and Mary, if Wikipedia can be trusted, “had lost all reputation for letters, and was noted only for the dissipation & conviviality of its members.”

  10. I went to a land-grant university in the Midwest. Although the drinking age was 21, the bar entry age was 19 (with a passing glance at the ID for the under 21). It meant that under-aged students could still join in the bar social scene and avoid the frat/house parties. Did students over 21 buy for the under-21s? Absolutely. But you were in a business with sober bar tenders, sober waitresses, and sober bouncers. It was a much safer place to experiment with alcohol.

    Now, I live in a country where the legal drinking age is 16. After several years here, I concluded that the US drinking age is too high. 18 would be a start but I am accustomed to 16 in public and no drinking age at home. It works well. Kids are going to experiment and its better those lessons are learned in a safe environment. America’s puritanical roots and the legacy they leave are terribly frustrating to me.

    1. Hey! Don’t blame the Puritans!

      The US temperance movement came along some 200 years after the Puritans. http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/roots-of-prohibition/

      In Massachusetts, minors may possess and consume alcohol at home: Written into the Massachusetts General Laws is a clause that allows a parent or grandparent to “furnish” alcohol to a minor in the privacy of their homes. People under the age of 21 are allowed to consume alcohol on private premises with the consent of a parent or grandparent, according to the state law.

      https://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/05/can_a_teenager_drink_legally_i.html

  11. I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but I think a younger drinking age, and a stronger culture of disapproval of drinking to incapacity, would help. (And of course, this story really could be a freak accident. People slip and fall sober sometimes.) The kid (who probably was blind drunk) should have stopped before he was incapable, and his frat brothers should have spotted that he was too drunk to be allowed to wander off and stacked him on a couch somewhere where they could keep an eye on him. But I don’t know how you teach that kind of ethic of mutual care other than one by one, at home.

    1. Technically, people who use markers to graffiti the faces of people who pass out from drinking at parties are contributing to a culture of disapproval of drinking to incapacity.

  12. I agree on the possibility of a freak accident, even if the housemate was indeed significantly under the influence. People get drunk and don’t fall down and suffer severe concussions, almost all of the time. So some of our reaction (not Laura’s, because she is actually personally involved) is the result of knowledge, and not a realistic risk assessment.

    And, it is to be noted that this situation did involve an ethic of mutual care — J tried to find him a couple of hours after they had separated and housemates did find out about him the next day. His companions were concerned and did reach out to care for him.

    I did not and do not drink regularly, so to me, the tendency I hear about (remotely) of kids *needing* to get blind drunk in order to enjoy social activities in college seems like a trend that needs to be addressed, a sign of larger social anxiety and mental health and stress issues. I had the same thoughts reading the NYU study of NY private schools in which substantial numbers of kids said they used alcohol/marijuana for stress relief, to unwind after anxiety inducing lives. I feel like everyone (and especially under 25 somethings, whose brains are still developing) need other coping mechanisms.

    I guess, though, I am coming around to the idea that if drinking is a part of our society, that we need to teach responsible drinking, not just intolerance. But I think the demands on colleges aren’t going to return to their providing a duty of care, because they have no power to regulate behavior and they get sued when things go wrong.

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