A recent article in The New York Times highlights a divisive and potentially dangerous issue in American college life — fraternities are allowed to have and serve alcohol in their houses, while sororities are not.
While sororities have not been allowed to house alcohol for decades, many women are now suggesting female students can help prevent sexual assault by hosting their own parties.
“I’ve been to parties run by girls, and they’re much more protective — they keep an eye on each other,” one female George Washington University student told The Times.
On many campuses, it’s commonly understood that sorority rules against alcohol derive from outdated regional laws. Typically, these laws supposedly mandate that if a house where a certain number of women live has alcohol inside, it’s considered a brothel.
However, The Times points out, there is no basis for this belief. These rules actually originate from the National Panhellenic Conference — a sorority advocacy group that counts 26 national organisations among its members.
As The Times reports:
Many students attributed sororities’ alcohol ban to a persistent myth — that archaic local laws consider any home with more than four or five women with alcohol present to be a brothel. In fact, it has always resulted from the voluntary policy of each of the 26 sororities in the National Panhellenic Conference to preserve more placid living environments with lower insurance premiums.
According to the NPC policies and best practices, “NPC affirms that College Panhellenic planned or sponsored events shall be alcohol free.”
However, in a emailed statement to Business Insider, an NPC spokesperson said that “NPC organisations do support the fact that chapters can sponsor events that include alcohol. However, organizational policy supports these social events in third-party vendor locations with licensed bartenders and security precautions out into place.”
There is little solid information, if any, about where the brothel myth came from or when the NPC policy first started.
In an article on this myth in 2011, Mental Floss writer Matt Soniak notes that, “The story about brothel laws has been recorded since the 1960s — a decade that saw a huge uptick in the number of women attending college — and may even be older than that.”
There are a number of reasons why this urban legend is probably totally false, according to Soniak.
For one, there are virtually no housing laws in America that will designate a residence as a brothel based on the number or makeup of the people living inside. As Soniak writes (italics his), “There are anti-brothel laws in some places in America, but houses of prostitution earn that designation by having prostitution going on inside them, not by having a certain number of residents with lady parts.”
Additionally, he writes, most housing restrictions that could prohibit a certain group of unrelated people from living together have exceptions — such as, sororities.
The NPC’s policies banning alcohol may have a very tangible benefit for sorority members, who are charged less for insurance because they don’t have alcohol in their houses. Sorority members may pay more than $US100 less for their insurance than their male Greek counterparts, The Times reports:
Sororities slash costs by banning alcohol. Cindy H. Stellhorn, a broker at MJ Insurance in Indianapolis who handles policies for 19 national sororities, estimated that policies cost $US25 to $US50 a year per sorority member. Fraternity members pay about $US160 apiece, according to the Fraternity Executives Association, largely because of accidents fuelled by alcohol, like fights and people falling off roofs.
It makes sense to try and keep sorority costs as low as possible. In November 2014, USA Today reported that new sorority members at the University of Central Florida on average pay $US1,280 per semester before room and board costs, while the average fraternity member pays $US605. These numbers line up with similar average costs at several schools with active Greek life that were reported in The Times last year.
Sorority members may also pay thousands of dollars during a semester for late fees implemented by their chapter, branded merchandise with their house’s Greek letters, and gifts for their Big or Little sister in the sorority, among other charges.
The NPC spokesperson sent the following statement about the organisation’s anti-alcohol policies to Business Insider:
Historically, sorority facilities have always been safe environments for NPC members and residents. Similar to historical housing policies of campus residence halls, alcohol and male visitation are not permitted in women’s residences. Today, some institutions have adjusted their policies and there are NPC member organisations that allow some chapters on a limited number of campuses to have male visitors in the residence areas of chapter facilities during specified hours. Guest policies would be very difficult to monitor if there were copious numbers of non-members on the property.
NPC member sororities’ chapter houses are private residence facilities that have made the decision to not allow alcohol on the premises. Many of the chapter houses are rarely set up to provide a means of holding large functions such as co-sponsored alcohol-related events. NPC has found it is safer for our members and the overall facility, especially since many of the housed members are under the age of 21.
The insurance companies of sororities have priced their premium insurance levels with the confidence that alcohol is not being served within a chapter house for public or private consumption. In trying to do so, NPC would find insurance companies would not support the effort to modify or change the stance that has been in place and worked for 50+ years.
NPC does not see this policy changing anywhere in the near future. For generations, NPC chapter houses have served as an extension to our single-sex based organisation policies and this particular no-alcohol policy has helped to ensure safety and we hope it continues to do so for our sorority women.
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