All chapters of the national fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon, including the one at Yale, will be prohibited from having alcohol in their common spaces starting Aug. 1, 2018 and will be required to have completely substance-free houses by Aug. 1, 2020, in accordance with a new policy established last summer.
According to a post on the SigEp national organization’s website, the policy comes in response to almost 50 SigEp chapters closing down due to “risky behavior fueled by alcohol consumption” in the past 10 years and a 46 percent increase in liability insurance premiums for the fraternity since 2014. The resolution was drafted by Connor Hoffman, a member of SigEp’s Montana State University chapter, and approved at the fraternity’s Grand Chapter Conclave by a legislative body of assembled delegates, 83 percent of whom were undergraduates.
“SigEp chapters will each create a personalized schedule for implementation,” said SigEp’s Strategic Communications Director Andrew Parrish. “The national fraternity will support chapters with education and resources, direct support from traveling staff and training at regional leadership events.”
The president of Yale’s SigEp chapter did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls requesting a comment. One member of the fraternity, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, questioned whether SigEp’s national office will actually be able to enforce the policy. He added that alcohol will probably continue to play a role at parties “for good or bad.”
At the moment, 70 of 221 total SigEp chapters nationwide have policies to maintain substance-free facilities. Heather Matthews Kirk, the chief communications officer of the North American Interfraternity Conference, told the News that several international and national fraternities mandate substance-free housing and others allow for new chapters to adopt the practice.
It is significant that undergraduate members of SigEp played a leading role in the policy change, she added.
In an article posted on the SigEp website titled “What I told my chapter after Conclave,” Hoffman wrote that SigEp members of legal age will still be allowed to “drink in their private rooms” until Aug. 2020, when the complete ban on alcohol in chapter houses comes into place.
The resolution, Hoffman stated in the article, was passed by a “large majority” of the Grand Chapter following a long discussion. He added that substance-free housing underscores the fraternity’s mission statement, “Building Balanced Men.”
“The purpose of a SigEp chapter is to find men who share our Fraternity’s principles and to develop them into balanced men who will be the next generation of values-based leaders,” the article states. “Drinking in the chapter facility really plays no role in that mission, and frankly, data from higher education researchers … shows that it actively works against a chapter’s ability to do so.”
Kirk told the News that even though SigEp is now taking extra measures to prevent alcohol-related incidents, all fraternities have long-held policies that address the health risks of drugs and alcohol.
Many Yale fraternities have made public the safety measures they have developed for parties held in their houses.
“If Sig Ep isn’t willing to take the necessary steps to ensure that all members and guests can be safely accounted for in regards to alcohol, then going dry might be the best move, specifically for their organization,” said Ryan Oak ’19, the vice president of Zeta Psi. “At Zeta Psi, we employ a risk management policy requiring that members of our chapters must be trained to serve alcoholic beverages through TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS), and if our chapter wasn’t currently taking these necessary steps, we too would be a dry house to ensure the safety of both our brothers and our guests.”
TIPS is an alcohol server training program designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking, drunk driving and other alcohol-related problems.
Of 11 students polled on Cross Campus and in Bass cafe, only two said that they thought SigEp going dry is a good idea for the fraternity. Almost all the other students said they have a hard time imagining how SigEp will prosper as a social space on campus if it cannot host house parties with alcohol. Some students stated that the policy will likely encourage students to drink heavily before heading to dry SigEp house parties.
Nick Tabio ’21 noted that many students already drink before going to fraternity parties.
“Specifically with Sig Ep, they have the guest list for every party, so the party tends not to open [for all students] until 12, and by then there is already no alcohol left, and by 12 you’re probably not going to be drinking anymore but riding the high and the buzz of being drunk,” Tabio said.
The policy could also affect SigEp’s ability to draw a healthy pledge class in upcoming years, Tabio said, adding that most students interested in joining a fraternity will probably look for the “entire frat culture,” including social drinking.
For the Yale administration, however, SigEp’s substance policy represents an encouraging decision.
“It’s a really commendable initiative,” said Yale College Dean Marvin Chun. “We want these spaces to be safe and welcoming for all the students, and I think initiatives like this are fantastic.”
There are currently 14,105 SigEp members across the country.
Britton O’Daly | email@example.com