There are 29 frats on the University of Minnesota Interfraternity Council, and they all have one thing in common. None of them are allowed to drink vodka.
As of Sunday night, the fraternities banned hard liquor (anything over 15 percent alcohol by volume) at frat houses and chapter events, unless it’s supplied by a third-party vendor.
Chapters have until Halloween to get this rule officially into their bylaws, but the new policy is already in effect across the board. No gin, no rum.
Believe it or not, this is the direction most fraternities are going nationwide. The North American Interfraternity Conference announced last month that by this time next year, hard liquor would be off the table for all of its members -- all 6,100 or so chapters on 800 campuses.
All the University of Minnesota’s chapters are doing is getting ahead of the game. So far, so good, says Interfraternity Council President Billy Langer.
“I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from the chapters,” he says. “People want to see change.”
It’s a sentiment more clearly enumerated on the North American Interfraternity Conference website. “Nearly all hazing and over-consumption deaths in the past two years,” it says, “have involved students consuming high-percentage alcohol beverages.”
Greek life’s propensity for drinking, danger, and sometimes death is no secret. There has been at least one hazing-related death on a college campus in North America every single year since 1959.
A particularly nasty rash of deaths by hazing last year -- four universities had suspended their fraternities and sororities by November -- prompted a national come-to-Jesus moment about Greek life in general. Was it worth all the public shame, to say nothing of the heartbreak? Should it continue to exist at all?
For the past year, the North American Interfraternity Conference has been responding with a year’s worth of new health and safety initiatives -- creating stronger anti-hazing laws and limiting alcohol’s long-standing grip on frat culture. The rationale is that Greek life doesn’t have to die if it can change.
What remains to be seen is whether it can. Enforcement of the liquor ban is up to each chapter, and there are three frats to which the ban does not apply, simply because they aren’t members of the Interfraternity Council: Tau Kappa Epsilon, Kappa Sigma and Phi Delta Theta, according to the Minnesota Daily.
At University of Minnesota’s sororities, meanwhile, there has been a no-alcohol-of-any-kind rule for a while, according to a university spokesperson.
Langer, for one, doesn’t think the new rules will negatively impact membership or morale. He sees it as the beginning of a healthier, safer frat environment.
A lot is riding on whether he’s right.