On Sunday morning at 3:19 am, Caitlyn Kovacs, a 19-year-old sophomore at Rutgers died after going to a “small gathering” at the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) Fraternity House on College Avenue in New Brunswick. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but the speculation is that Ms. Kovacs died of alcohol poisoning. Over the next few weeks, we will see a renewed discussion about the dangers of college drinking and what can be done to address a problem that has gone on for centuries.
In 1997, The Harvard Crimson published a high-profile history of on-campus alcohol deaths. One of those incidents involved a Rutgers student in 1988:
James Callahan, an 18-year-old Rutgers University student, dies after consuming 24 ounces of hard liquor in less than an hour as part of a pledging ritual at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, according to an April 26 article in The Record. A separate article reported on Aug. 28 that this incident prompted a five-year shutdown of his fraternity.
Ten years later, during my sophomore year at Rutgers, another Fraternity student died in an alcohol-fueled incident:
A Rutgers University junior who suffered serious head injuries when he fell down a flight of stairs at his Fraternity house after several hours of drinking at an off-campus bar was removed from life support early yesterday. Jason Greco, 20, a Riverton native and former captain of the Palmyra High School football team, was declared clinically dead Sunday morning at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
The article, which I’ve linked to on the young man’s name, has a number of familiar quotes and brings up some disturbing points:
As family and friends mourned Greco’s death yesterday, the accident brought attention once again to how tightly alcohol is woven into the fabric of college life. Despite alcohol prevention and education programs offered at Rutgers and other universities in the region, the level at which college students consume beer and liquor continues to concern administrators.
“We have long recognized that underage drinking and dangerous drinking has been an issue that colleges face,” said JoAnn M. Arnholt, dean of fraternity and sorority affairs at Rutgers. “I hope people learn a lesson from this, that no one is immune from an accident like this.”
Rutgers is requiring all fraternity houses to be substance-free by 2000. Rutgers administrators said Greco’s death had forced the school to continue to scrutinize whether its policies are allowing students to fall through the cracks, and whether its policies can prevent tragedies such as the death of Greco.
Three students died in alcohol and fraternity related deaths. Each time the student was mourned by friends and family and the college culture of drinking was cited as a difficult problem to address. College administrators expressed concern. Clearly, Rutgers failed in making fraternity houses substance-free by 2000. These stories read like Groundhog Day on deja vu steroids.
After Mr. Greco died at Rutgers in 1998, Rutgers told the Fraternities that they had to remove the bars from the Frat-House basements. The New York Times reported that:
One fraternity, Alpha Delta Epsilon, has challenged the university’s order, contending that it should be exempt. Its alumni president, Matthew R. Schutz, a lawyer from Flemington, N.J., believes the fraternity’s bar should be retained because the fraternity’s alumni have deemed it a memorial to members who have entered government service, or the fraternity should be compensated for its loss.
The Fraternities didn’t get it then, and they don’t get it 25 years later. Mr. Schultz’s claim was as farcical as it was short-sighted and irresponsible.
In 1989, The New York Times ran a story about how Rutgers had created a number of positive programs to address the drinking culture, including (1) the presence of the Center of Alcohol Studies, one of the premier research institutions in the world; (2) the Rutgers Recovery House, the first on-campus recovery house program in the world; and (3) outpatient counseling services available at the on-campus counseling center.
Despite the presence of these avant-garde programs, alcohol and drug problems keep erupting out of Fraternity and Sorority Houses at Rutgers. This also holds true around the country. Members of Greek Life argue that they request annual training on alcohol and drug problems, but former Rutgers Vice-President W. David Burns had this to say about that:
Mr. Burns added that education and awareness programs are sometimes requested disingenuously by student groups to make it appear that they are concerned with curbing their drinking habits.
– Approximately 1,800 student deaths
– 600,000 unintentional injuries
– 700,000 assaults (100,000 sexual assaults)
– Lower grade point average
– 31% met criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence
– $53 billion social cost for underage drinking
– 100,000 students report having been too intoxicated to know they consented to having sex
College drinking and curbing Fraternity life has been in the news this week, even before Ms. Kovacs died at the Rutgers Fraternity yesterday. On September 16, NPR ran a story about how Frostburg State University is trying to combat underage and binge drinking on campus. FSU has extra police working on the weekends and they have paid for off-campus bar workers to learn how to better spot fake ID’s. They have also increased the number of Friday morning classes and have doubled the number of alcohol-free events offered on campus during traditional drinking hours.
Today, Wesleyan University announced that it was putting an end to all-male Fraternities. Disappointingly, they are only forcing them to admit women rather than completely shutting them down. This move was made of because of the high number of alcohol-related problem-incidents and the “rape parties” that the Fraternities have held on campus over the last few years.
Schools should offer more alcohol-free events and continue to work on changing the culture with PSA’s and social norms campaigns, like RU Sure. But there is a bigger step to be taken. Wesleyan is on to something, but they need to take the training wheels off of their plan.
Fraternities and Sororities, which make up Greek Life, contribute to a huge number of significant problems on campus without bringing much to the table. Before a Greek Life supporter cites the charity work that they do, I’d like to point out that Donald Sterling donated a lot of money to the NAACP and that Philip Morris donated money to teenage anti-smoking ads. Ray Rice will probably end up taking part in Domestic Violence Awareness messages. Whatever good that Greek Life adds to the school is disproportionately offset by the tremendous negativity, irresponsibility and flat out harm they inflict upon the rest of the student body.
The Greek Life hit list (please click on each link):
(1) They are bastions of sexual assault. Google search college fraternities and sexual assaults and see what comes up. Sexual predators in those Frats have weaponized alcohol and drugs.
(3) They have fought integration. It was only in the last year that the University of Alamba Greek chapters finally integrated.
(4) They haze people. Again, another horrible story out of my Alma Mater from 2010: “At Rutgers, six members of Sigma Gamma Rho were arrested in January and charged with aggravated hazing, a felony, after a pledge reported that she had been struck 200 times over seven days before she finally went to the hospital, covered with welts and bloody bruises.”
(5) They are often involved in cheating scandals.
(6) Women are sexually objectified. Even more so than is typical in American culture.
(7) Despite sexual objectifying women, they “slut shame” non-Greek women and hold them to a different standard.
It’s time to end the horror that is perpetrated by the Fraternities and Sororities on the rest of the student body. You want progress. Shut them down.