All fraternities and sororities at Florida State University have been suspended indefinitely; this is in response to the death of 20-year-old fraternity pledge Andrew Coffey, who was found dead the morning after attending a fraternity party.
“I want to send a message that we’ve got a serious problem and we need to deal with it,” said FSU President John Thrasher. “There must be a new culture, and out students must be full participants in creating it.”
Thrasher’s measures come from a place of concern for students’ well-being, but does he know what he’s asking for? Furthermore, has he considered the possibility that this creates more dangerous drinking environments for students at FSU?
College students will drink. Colleges have been trying to limit them for decades, but students will always find a way. Underage students in particular get a thrill out of it precisely because it is a forbidden novelty to them, one that they likely have more access to being away from home and parents.
This has been the norm for over half a century at least; devastating as it is, Coffey’s death cannot change that. Students want to drink long before they’re allowed to, and in demanding that there be a “new culture,” Thrasher may as well be asking the US government to lower the drinking age. By enforcing a ban on Greek life, Thrasher only succeeds in depriving students of arguably safer party spaces.
Fraternities and sororities are well aware of how they appear in the eyes of university faculty and staff. Because faculty are so convinced that Greek organizations are nothing but party and booze, fraternities and sororities are doubly careful about partying. They often assign sober monitors, watch each other to make sure no one drinks too much, and keep an eye out to shut down potential incidents before they occur.
Parties thrown by unaffiliated students will almost certainly have none of these measures. Unaffiliated students don’t have a national image to worry about, nor are they under the university’s suspicious eye. In other words, they have far less incentive to make their parties as safe as possible. By shutting down Greek life operations, Thrasher may be leaving students in far less cautious hands than those he’s cuffed.
This is not to ignore the issue of ritualized drinking to excess among fraternity and sorority pledges as part of hazing. Hazing very much endangers the well-being of students, and it’s a practice almost exclusive to Greek life. But hazing is already the least visible activity in these organizations; by suspending them, Thrasher is only suspending what he can see them doing, meaning that hazing has almost certainly not been resolved.
I don’t claim to know what the best way to approach this issue is; I only argue that this is not it.