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Concerns over liability worry many fraternities, sororities

STANFORD - To many college students, a fraternity party without alcohol would be like a spring break without sunshine.

Yet for an increasing number of fraternities and sororities at Stanford and nationally, alcohol - and the liability associated with serving it - is becoming a major worry.

"Many of the students are walking scared," said Heather Dunn, fraternity adviser in Stanford's Office of Student Activities. "Society is so litigious, it's out of control."

Like many colleges nationally, Stanford toughened its policy against underage drinking in 1990, after passage of the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.

In addition to spelling out the consequences for underage drinking (ranging from educational measures to expulsion), the university has increased its efforts to educate students about the dangers of alcohol abuse and the importance of personal responsibility.

For students, though, the concern over liability may have had the most chilling effect on drinking.

Until recently, most fraternities and sororities either went uninsured or purchased private liability insurance to protect them in case of a mishap at a house-sponsored event.

When those rates got too high, about 20 of the nation's largest greek organizations joined together to form the National Fraternity Insurance Purchasing Group. In exchange for lower rates, members are required to follow a strict risk management policy that includes no kegs and no open parties.

"I've been to greek parties with friends at the University of Washington, San Jose State, UCLA and the University of Minnesota, and every one was BYOB (bring your own bottle)," said Steve Jarrett, president of Stanford's Interfraternity Council. "Somehow they feel this lessens their liability."

Stanford fraternities and sororities historically have had more autonomy from their national organizations than groups at other schools, and are thus less bound by the national rules. Still, many are feeling increasing pressure from their national organizations to comply.

Weeknight rush events at Stanford have been officially "dry" for the past two years, and other parties are smaller and less widely advertised. Beta Nooners - huge, open keg parties that used to draw hundreds of the faithful to the lawn of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity - have evolved into smaller barbeques.

Increasingly, guests at greek parties are being screened at the door, and some are asked show identification or sign a pledge stating that they are over 21. Sober party monitors are keeping better track of guests, and non-alcoholic beverages and food are becoming more visible.

From the university's standpoint, the cutback on alcohol is all to the good.

"There are fewer raging parties than there used to be," said Dean of Students Michael Jackson. "For the most part, students have begun to take heed of the fact that alcohol is something that can get you in trouble."

Many students, however, are troubled by the new restrictions.

"My fear is that it will accentuate the problem of drinking on campus," said Rip Waters, president-elect of the Interfraternity Council. "What you're seeing in social life at Stanford is that parties are starting to take place in rooms."

Adds Adrianna Duffy, president of Stanford's Intersorority Council: "It's definitely put a damper on campus social life.

"When I was a freshman, greek parties were open - you could show up anyplace you wanted. Now parties are becoming closed; they have guest lists. It has made the system much more exclusive."


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