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Liability worries making fraternity parties drier

STANFORD -- A fraternity party without alcohol? Traditionally, that would be as out of character as a spring break without sunshine.

Yet for an increasing number of fraternities and sororities - at Stanford University and nationally - liability associated with serving alcohol is changing behavior.

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

Like many colleges nationally, Stanford toughened its policies 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.

Added to that in changing student behavior is concern over liability.

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 a BYOB (bring your own bottle)," said Steve Jarrett, president of Stanford's Interfraternity Council. "Somehow they feel this lessens their liability."

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

Increasingly, guests are being screened at the door, and some are asked to show identification or sign a statement 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 de-emphasis on alcohol is most welcome.

"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 into trouble."

Some students, however, believe the new restrictions could have unintended side effects.

"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."

Said Adrianna Duffy, president of Stanford's Intersorority Council: "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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