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University of Idaho students impose ban on Greek Row drinking parties

The Delta Upsilon fraternity house in Pullman, seen on Sept. 15, 2016, was shuttered amid allegations of drugging and sexual assault. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The Delta Upsilon fraternity house in Pullman, seen on Sept. 15, 2016, was shuttered amid allegations of drugging and sexual assault. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The student-run organizations that oversee the University of Idaho’s Greek system have approved an indefinite ban on parties involving alcohol, following the lead of counterparts at Washington State University in an effort to curb binge drinking, hazing and sexual violence.

The moratorium received unanimous approval this month from UI’s Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Council, panels of students that govern the university’s 34 fraternities and sororities. In a joint statement, the leaders of those groups said they recognized glaring problems in the Greek community and were taking a proactive step to fix them.

“We strongly believe that the safety and well-being of not only our Greek communities, but also our Vandal family on campus, is very crucial and should be prioritized,” said Gabriela Franco, an accounting student and the president of the Multicultural Greek Council.

The statement said the moratorium is not a reaction to any single incident at UI but a response to a “growing national crisis” on college campuses.

In the past year, at least four fraternity members at U.S. colleges have died in hazing and alcohol-related incidents. They include 19-year-old Tim Piazza, whose grisly death in February spurred high-profile indictments against members of his fraternity at Penn State University. Piazza fell down a flight of stairs during a hazing ritual, receiving a traumatic brain injury, but his brothers in Beta Theta Pi waited nearly 12 hours before calling 911.

Moratoriums on social events have been imposed on at least five other college campuses, either by the administrations or by students themselves, according to UI. A year ago, WSU’s Greek system declared a semester-long ban on football tailgates, “21 runs,” “date dashes” and other social events where alcohol would be consumed.

WSU student leaders said they used that time to develop new safety education programs and risk management policies. At least some students continued misbehaving, however. The school’s Alpha Kappa Lambda chapter was shuttered earlier this month after multiple reports of hazing.

At UI, the moratorium has no predetermined end. It’s expected to last until students and administrators draft new health and safety guidelines. Students 21 and older can still have and drink alcohol – just not during chapter-sanctioned gatherings.

In a phone call, UI’s dean of students, Blaine Eckles, said the move signals a genuine desire among students to change the culture of the Greek community.

“It’s incredibly encouraging,” he said.

Eckles said he hopes that by curbing alcohol abuse, fewer students will commit or fall victim to hazing, rape and sexual assault. He stressed, however, that such acts can’t simply be written off as the result of a drunken decision-making.

“There are, obviously, sexual assaults where alcohol is not involved,” he said.

Research by Thomas Plante, a psychology professor at Stanford and Santa Clara University, shows that alcohol plays a role in the vast majority of campus sexual assaults. In an op-ed last year, Plante wrote that “getting serious about sexual assaults can’t be adequately accomplished without getting serious about campus alcohol abuse.”