October 20, 2013

Commentary: Fraternities and drinking deaths

While postponing freshmen recruitment can save lives, the Intrafraternity Conference remains adamantly opposed.

By John Hechinger and David Glovin
Bloomberg News

(Continued from page 3)

The university didn’t bow to fraternity pressure, Humphrey said. It simply wanted fraternity and sorority recruitment on the same schedule. Deferred recruiting isn’t a “silver bullet,” Armstrong said.

“We’re going to gain a lot more control” through the agreement with fraternity members, Armstrong said. “There will be a lot more accountability.”

The Interfraternity Conference assured the university that fraternities had shown “higher alcohol awareness.” Humphrey agreed, saying that students are taking alcohol safety more seriously.

“We’re entering a different day,” he said.

‘OPENING DOOR FOR MORE TROUBLE’

Still, the number of people transported to the hospital by Cal Poly police because of alcohol doubled to 35, in 2012-13, from 2008, the year Starkey died. The statistics don’t indicate how many belonged to fraternities. The increase shows that students are more willing to call for help, said Martin Bragg, Cal Poly’s director of health and counseling services.

Since 2011, the university has disciplined nine fraternities, in most cases for alleged alcohol-related violations. After Lambda Chi Alpha’s “Lambda Cabana” beach volleyball tournament and charity fundraiser in April, three underage partygoers went to the hospital with alcohol poisoning, according to university records.

The university suspended Lambda Chi activities. Lambda Chi Alpha said it hadn’t organized any parties after the fundraiser, records show. Graham Garland, president of its Cal Poly chapter, declined to comment. The university later lifted the suspension because an investigation didn’t support allegations against the fraternity, Humphrey said.

In an editorial this month, the student paper, the Mustang News, said fraternities haven’t changed their behavior since Starkey’s death, and the administration made a mistake in letting them recruit freshman right away.

“Cal Poly is opening the door for more trouble,” the editorial said.

Carson Starkey’s parents, while pleased with the alcohol education program, opposed ending deferred recruitment. They run a nonprofit group to raise awareness about alcohol poisoning.

“I find it troubling that they (fraternities) would be advocating against our efforts to try to save lives,” said Julia Starkey, 52.

Her son would be alive if recruitment came later, she said.

“I’m 200 percent sure he wouldn’t have joined,” she said. “His core group of friends were outside the fraternity, but that didn’t happen the first weeks of school.”

Fraternities are putting revenue ahead of safety, said his father, Scott Starkey, 54.

“If you defer the recruitment of your members, you’re deferring income, I get that,” he said. “We’re business people. But I also feel there’s a human side.”

On a crisp late summer day during freshman orientation last month at Cal Poly, posters near dormitory entrances urged students to wear black wristbands with the name of the Starkeys’ charity: “Aware Awake Alive.”

“Take care of yourself,” read the posters. “Take care of your friends.”

FRESHMEN SPLIT OVER POLICY

Freshmen were divided over the new rush policy. Adam Massini, 18, from La Quinta, Calif., said it would be better to delay recruitment.

“Freshmen haven’t had much experience with drinking and don’t know their limits,” said Massini, who is considering joining a fraternity to perform community service.

Waiting isn’t going to stop freshmen from drinking heavily, said Grant Caraway, a former star high school football quarterback from Granite Bay, Calif.

“Some guys are going to be stupid, no matter what,” Caraway said.

With formal recruiting weeks away, a banner hung outside the Lambda Chi Alpha house. In bold, block letters, it greeted freshmen: “Welcoming You the Right Way Since 1979.”

While deferred recruiting gave freshmen more time to choose a fraternity, Lambda Chi now has no choice but to pursue them right away, said Joe Hare, 21, its vice president.

“If all the fraternities do it, we can’t wait,” he said. “It’s social suicide.”

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