The recent decision by the Interfraternity Council at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to ban hard liquor from events marks a step in a positive direction.
But it can’t happen in a vacuum.
This prohibition, which takes effect next school year, must be paired with continued efforts to change the culture surrounding the Greek system. In recent years, UNL has seen fraternities suspended for hazing incidents, reported rapes and deaths tied to overconsumption of alcohol – and one of any is already too many.
We’re not being naïve; we know a large number of college students will consume copious amounts of alcohol in party situations, including some held in some capacity, official or not, by fraternities. But we want all students to be safe from alcohol poisoning and sexual assault while partying.
Hard liquors are often cheap and easy to obtain for students of age. But the potency of these drinks can quickly overwhelm students – particularly those unfamiliar with them – not to mention be masked by sugary juices and other unknown beverages in strong concoctions, such as jungle juice.
The hope is to prevent the same kind of tragedy that UNL experienced in 2014. Just two weeks into his first semester of college, UNL freshman Clayton Real died of acute alcohol intoxication. His blood-alcohol content was .378 percent – 4½ times the legal limit to drive.
The night before his death, four fellow fraternity members were recorded on surveillance cameras at a Lincoln liquor store, buying a keg of beer, two cases of vodka and four bottles of whiskey. At trial, a UNL police officer testified that several other kinds of beer and liquor were found at the house.
Our hope is that the new rules serve as a deterrent and prevent such horrific situations from reoccurring on campus.
A previous attempt at a similar ban after Real’s failed within weeks, largely because it lacked a means of enforcement. Credit the body that governs UNL’s fraternities for trying to throw additional weight behind its newly adopted policy, which will permit drinks with greater than 15% alcohol content only at third-party vendors such as restaurants, but accountability will likely remain difficult.
If this policy succeeds, it will have a significant impact at UNL, where more than one in five students participate in the Greek system, Fraternities and sororities were founded on the ideal of molding young men and women into more complete adults through scholarship, stewardship and fellowship.
However, fellowship must not be allowed to overshadow the other positives designed to accompany Greek life and perpetuate threats to fellow students. To do that, the culture surrounding alcohol must change for the better.
Banning hard liquor from fraternity events can’t hurt. But it can’t be the lone improvement, either.