At the 55th Grand Chapter Conclave, undergraduates and volunteers voted to remove alcohol from our chapter homes by 2020. This resolution seeks to strengthen the SigEp experience by making the Balanced Man Program and Residential Learning Community, not drinking and substance abuse, the focus of our chapter homes.
In 2015, Conclave delegates submitted a resolution that charged the SigEp staff with creating a task force to explore and recommend actions regarding alcohol-related education and policies for our members. Even before the National Board of Directors presented their findings this past spring at the Carlson Leadership Academies, I was convinced about the benefits of substance-free housing.
My chapter at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln lives in a facility that is substance-free, and I’ve seen my brothers thrive in that environment. Following Carlson, I was connected with other brothers who were advocating for a substance-free resolution drafted by Connor Hoffman, Montana State ’18. I was glad to be a part of an initiative that I believe in and that I believe will create positive change for our Fraternity.
I know that for some of our chapters this will be a challenge. I also know that there was and is an urgency to act now. As a co-author of the resolution, I want to answer some questions about the rationale behind this move for SigEp.
How will this make chapters better and safer?
Let me start with what I believe this decision and this moment will mean for SigEp. The actions we take following this resolution will make it easier for our chapters to recruit, retain and develop values-based leaders. As I dug into the issues leading to this resolution, what I came to understand is that chapters with substance-free homes are experiencing improved performance in academics, recruitment and retention when compared to chapters with homes that are not substance-free. This has certainly been my experience in my own chapter, and the data presented by supporters of the resolution showed that chapters with substance-free homes have an average GPA that is 0.17 points higher and an average chapter size that is 17 men larger.
Additionally, substance-free houses are seeing higher occupancy. Our members want to live in these homes because they are clean, quiet and well-maintained. Brothers can focus on their lives as students and enjoy the company of one another without having to worry about whether they’ll be able to study or sleep over the noise of a party. By moving social events out of our homes and into third-party venues, our brothers can more effectively use common spaces for studying, conducting Balanced Man Program challenge meetings and hosting other events that will help attract and retain the kind of members and volunteers we regularly say we’re looking to engage.
Why is this policy being adopted now?
I’d ask, why hasn’t it already been adopted? In the past 10 years, nearly 50 SigEp chapters have closed due to risky behavior fueled by alcohol consumption. More than 1,800 college students die every year from alcohol-related injuries in the U.S., and universities are acting decisively in crisis situations to ensure their students remain safe. We are hearing calls for dissolving Greek systems on campuses across the country. In July, the faculty at Harvard voted to ban Greek organizations from their campus in 4 years. In March, more than 120 Vice Presidents of Student Affairs met in San Antonio, Texas to discuss the future of Fraternities. A portion of this group will meet again on September 26-27, 2017 in Washington, D.C to launch the Reimagining Greek Life Task Force. Again, it seems leaders in higher education are calling for urgent changes in the Greek system.
Meanwhile, the ability to insure ourselves is becoming more difficult each year. There is currently only one remaining insurance provider willing to do business with fraternities. SigEp has seen a 46 percent increase in insurance premiums since 2014, and we pay 900 percent more in premiums than the average sorority.
These trends are urgent issues that so many of our brothers felt compelled to address as leaders in SigEp and in the Greek community. Our previous path was not sustainable.
I understand that this will be hard. It will be hard when other fraternities are still hosting parties in their houses. It will be hard on game days when the entire campus is tailgating. And it will be harder still when friends and dates ask why they can’t come pregame at our house before an event. But it is still the right thing to do and it can work … I’ve seen it work.
Nebraska chapter brothers and the brothers from 70 other housed chapters that have already made this work on our campuses are committed to doing everything we can to help you make this work on yours. We can’t afford to leave any chapters behind. The next 12 months will require hard work, regular conversations and a commitment to helping each other succeed.
More than responding to facts and figures, this is about aligning our actions with our values. SigEp chapters tell potential new members, parents, and campus faculty and staff that we are different. We tell them about our cardinal principles, our Balanced Man Program and our Residential Learning Communities. But we’ve failed to fully separate ourselves from the drinking club brand associated with all fraternities. And for far too long we’ve done too little to align all of our actions with our expressed values.
Our universities and many of our peer fraternities are looking for SigEp to lead. This new substance-free direction is a strong start. Now the work becomes making the resolution a reality and bringing our brothers along with us.