Setting an Example

After a student’s death following a fraternity party, and the subsequent suspension of Greek life, Florida State’s president has stopped serving alcohol at functions he hosts and is asking faculty and staff not to serve alcohol at on-campus holiday parties.

December 8, 2017
 
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After a student was found dead the morning after attending a party at Florida State’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity chapter, the university suspended Greek life indefinitely.

The student, Andrew Coffey, 20, was pledging the fraternity, which was ordered by its national chapter to shut down last month. His death was associated with excessive alcohol consumption, and Florida State has also banned the consumption of alcohol at all events hosted by student organizations affiliated with the university.

Florida State’s new alcohol and Greek life regulations came into effect just over a month ago, but the institution hasn’t stopped its examination of the drinking culture on campus. Earlier this month, John Thrasher, university president, urged faculty and staff to refrain from serving alcohol at any holiday functions held on campus.

“I am now asking that as you plan departmental or office holiday functions and parties, if they are held on campus, you refrain from serving alcohol,” he said in a memo sent to university employees. “I have instituted this policy for functions I am hosting, and while it has not been popular, my guests have understood.”

The memo is nonbinding, and alcohol remains available on campus in certain situations. Since the Greek life suspension, the president’s box has not served alcohol during football games, though guests in other box seats are still free to imbibe. (Florida State’s stadium does not sell alcohol to guests at large, a move several universities have embraced in recent years.)

In his memo, Thrasher examined alcohol consumption from a broader perspective. “I feel strongly that Florida State University is a family,” he said. “As a family, we share our problems and our solutions. This is about setting an example for our students, and, as mentors and leaders, I hope that you will all support this step along the road to culture change.”

It remains to be seen how long the president’s alcohol ban will last, and if other universities will embrace the move. A Florida State spokesman said he wasn't aware how long the president's stance is intended to last, but said Thrasher “feels strongly about leading by example while the university takes this time to reflect on the loss of a young life and make efforts to shift the campus culture in a more positive and healthy direction.”

Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, Indiana University, Texas State University, Ball State University, Louisiana State University and Penn State University are all public institutions where Greek life has been put under some form of sanctioning in recent months. Sanctions range in severity: Penn State’s administration banned Beta Theta Pi in March after student Timothy Piazza died following a Beta Theta Pi party in February. Greek life now runs under new regulations stemming from the death. On the other hand, Ball State fraternities governed by the university’s student-led Interfraternity Council reached an agreement with the administration in October to ban alcohol at events until the end of January, as a sort of reset measure aimed at reshaping fraternity culture.

A spokesman at Texas State wasn’t aware of any similar plans to ban or discourage booze at faculty events at the institution, and neither was a spokesman for Michigan. A spokesman for Indiana said that the university has not “considered or had a discussion about a policy similar to that one at this time.” Representatives from the other universities mentioned did not respond to requests for comment.

In industries outside academe, alcohol policies have been examined in a similar manner, however. In some of those cases, the prompt hasn't been fraternity abuse of alcohol but rather incidents of sexual harassment. At Vox Media, which publishes the websites Vox, SBNation and Racked, among other news sites, the annual holiday party’s open bar has been nixed, and instead employees who choose to drink will be subject to a two-beverage maximum. The move comes after the company fired its editorial director, Lockhart Steele, following allegations of sexual harassment.

“We recognize that even though alcohol isn’t always the reason for unprofessional behavior, creating an environment that encourages overconsumption certainly contributes to it. We hope that you all appreciate the spirit of this change and we look forward to celebrating with you,” an email to staffers read.

In another email to Vox employees, sent at the beginning of November, Vox’s management said it was looking into “tighter policies around alcoholic beverages at company events and meetings and generally ensuring work events and interactions meet the highest standard of professionalism.”

Kimberley Timpf, senior director of prevention education at EverFi, which runs the online alcohol education program AlcoholEdu, said that Thrasher’s message signaled that Florida State was willing to come to the table with students.

“At the core of it is the idea that this president wants to communicate that alcohol is not a required part of socializing,” she said. She added that binge drinking and alcohol safety are comprehensive subjects that require “a lot of difference pieces that need to come together” for a solution.

“There needs to be some consistency across campus,” she said. “If we’re trying to message to them that alcohol is not necessary to socialize, then we need to do that ourselves.”

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