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Changing the late-night party equation

As police crack down, fraternities try to co-exist with the restraints of Yale and New Haven.

By Sangeetha Ramaswamy

"There has been a change in policy. They used to turn a blind eye," Alpha Delta Pi (ADP) President Nick Krohley, PC '02, explains, walking past the half-empty red cups strewn about the living room. The debris is nowhere near what it might have been. But when police warned fraternities against "dangerous activities" the Wednesday before, Krohley interpreted this to mean that he should keep the party small. "We all respect efforts to help Yale students, but it seems that they've been a bit heavy-handed lately."

Yale Police Department (YPD) Chief James Perrotti confirmed that police policy towards parties held in fraternity houses has definitely changed over the course of the past year. "If the fraternities want to continue having parties on a large scale, then they ignore what we have told them," he said. "If they have parties on a small scale, then they won't see the police."

What the police 'told them'

When several incidents last fall drew attention to the fraternities, police forces started to issue warnings encouraging them to respect their neighbors. And as the police responded to complaints, they noticed that several houses were not in compliance with zoning codes, Perrotti said. "Whenever there are a lot of people in a dwelling, there are certain codes that everyone needs to comply with," he explained.

However, the zoning applications came with strings attached. For example, Beta Theta Pi (BQP) received its permit last March only after agreeing to notify police of any parties exceeding 25 people outside of the fraternity. Josh Burns, TD '01, President of Zeta Psi (ZY), had a different experience. "The police department and [New Haven's Livable City Initiative] LCI tried to attach conditions when we filed for our variance permit last spring, but the Zoning Commission said that was not necessary," he said.

When the new school year began, attention refocused on the fraternities, this time with the police making arrests in response to neighbors' complaints. In September, they arrested two Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) members at an SAE Late Night event and two guests at an Alpha Sigma Phi (ASF) House party. Following the arrests, SAE's national board ordered the chapter to go dry for the semester and hold alcohol awareness seminars for students.

Had the fraternities been adequately warned? While Krohley felt that there was no warning before the crackdown, his Lake Place neighbor, Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) President Chuck Buck, JE '01, disagreed. "The police have been completely fair and reasonable," he said. "[The other fraternities] had gotten repeated warnings about their late-night parties." Buck added that other fraternity members had assumed they could take advantage of city police who were preoccupied with high levels of crime to pay attention to their parties. Burns, too, felt there had been adequate warning.

The SAE arrests reflected a general police focus on High Street, also home to Sigma Nu (SN). "There were continual complaints about High Street," Perrotti said. "It seems like Thursday nights there were like an after-hours club, and that street has a residential neighborhood." New Haven Police Department (NHPD) Chief Melvin Wearing added,"We have been at the streets of the different fraternities at some point, but High Street has been a place we heard a lot of talk about [over the past year]."

In late September, several High Street residents filed a complaint with Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg and the Executive Committee asking Yale to take action against the fraternities for their late-night parties and alleged harassment of neighbors. SAE President Clay Armistead, JE '01, said that he has been in touch with their neighbors to begin some sort of dialogue, and he added that there would be no SAE Late Nights or other parties for the rest of the semester. Krohley sympathized with SAE's plight. And he wondered why Joshua Kronen, GRD '03, organizer of the complaint, moved onto a street with two fraternity houses and two apartment houses composed of undergraduates in the first place.

'Unite the clans'

The varying reactions to the problems on High Street illustrate the lack of a united front among Yale fraternities. While Yale fraternities are typical in that they have their own houses and Rush, there is no "Frat Row" to minimize noise complaints. The fraternity houses are not owned by Yale—unlike those at many schools— and are scattered on various streets throughout the city. In addition, there exists no administrator for Greek life issues within the Dean's Office and no Inter-Fraternity Council.

Only three fraternities have registered as undergraduate organizations in past years—Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEP), SAE, and Sigma Chi (SC)—but Trachtenberg said her office is definitely aware of the others. Over the years, the Dean's Office has held individual meetings with fraternity presidents, and Trachtenberg confirmed that someone in the Dean's Office contacted the fraternities involved in the September arrests, though she would offer no other details. "In some cases, we take the initiative to hold those meetings. In other cases we are more responsive," she said. "Fraternities are composed of Yale students and I care about Yale students. I would never be dismissive of Yale student activities." She added that the Dean's Office wanted the fraternities to monitor themselves. "Nothing imposed from the top will work as well as self-regulation," she said.

Some fraternities prefer being autonomous units that hold no formal relationship with the Administration. "It has served us very well to stay apart of the Administration. We're not related to the school, and that fosters a real unity within the group," Buck said. "We've also been stereotyped by the Administration for a long time, and unfairly so." Krohley added that ADP's policy was "to stay out on our own, and avoid the Administration." ZY and BQP, on the other hand, felt that they had good working relationships with the Administration. Regardless of how they felt about the current situation, the fact remains that the relationship between fraternities and the Administration "has not been clearly defined," as Armistead put it.

In another attempt to generate more cohesiveness in the fraternity scene after the September arrests, SC's president Ben Trachtenberg, ES '01, has led an initiative to hold regular meetings of the fraternity presidents. "An Inter-fraternity Council would be nice because there is no Frat Row, no greater unity," Krohley said of the effort. But he added, "So many of our problems are individualized."

Several fraternities did not even attend the first meeting called by Ben Trachtenberg, and they saw no incentive to attend future meetings. "If there was some sort of working relation with the police and Administration, then an Inter-Fraternity Council would be productive," Burns said, pointing out that ZY already holds individual meetings with the Dean's Office and the NHPD. "The University needs more of an awareness of what's going on."

Buck remained skeptical of whether a change in structure would resolve the current problems. "We would welcome such a meeting, but we don't see the need for creating this `Braveheart, Unite the Clans' group," he said. "If they want advice, fine. But first they have to assess that what they've done is wrong and take responsibility." He noted that the other fraternities were hardly as cooperative when the tables were turned. "When we were in trouble in the past, we had no help. Other fraternities now seem caught off guard. If they want our help and support, have to show that it is mutual, that they would help us."

Buck speaks from a confident position. Arguably Yale's most prestigious fraternity, DKE is the only fraternity founded at Yale (in 1844). DKE was also the only fraternity to maintain itself in some form while other fraternities shut down as a result of new University meal policies in the '50s and anti-establishment feelings of the '60s.

But recent times have certainly presented fraternities with new common challenges. Krohley and BQP President Ian McLaren, ES '01, cited the selective enforcement of alcohol policies as one key issue. "The rules are simple: 21 and above are legally allowed to drink," McLaren said. "If it is to be enforced off-campus, it should also apply to those living within the `hallowed' halls of the residential colleges."

'They're our students'

Yale's change in policy towards fraternities comes amid similar changes throughout the Ivy League and MIT. Unlike Yale, though, these schools—with the exception of Harvard, which does not have fraternities, and Princeton, which does not recognize fraternities—try to engage the fraternities in formal administrative partnerships.

Accountability is one of the main motivations for these universities, increasing ties to fraternities. At MIT, following the 1997 death of freshman Scott Krueger from alcohol overdose during Rush, the university recently started searching for four new administrators to help the fraternities create better living environments and assist relations with neighbors and police. "In the final analysis, they're our students, and we take responsibility ultimately. If your goal is to have the best residential community, then you have to make an investment in that community," Steve Immerman, who is temporarily overseeing the school's 37 fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, explained.

Penn's Inter-Fraternity Council President, Andrew Mandelbaum '01, said that Penn fraternities' relationship with the administration was at a peak following the death of alumnus Michael Tobin in March 1999 and the subsequent temporary dry campus policy."It's a partnership, and we work to address issues and be proactive," Scott Ricovski, Director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, said. "Whether fraternities are recognized by us or not, the chapters will be there, and that can cause potential liabilities."
DAVID GEST/YH
Clockwise from top left: Alpha Sigma, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Alpha Delta Phi, and Beta Theta Pi houses.

But the administrative partnerships can be rocky. Cassie Barnhadt, acting Assistant Dean of Residential Life at Dartmouth, confirmed that the Darmouth administration's new top-down Student Life Initiative included removing permanent bars and master refrigeration units that stored alcohol for the fraternity houses. And, at Columbia, where 12 percent of students are fraternity members, controversy surrounded the closing of the school's BQP chapter. BQP President Rich Luthmann '01 maintained that the administration pressured the national board to shut down his chapter. "The Inter-Greek Council at Columbia is a puppet organization," he said. "Those who do not wish to participate in the furthering of a [specific agenda] are either coerced to do so or punished for not doing so." Columbia's Coordinator for Greek Affairs Kyle Pendleton explained that the council and accompanying regulations are needed in light of the university's responsibility for the activities of fraternities. And if they didn't acknowledge their existence, "they'd still be operating underground."

That's exactly the situation at Princeton, according to its Vice President for Campus Life Janet Smith Dickerson, who, when interviewing for her position months before, was told that Princeton did not have Greek organizations. Princeton trustee policy has held since the mid-1800s that the University should not openly recognize fraternities because they are incompatible with the University's mission. Recently, following neighborhood complaints, Princeton bought the houses which fraternities had been renting and shut them down in Summer 1999, according to Kappa Alpha President Tommy Dewey '01. Now parties are held in dorms or off-campus. "Official recognition would certainly bring new regulations but it would also give some legitimacy to what has become, in my opinion, an important element of the Princeton social scene," he said. Fifteen percent of the campus belongs to a fraternity. No more 'late night'? So what exactly happens to fraternities at Yale, where 10 percent of students are members and many more attend their parties? "Look, I went to college too," Perrotti said, though he wasn't in a fraternity. "The problem is that the insides of the houses are not that big and the outsides of the houses raise all kinds of neighborhood concerns. They need to find a facility to handle a sizable crowd, a system to regulate who's drinking, and a mechanism not to disturb the neighbors. Maybe they should have an outside group that manages their events."

LCI head Regina Winters had similar thoughts. "I would expect any group in this city to be very careful about the site at which it wants to have gatherings," she said. "There are probably plenty of spaces on the Yale campus."

But Dean Trachtenberg was dubious of such alternatives. "If they're registered undergraduate organizations, then they're eligible to have space on campus," she said. "But some years ago, some college common rooms were trashed. Some fraternities have left a bitter taste in the mouths of College Masters."

Furthermore, fraternities value their houses as the center of their activities. The question ultimately seems to be whether the emphasis on smaller crowds will close off more parties to those Yale students unaffiliated with the fraternities just looking for a good time on the weekend. McLaren said, "In my opinion, the dynamics of social events may change in the future."

Keeping the situation in perspective, Krohley said, "Fraternities are not a central social outlet. When bars close and parties end, people turn off-campus. We're sort of the late-night social outlet." But he admitted that things will have to change. "Late nights will have to be more structured, [and] they're going to have to card, especially those having problems with the law. One of the new agendas seems to be cracking down on late-night social life."

Even as fraternity parties become more controlled, the heart of the system will remain the same. "Parties are fun," one ZY alumnus explained. "But the most positive experiences I had, as far as fraternities, were being able to sit down and enjoy other people's company during the day."

Buck's experience planning DKE's Mortician's Ball this past weekend offers a glimpse at the road ahead. "I called someone at the police station to let them know that we [were having] a party Saturday night that would last a little past midnight, and we'd be carding. They said that was great and they appreciated it," Buck said. "Someone drove by around midnight and let us know ahead that things were getting a little loud. When I asked if we should end it, they said no."

Buck thinks the key to mutual respect is keeping the channels of discussion open. "It's about constant communication, keeping them aware of what we are doing, and taking responsibility."

 

 


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