INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – For decades, experts have blamed heavy alcohol consumption for hazing deaths at parties in frat houses. Now, a trade association representing fraternities has passed new rules it hopes will prevent their worst excesses.
North American Interfraternity Conference, or NIC, said Tuesday that it has adopted a prohibition on drinks with an alcohol content of 15 percent or more at chapter meetings and events. That means most beers, wine, and other alcoholic beverages will still be allowed while vodka, gin, rum and whiskey and other hard liquors are barred. The new rule goes into effect in a year.
NIC is a trade association representing 66 fraternities in the United States and Canada, with 6,100 chapters on 800 campuses.
The group says it hopes the change will protect students. Excessive drinking and alcohol poisoning are associated with the hazing ceremonies that fraternity chapters use to initiate new pledges, leading to deaths last year at Louisiana State University and Penn State University.
“At their core, fraternities are about brotherhood, personal development and providing a community of support. Alcohol abuse and its serious consequences endanger this very purpose,” NIC President and CEO Judson Horras said in a prepared statement. “This action shows fraternities’ clear commitment and leadership to further their focus on the safety of members and all in our communities.”
Many of the 6,100 chapters are expected to adopt the new rules by Sept. 1, 2019. Fraternities may make an exception when third-party vendors serve alcohol, and the NIC says that it will allow a year-long grace period for member fraternities that do not have a business meeting between Sept. 1, 2018, and Sept. 1, 2019.
In a news release, the NIC said that the alcohol initiative is one of several the group is pushing to protect fraternity members, including the development of an online platform called SocialSafe and support for more robust anti-hazing laws.
According to Franklin College journalism professor Hank Nuwer, there has been at least one hazing death on a North American college campus every year from 1959 to 2018. Alcohol poisoning is the biggest cause of death, according to an Economist report that relied on Nuwer’s data.
Nuwer welcomed the ban Wednesday. He called it a “no-brainer” but said it is long overdue. He also said that his research suggests that 80 percent of hazing deaths are alcohol-related.
“The data was available 30 years ago to see how alcohol limitations could increase campus safety and save lives,” Nuwer wrote in an email. “I am very grateful but wondering why this common-sense measure wasn’t in place four decades ago.”
While most American beers typically have about 5 percent alcohol or less, many microbreweries market beer with higher alcohol content. Wine usually has an alcohol content of about 12 percent.
Timothy Piazza, 19, died in 2017 after consuming large amounts of alcohol in hazing initiation for the fraternity Beta Theta Pi at Penn State. Roughly an hour after his last drink, he had an alcohol level three times the legal driving limit. He fell multiple times, suffering brain injuries and a ruptured spleen. His case led to the closing down of the fraternity and multiple criminal charges against eight members of the chapter.
On Tuesday, the national organization for Beta Theta Pi reached an undisclosed settlement with Piazza’s parents.