Harvard and Cornell universities have joined Yale University and Dartmouth College in cracking down on out-of-control behaviour as drinking, hazing and sexual harassment endanger students and tarnish Ivy League reputations.
Harvard faculty voted last month to require registration of parties and ban drinking games, and Cornell ordered fraternities to have live-in advisers. This fall, Dartmouth began security checks at Greek houses and Princeton University banned freshmen from joining them.
The moves are the latest effort to regulate campus behaviour since rules controlling students — known as in loco parentis — were abolished in the 1960s. Disobedience crested last year for Ivy League schools, which cost more than $50,000 a year to attend. A Dartmouth hazing article detailed rituals involving bodily fluids. A Cornell student died of alcohol poisoning, and Yale was hit with a discrimination complaint after fraternity members chanted “No means yes! Yes means anal!”
“Colleges have been in an arms race to prove to students that they’re cool and give more freedom than the others,” said Lisa Wade, head of the sociology department at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “Now, maybe the pendulum is starting to swing the other way.”
College students have come to equate the absence of boundaries with fun, said Wade, who studies the casual sex culture on campuses. That, combined with large amounts of alcohol easily available on campus, can skew students’ sense of what is acceptable or even normal.
An undergraduate house at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard is under fire for an annual hook-up party its residents call Incest Fest. The event is so named because only house members are allowed to attend. Two university clubs have also staged pranks ridiculing homeless people in Harvard Square, according to the Crimson, the student newspaper.
At Yale, one of eight private schools in the US Northeast that make up the Ivy League, eight students drank so much at September’s Safety Dance — an annual 1980s-themed party —they had to be hospitalised. That prompted the school in New Haven, Connecticut, to ban the event in the future. Senior Elizabeth Snow, 21, who helped organise a session on alcohol policy, said without comparison data she doesn’t know if eight is a lot.
“I have no idea what a standard Saturday night looks like,” Snow said. Yale should be creating a safer environment for parties rather than “forcing students to find parties off campus,” she said.
Thomas Conroy, a spokesman for Yale, declined to comment.
College administrators bear some responsibility for student drunkenness after years of ignoring it, said Toben Nelson, assistant professor of community health at the University of Minnesota, who has studied college drinking for more than 15 years. The most effective way to lower drinking rates is to cut the supply of alcohol, and few schools are willing to show that kind of leadership, he said.
“There’s a lot of enabling by college administrators,” Nelson said in a telephone interview. “Colleges are competing with each other to get these students, so they’re willing to tolerate a lot of things.”
Many alumni hamper attempts to curb alcohol abuse because they want access to a heavy-drinking ambiance when they return for homecoming and sporting events, Nelson said.
Alumni also contribute to a culture of hazing. In a 2008 study by University of Maine researchers, a quarter of students who reported being hazed in a college fraternity, group or sports team said alumni were present at the time. The practice is also found in theatre groups, marching bands and other social organisations.
With campus excesses becoming more unruly and, in some cases, deadly, schools are no longer standing by.
In rules issued last month, Cornell, based in Ithaca, New York, said new-member activities at Greek clubs must focus on the history and mission of the group and be approved by the university.
“If activities cause serious harm, physically or mentally, or are likely to, the University will not allow the group to continue to operate on our campus,” Cornell said in a slide presentation.
Tragedy struck at Cornell in February 2011, when George Desdunes, a 19-year-old sophomore, died of alcohol poisoning. Desdunes was bound with zip ties and duct tape and left alone on a fraternity house sofa after pledges staged a mock kidnapping of upperclassmen and compelled them to drink, according to documents in a criminal case. The pledges were acquitted of hazing and other charges. The fraternity didn’t defend itself and was fined.