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February 20, 2014 6:30 AM   Subscribe

The Atlantic's yearlong investigation on the current state of fraternities in America, and the lawsuit industry that rides alongside.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (119 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first couple paragraphs of this are worthy of John Kennedy Toole.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:37 AM on February 20 [13 favorites]


unless it were possible for Travis Hughes to be sued by his own anus is not how I would hope to be found in future google searches by prospective employers.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 AM on February 20 [26 favorites]


The first couple paragraphs of this are worthy of John Kennedy Toole.

This is true. The whole thing so far is awful but I'm laughing pretty hard. I assume that will change as I keep going but yeah I just got to the anus line and I am not in good control of my hilarity response.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:53 AM on February 20


MetaFilter: sued by his own anus





YOU KNOW YOU WERE THINKING IT TOO!!!!!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:53 AM on February 20 [5 favorites]


This is true. The whole thing so far is awful but I'm laughing pretty hard. I assume that will change as I keep going but yeah I just got to the anus line and I am not in good control of my hilarity response.

Yeah it gets a lot less funny.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:58 AM on February 20 [7 favorites]


But what if I don't WANT to be exposed to anus lawsuits.
posted by this is a thing at 7:04 AM on February 20


> “I did get one of the nicest pieces of ass some day or two ago.”

That was definitely the unofficial pitch the one time I sat close enough to overhear the conversation at a frat recruiting booth.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:06 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


The funny pictures of people jumping with beer cups at the beginning are obnoxious, but I notice they disappear once the tone of the article shifts from comic to tragic. It's a good (but depressing) article.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:14 AM on February 20


I was a little perplexed by the tone. I mean there is the "hilarious" retelling of a gristly personal injury, followed by:

with new laptop computers, on which they will surf Facebook and Tumblr while some coot down at the lectern bangs on about Maslow’s hierarchy and tries to make his PowerPoint slides appear right side up.

Did the author update this from a similar article from the 70s, just adding "PowerPoint" before "slides?"

And the whole digression about the cost of college; I mean, yeah, it's an issue, but I don't think she makes a great link between that and problems at fraternities. Which, given that both are serious issues, maybe writing about one or the other?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:19 AM on February 20 [6 favorites]


Did the author update this from a similar article from the 70s, just adding "PowerPoint" before "slides?"

Yeah that was a really weird digression that made no sense. The point was "Students come to college to party, not to learn, so colleges need frats" but it was a little forced.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:21 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


But yeah, the tone here is so arch as to be basically unreadable, and it's irritating as hell that he opens the whole thing with a lawsuit that's calculatedly dumb, gross and trivial-sounding before conceding that
For every butt bomb, there’s a complaint of manslaughter, rape, sexual torture, psychological trauma. A recent series of articles on fraternities by Bloomberg News’s David Glovin and John Hechinger notes that since 2005, more than 60 people—the majority of them students—have died in incidents linked to fraternities, a sobering number in itself, but one that is dwarfed by the numbers of serious injuries, assaults, and sexual crimes that regularly take place in these houses.
Early in the essay the author just basically oozes amused contempt for college students. It's not just the butt bomb thing. The point where I almost lost my patience was the bit about students spending money, which is so utterly and pointlessly snide that I started feeling like there was no way in hell the author would have anything interesting to say. What a hilariously spoiled bunch of consumerist sheep! Look at how they're feeding currency into vending machines, buying "essentials" (in scare quotes!) for their new homes, and eating, and having hobbies! They oughta be ashamed of themselves! Really? Ugh.

And okay, I get it. I live in a college town, I work on campus, I get the urge to tell the story that way — rich kids do hilariously dumb shit! it's frustrating! you want to poke some fun at them! But holy fuck, that is not the way to open an article about what end up being some serious fucking crimes and abuses of power.
posted by this is a thing at 7:25 AM on February 20 [17 favorites]


And the whole digression about the cost of college; I mean, yeah, it's an issue, but I don't think she makes a great link between that and problems at fraternities. Which, given that both are serious issues, maybe writing about one or the other?

I think it does make sense, though; parents are putting themselves through financial hardships to, they believe, provide their children with a better life both during and after college, and instead are unknowingly spending vast amounts of money to put them in harm's way. Also, the high cost of college and the idea of college as an investment seems to imply that SOMEONE should take responsibility for SOMETHING.

College is too expensive anyway which, as you point out, is a different topic, but I think there's relevance here in that where parents believe they are investing in their child's future and spending money they perhaps can't afford and it's easy for kids to get embroiled in this system that's much bigger than them or their families and that they don't understand.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:26 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Did the author update this from a similar article from the 70s, just adding "PowerPoint" before "slides?"

Also the idea of that made me chuckle a bit because obviously it's not literally true but it conveyed pretty well the idea of someone who's out of touch with current technology both in terms of ineptitude and by just coming from a bygone era. I think, too, that the point is more the perception of the professor by the students than anything about the professor's actual abilities.

Also, an upside-down PowerPoint slide is a funny image to me.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:29 AM on February 20 [5 favorites]


College is too expensive anyway which, as you point out, is a different topic, but I think there's relevance here in that where parents believe they are investing in their child's future and spending money they perhaps can't afford and it's easy for kids to get embroiled in this system that's much bigger than them or their families and that they don't understand.

Except it dilutes the message. Tuition would be a complex issue even if the greek system was expunged overnight, and it distracts from the central point (at least to me). It would be like writing an article about New Jersey's current road salt problem and including a section about the history of international maritime trade....

Also, an upside-down PowerPoint slide is a funny image to me.

I felt bad about pointing that out, because it's kind of a bunch of extra work to get a PowerPoint slide to project upsidedown, but, still....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:30 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I think it does make sense, though; parents are putting themselves through financial hardships to, they believe, provide their children with a better life both during and after college, and instead are unknowingly spending vast amounts of money to put them in harm's way. Also, the high cost of college and the idea of college as an investment seems to imply that SOMEONE should take responsibility for SOMETHING.

It definitely makes sense to talk about the cost of college. It definitely does not make sense to do it in a way that implies the students themselves are a bunch of pampered happy-go-lucky nitwits who could use a dose of reality.

That just seems so utterly incongruous with the eventual moral of the story that I kind of ended up feeling like it must have been an accident — like she was just coasting on clichés without even really thinking about the rhetorical effect those clichés would have.

...oh, hey. I went to check that I was getting the author's gender right, and it's Caitlin Flanagan. Yeah, okay, this is making more sense now. Being insufferably snide is kind of her job.
posted by this is a thing at 7:32 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Yes, the author here is extremely relevant.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:34 AM on February 20 [9 favorites]


Here is one paragraph a parent should care about:

For that is how many of the claims against boys who violate the strict policies are paid: from their parents’ homeowners’ insurance. As for the exorbitant cost of providing the young man with a legal defense for the civil case (in which, of course, there are no public defenders), that is money he and his parents are going to have to scramble to come up with, perhaps transforming the family home into an ATM to do it. The financial consequences of fraternity membership can be devastating, and they devolve not on the 18-year-old “man” but on his planning-for-retirement parents.
posted by emjaybee at 7:35 AM on February 20 [8 favorites]


All I have to say is good on The Atlantic for instituting a rational, user-friendly interface for long-form articles. Displaying everything on a single page without making me ask for it while maintaining an unobtrusive interface bar at the top and not bombarding me with interstitial ads?

Yes, please!
posted by valkyryn at 7:43 AM on February 20 [23 favorites]


Alternate headline: Holy Shit, You Have No Idea How Much I Hate Young People.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:44 AM on February 20 [6 favorites]


I'm not a fan of Flanagan, but this doesn't seem to be a polemic against "young people" so much as against the Greek system, or possibly against the way universities market themselves as a fun time.

Possibly a different reporter could have told the story with a (more sympathetic? Less snide?) tone, but I don't really think that contradicts the central information about the power fraternities exert over colleges. I did not know it was actually impossible to ban them, for example:

The powerful and well-funded political-action committee that represents fraternities in Washington has fought successfully to ensure that freedom-of-association language is included in all higher-education reauthorization legislation, thus “disallowing public Universities the ability to ban fraternities.”
posted by emjaybee at 7:49 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


It's not so much that it's a polemic against young people, but that in the middle of an article about fraternities, there are a bunch of random cheap shots about students buying condoms and lube from vending machines and the like. It just distracts from the main point of the article.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:52 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


The article is a bit parochial in its treatment of the History of Education and Fraternities: although frats are mostly an American phenomenon, secret societies and heavy drinking are part of university life in many countries and have been since the Middle Ages.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:58 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Oh, how interesting. So in the UK we have (famously) a drink problem, with young people getting riotously drunk in public. From reading this, you have exactly the same problem, except you do it in private all-male houses: but it's probably the same demographic. Maybe a bit richer?
posted by alasdair at 8:00 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


But holy fuck, that is not the way to open an article about what end up being some serious fucking crimes and abuses of power.

I kinda disagree, in the sense that it's exactly how you want to open the article if you are trying to convince people who think that fraternities are basically nothing but a good-old-fashioned good time.

As a rhetorical device, appearing to go along with your readers prejudices (lolbuttshahaamirite) in order to draw them in and make them more open to the twist — 'actually, fraternities are pretty awful and dangerous!' — is pretty effective.

Of course, if you already think that fraternities are dangerous and awful, it probably seems unnecessary. But the entire article stands as an argument that many, many people do not think that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:13 AM on February 20 [19 favorites]


> From reading this, you have exactly the same problem, except you do it in private all-male houses: but it's probably the same demographic. Maybe a bit richer?

Of the examples cited so far in the article (I'm only in the section about falls), only a few are top schools, and the author implies that part of the symbiotic nature of the greek system is to spread the problem well beyond brand name universities. Sneering aside, see:
fraternities provide colleges with unlimited social programming of a kind that is highly attractive to legions of potential students, most of whom are not applying to ivy-covered rejection factories, but rather to vast public institutions and obscure private colleges that are desperate for students.
I also think there's a distinction that can be made between the common American vision of college as permissible bacchanalia (which permission is secured by the virtuous aims of job credentialing and class elevation) versus the general understanding of undergraduate societies and student excess in other countries.
posted by postcommunism at 8:14 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


Once you are eighteen, you are an adult and responsible for your own actions.

The last thing we need is the college bureaucracies bloated with babysitters for these adults.

By all means, prosecute the criminal activities, but understand that once you are an adult, you are not a precious little snowflake who gets to be shielded from the consequences of your own actions.

"I got drunk and fell out of an open window, shattering my spine" isn't the window's fault.
posted by Renoroc at 8:24 AM on February 20


“I did get one of the nicest pieces of ass some day or two ago.”

TINTYPES OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN
posted by retronic at 8:25 AM on February 20 [20 favorites]


If enough people fall out of the window in a short enough span of time, however, it might be the fault of the people who own the window for having inherently unsafe property.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:26 AM on February 20 [12 favorites]


By all means, prosecute the criminal activities, but understand that once you are an adult, you are not a precious little snowflake who gets to be shielded from the consequences of your own actions.

The point of the article is that fraternities appear to be un-prosecutable as a group. Even when their houses are, for example, violating safety ordinances (no fire sprinklers, no railings, serving underage drinkers, constant problem with sexual assaults, etc.)
posted by emjaybee at 8:27 AM on February 20 [6 favorites]


If enough people fall out of the window in a short enough span of time, however, it might be the fault of the people who own the window for having inherently unsafe property.

Apropos of nothing, we have a dog, who we got from the vet after the prior owners 'let her get hit by a car'. After a year or two of living with Miranda, I've come to the conclusion that the dog just has a blind spot for risk in some ways. She's not *dumb*, but she just doesn't perceive, for example, open windows to be something that can be a serious issue.
posted by mikelieman at 8:32 AM on February 20


you are not a precious little snowflake who gets to be shielded from the consequences of your own actions.

and this goes double for the fraternity organizations, right
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:32 AM on February 20 [7 favorites]


There is a solution though, for an unsafe habitation: shut the place down and evict everybody. What do you think happens to an apartment building or office building that doesn't have fire sprinklers? Enforce the already existing legal codes and the problems disappear automatically.
posted by Renoroc at 8:34 AM on February 20 [8 favorites]


> What do you think happens to an apartment building or office building that doesn't have fire sprinklers? Enforce the already existing legal codes and the problems disappear automatically.

From the article, about half of current frat houses do not have fire sprinklers.
posted by postcommunism at 8:35 AM on February 20 [8 favorites]


I don't see how the whole fraternity organization can be held culpable for the stupidity of individuals, this isn't like the mafia where crime is the point of the whole endeavor. On paper, at least, the fraternity exists to better the members. Unless the founding charter states that detonating anal bottle rockets is the key to future success and that all must do so to enter their hallowed organization, I don't see how the umbrella organization is culpable.
posted by Renoroc at 8:37 AM on February 20


From the article, about half of current frat houses do not have fire sprinklers.

Right, they are already unsafe, so shut the houses down before anybody gets hurt. It isn't necessary for injury or death to occur. If the colleges really wanted the fraternity system to buckle, they should just refer each house to the buildings inspector of their jurisdiction.

Look, I hate sounding like an apologist for these wankers, but there are already ways to fix the problem instead of trying to turn colleges into day care centers. That sort of thinking will just drive up the bureaucracy and increase already bloated tuitions.
posted by Renoroc at 8:40 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


> Right, they are already unsafe, so shut the houses down before anybody gets hurt

I know, right? I wonder why they're not being shut down.
posted by postcommunism at 8:43 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


I did not know it was actually impossible to ban them, for example:

I imagine that it would be quite challenging for a university to ban them even absent that law. They could potentially refuse to allow them on their campus and remove any "official" status they may have, but apart from that they can't do much.
posted by atrazine at 8:45 AM on February 20


"Code Enforcement". In our lil' college town we even have a regulation prohibiting habitation by more than x number of unrelated persons.
posted by mikelieman at 8:49 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Alternate headline: Holy Shit, You Have No Idea How Much I Hate Young People.

This is not an olds hating on kids thing. I don't think the author necessarily hates young people who aren't privileged, drunken, ignorant douchebags.

By all means, prosecute the criminal activities, but understand that once you are an adult, you are not a precious little snowflake who gets to be shielded from the consequences of your own actions.

Writing as someone who has lived in one college town or another most of his adult life, I think a big part of the point is that (17 to 22 year old) college students are in a crazy gray zone between child and adult that makes them particularly vulnerable to their own and others' negligence.
posted by aught at 8:55 AM on February 20 [5 favorites]


I imagine that it would be quite challenging for a university to ban them even absent that law.

So I worked for a couple years at a small rural midwestern college in the mid-80s, and I recall an administrator saying wistfully something like, "We actually could have gotten rid of them [frats] when they were weak back in the 70s, but no one took them seriously enough to shut the houses down. Now they've come roaring back in popularity, and drinking and drugs and sex are out of control, and there's nothing we can do, because of wealthy alumni and rich parents of members." This was almost 30 years ago.
posted by aught at 8:59 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Dip Flash: unless it were possible for Travis Hughes to be sued by his own anus is not how I would hope to be found in future google searches by prospective employers.

Don't worry, there are a number of other Travis Hughes out there, including 25 on LinkedIn alone. Now, search for Louis Helmburg III and you'll get more coverage of the night in question, including what looks to be an x-ray of the lower half of a certain unfortunate/idiotic gentleman.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:04 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


"Code Enforcement". In our lil' college town we even have a regulation prohibiting habitation by more than x number of unrelated persons.

Code enforcement is not the responsibility of the university but of the local government.
posted by atrazine at 9:06 AM on February 20


Also, usually those laws include an exception for fraternities, sororities, and dormitories.
posted by asperity at 9:08 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Once, back when I used to work for a Large State University I had to help design and present a lecture to be given to a local chapter of a national fraternity. They're very well known as being a bunch of knuckleheads, so I'll answer the unasked question forming now in your head by saying their nickname rhymes with Psych. These guys had somehow discovered that you can get drunk quicker if you give each other vodka enemas. We had to gather them together and inform them of the safety consequences of this action at one of their meetings, namely that while alcohol goes directly into the blood stream in this method, it doesn't exit the system nearly as rapidly and that alcohol poisoning is a very real and sometimes quite dangerous complication. While this synopsis on its own is enough to fuel several jokes and/or porn clips the real kicker was that one of the trustees of the university called our office to a meeting and objected to our office talking to the young men at all, alleging "that they're just young men having fun, not lunatics."

I know what you're thinking. I said it out loud: "wat." You could hear the lowercase and the punctuation. My mouth doesn't always communicate directly with my brain. My boss quickly thanked the trustee for his concerns and shuffled me out of the room.

While I work in a university town and deal with university students on a regular basis still, I don't have to deal with the minutiae of the Greek world and its sometime disturbingly close ties to upper university administration anymore, and I find the real world much less surreal as a result.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 9:12 AM on February 20 [10 favorites]


I think a big part of the point is that (17 to 22 year old) college students are in a crazy gray zone between child and adult that makes them particularly vulnerable to their own and others' negligence.

Somehow though, we have 18,19, and 20 year olds in our Armed Forces. Should they be considered child soldiers?
posted by Renoroc at 9:13 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Renoroc: I don't see how the umbrella organization is culpable.

From my recollection of college days, it's because certain acts are not done alone, but as a whole and in the context of a fraternal gathering/event. For instance, when a new pledge drinks a ton at a frat event and then crawls under a fumigation tent, he was drinking to excess in the company/at the behest of the frat. He was the one who crawled under the tent, but he wouldn't have gotten so drunk if it were not for the frat.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:13 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one unable to read this because it's resolving to a 404 page?
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:17 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


I don't see how the whole fraternity organization can be held culpable for the stupidity of individuals, this isn't like the mafia where crime is the point of the whole endeavor. On paper, at least, the fraternity exists to better the members. Unless the founding charter states that detonating anal bottle rockets is the key to future success and that all must do so to enter their hallowed organization, I don't see how the umbrella organization is culpable.

Okay, but the point of the article is that the national organizations do nothing to change the violent and negligent culture of their local chapters, and do everything they can to wash their hands of the local chapters whenever that violent, negligent culture hurts people, as when, for instance, precious little snowflakes fall three stories and suffer catastrophic brain damage.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:18 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


aught: I think a big part of the point is that (17 to 22 year old) college students are in a crazy gray zone between child and adult that makes them particularly vulnerable to their own and others' negligence.

As someone who recalls a range of individuals from his college experience, college students are old enough to know better, but many have not had to really live their own lives and face real consequences until college, where they are buffered by the "kids will be kids" mentality. I knew students out of high school who worked their way through college. I knew folks who drank and partied, but never to the point of excess. I knew people who watched out for friends and called 911 when someone passed out on the floor, then stayed with them until help arrived.

I think there's too much leeway given to "adult children" at college. Treat them like adults and expect more from them. And teach children critical thinking from an earlier age (but that's another tangent for another time/thread).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:18 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


I entered the bizarre world of falls from fraternity houses, which, far from being freakish and unpredictable events, are in fact fairly regular occurrences across the country

Man, this article is sad and depressing.

Wait.

I entered the bizarre world of falls from fraternity houses, which, far from being freakish and unpredictable events, are in fact fairly regular occurrences across the country

Ok, there we go! Woo Hoo!
posted by Smedleyman at 9:26 AM on February 20


For that is how many of the claims against boys who violate the strict policies are paid: from their parents’ homeowners’ insurance. As for the exorbitant cost of providing the young man with a legal defense for the civil case (in which, of course, there are no public defenders), that is money he and his parents are going to have to scramble to come up with, perhaps transforming the family home into an ATM to do it. The financial consequences of fraternity membership can be devastating, and they devolve not on the 18-year-old “man” but on his planning-for-retirement parents.

Seconding that this is something that parents might want to think long and hard about before sending Kid off to college. (I confess that when I read this, my first thought was "Yay for childless spinsterdom!") Maybe if more parents knew this, it would cut down on the worst of the frat house excesses? Rich parents might well shrug and say, "Oh well, it will just come out of the insurance," but it might put the fear of God/lawsuits into poorer parents who would really be negatively impacted. If I were the parent of a college-aged child that would scare the bejabbers out of me. (As well, I hope I would have taught any son of mine not to be a rapist, not to drink until blackout, and not to stick firecrackers up his ass.)

Filthy light thief brings up a good point: the whole idea of "teach your kids to fail" and letting your adolescents have autonomy and freedom while still minors under the parental roof, within reason, is to prevent an "emancipated" teenager's first experience of failure or setback from being a huge, horrible, life-ruining event like brain damage, a colostomy, or devastating lawsuit.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:53 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


If we can bring Judge Joe Wapner and Doug Llewelyn out of retirement, I would watch the everliving fuck out of Travis vs Travis' Anus.

DUNT DUNT DUNT! Wocka-chicka, Wocka-chicka, Wocka-chicka

This is the plaintiff, Travis Hughes' anus. He claims that his domain is no place to re-enact the space program and is having a hard time doing his job as a result. He is suing for restitution.

CLICKETY SOUND:
Name: Anus
Complaint: Rectum? It nearly killed 'em!

This is the defendant, Travis Hughes. He says that he was just trying to have fun and says that the plaintiff is an asshole.

CLICKETY SOUND:
Name: Travis Hughes
Complaint: Plaintiff is full of shit.

Court is now in session.
posted by dr_dank at 10:26 AM on February 20 [18 favorites]


"Code Enforcement". In our lil' college town we even have a regulation prohibiting habitation by more than x number of unrelated persons.

As noted above, municipal codes allow for dorms and boarding houses. The code you mention is to limit group occupancy of single family houses and apartments.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:36 AM on February 20


Just because a kid turns 18 does not mean that their brain is mature enough to not need close supervision or that "boy's brains will be boy's brains" kind of attitude is an intelligent way to think about this age range. Someone asked about the military: the military certainly supervises and has much stricter rules for new enlistees and beyond. Scientists say that a human brain is not fully mature until age 25-30. This is just one reason why we can no longer consider 18 year olds to be adults. When age 18 was considered to be an adult we did not have the information on the brain that we now have. This supervision applies to how they treat vulnerable people. This includes physically weaker, the more naive, those with developmental disabilities and people under the influence of any drugs that cause them to be less sensible or less on guard. The judicial system is just barely starting to incorporate this "new" information, should we wait until the law fully recognises these facts [while 18-25 years olds get hurt or killed]?
posted by RuvaBlue at 10:42 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


Code enforcement is not the responsibility of the university but of the local government.

I wondered why this wasn't part of the back-channelling by the university as a way to insure even a minimal amount of safety for the students and if it was, why the city didn't act. Schools could also require basic yearly inspections for houses affiliated with the school. Frankly I'm surprised that cities don't see frat houses as a potential gold mine of fines.

I know the article is addressing the larger issue of litigation, but just as a practical matter this makes no sense since there are code violations at houses across the country and potential accidents are pretty predicable.

On preview, I'm referring to things like railings, smoke alarms, and sprinklers.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:43 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


A more specific reference on brain maturity and how most of our institutions have NOT caught up with the science.
posted by RuvaBlue at 10:49 AM on February 20


On the one hand, the fraternity I joined in my senior year at UCSB was obviously doing it wrong: the half dozen of us met in a spare room at the UCen for a half hour or so a couple times a week, to discuss community social service projects. I think we also once had an afternoon barbecue at the beach.

On the other hand, we regularly read about some drink student falling off the cliffs above the beach onto the rocks below, leading to calls for a fence. I don't think any of the associated party houses were frats. I'm not sure who would be sued in those cases.
posted by happyroach at 10:49 AM on February 20


In a way, it's Town vs. Gown problem. Off-campus, letting underage drinking and code violations go on is the municipality's business, not the university's. You'd need a "parents and students against unsafe student housing" association to lobby for stricter rules and better enforcement. From what I see, many frats are basically slums and unlicensed bars, and it's in the public's interest that they clean up or close shop. Especially the fire violations. Your voluntary living in a death trap is like, your choice, man, but it's not the choice of the people who suffered because the fire spread to other buildings.

The problem is that the frat lobby is currently fighting that, at the same time as it is protecting itself from the consequences of individual frat's actions (any reasonable national organization will make sure that each of its house is formally independent from a legal standpoint). They say it's a few bad apples, but they're doing precious little to sort them out from the basket.

I don't know how it would stand up in court in the US, but their use of rules to protect themselves also seems silly. They know full well that the rules are routinely violated, but they don't do anything to actually enforce them
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:54 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I don't see how the whole fraternity organization can be held culpable for the stupidity of individuals, this isn't like the mafia where crime is the point of the whole endeavor.

Getting blackout drunk every weekend and having lots of sex are, however, the points of the whole endeavor.

As for the strange triangle of power between the frats, the colleges and the law...if you read the whole article there's a lot in there especially towards the end that explains why colleges don't crack down harder: namely, former-Greeks are among the most vocal, interested and generous of alumni. During the cold war between Wesleyan and the renegade frat described toward the end of the article, a scolding email sent by the college to parents and students spurred and immediate and organized demand for a retraction from frat parents; the email had no practical effect, mind you, it was the equivalent of a finger waving. Merely that was enough. Some alumni were already channeling their donations to the renegade frat in lieu of the school while it was on the outs. Cherchez l'argent. The colleges won't take the risk of pissing them off since a "vibrant Greek life" is, unacknowledged though it may be, a key pillar of both their marketing and fundraising endeavors.

Meanwhile, as Flanagan points out, when shit does go down---as it inevitably will because you can't gather together hundreds of drunk people every weekend without bad stuff happening--- the frats have it set up so that it's the students who end up twisting in the wind, while both the frats and the college roll merrily along.
posted by Diablevert at 10:54 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


When I first left high school, I had believed that fraternities were places gentlemen attended, something based a lot on my own fascination with history, versus the reality. Despite having a number of friends who joined them, I found them hypocritical and passed them by. I see them now almost as if university sanctioned traps for women to be sexually abused or raped. More so, I see them as elitist institutions which breed elitism in a world where we need less, not more. Strip them of their houses, remove their ability to have alcohol fueled parties, and leave them their loud vocal ties to community service. And I'm only partially irritated at the moment, thanks to the article's continual tale of fail on account of universities and the legal system to lay the smack down on them. Meh.
posted by Atreides at 10:59 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


aught: This is not an olds hating on kids thing. I don't think the author necessarily hates young people who aren't privileged, drunken, ignorant douchebags.

I don't think it's the point of the article, but I'm pretty certain the author has a massive amount of contempt for anyone of college-student age. Look at this passage:

"When Mom is trying—against all better judgment—to persuade lackluster Joe Jr. to go to college, she gets a huge assist when she drives him over to State and he gets an eyeful of frat row. Joe Jr. may be slow to grasp even the most elemental concepts of math and English (his first two years of expensive college study will largely be spent in remediation of the subjects he should have learned, for free, in high school), but one look at the Fiji house and he gets the message: kids are getting laid here; kids are having fun. Maybe he ought to snuff out the joint and take a second look at that application Mom keeps pushing across the kitchen table."

The contempt is coming off that paragraph so strongly I can taste it. Dude probably wore a monocle while he was writing this.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:04 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


Somehow though, we have 18,19, and 20 year olds in our Armed Forces. Should they be considered child soldiers?

If there is an organization that "hand holds" it's young recruits more than the armed service (eat here, sleep here, do this now) I'm not sure what it is. Child soldiers? Well perhaps not quite, but tbh 18/19/20 is not quite biologically thinking adult either. I mean there is a reason armed forces recruit heavily from that age range and it's not just because of physical durability.

Which kind of is the whole point, I think, of the Frat system being so screwed up. We call these folks adults and treat them legally as adults, but hell, they just are not exactly mature adults (your brain does not stop developing until about 24) and yeah, they probably need little more hand holding legal adult or not. You take a typically college student, they live at home their whole life expected to not drink/smoke/etc and then suddenly BAM they are semi independent with little guidance. Frat organization in principal would seem to be a great solution to this, older more mature students help the younger students along. Help them navigate their new life, give them a tap on the head when they act like a dick. But in reality the older students in charge often encourage participate and facilitate the very behaviors they are suppose to control. Missing sprinkler systems is not really the problem, the problem is gross lack of oversight. Hell, no wonder these jackasses think college is so great, and that the ensuing captains of industry are so fucking morally corrupt. 4+ years of minimal responsibility and group reinforced social pathology during prime time right before your personality becomes more or less static?

Yeah, golden.
posted by edgeways at 11:05 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Monday, stony Monday is dead on: as much as we talk about this as a university issue, this is significantly a law enforcement issue* and a housing and code enforcement issue.** The vast majority of frats are off campus. Assuming universities permit their students to live off campus--and the vast majority do--there is precious little that universities as such can do about fraternities. Students can choose to live wherever the hell they want, and if that's at a frat house, that's at a frat house.

Which means that living conditions and activities at frat houses become just another wrinkle in the debacle that is law, housing, and code enforcement in the residential US. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get municipal and law enforcement authorities to do anything about housing and code enforcement problems? It's almost impossible. And even calling 911 isn't necessarily likely to provoke an immediate response depending on where you are and what you're reporting.

On the civil side, the enforcement mechanism here is almost entirely complaint-driven. Cities, to say nothing of smaller towns and nothing of unincorporated areas, simply don't have the resources to actively police housing stock for code and activity violations. The way it works is that the only time the authorities ever come out is if there's a complaint. If you can get a code enforcement official to show up at a property in less than 30 days, it's a minor miracle, assuming your area as code enforcement at all, which many municipalities don't.

On the criminal side, you can probably get the cops to show up if it's a loud enough party, but the extent that we're talking about violations of civil law--which is a lot of it--the police don't have even jurisdiction, even if they could be arsed, which they usually can't. And for things like sexual assault, MetaFilter should be no stranger to discussions about the problems of reporting, investigating, and prosecuting sex crimes. Like it or not, getting a rape conviction out of anything that happens at a drunken college party is all but impossible.***

So for all the focus that people put on what universities aren't doing about this, the fact of the matter is that there's really not a whole lot that they can do. It's not just a question of rich alumni putting pressure on university administrators. Said administrators don't really have many options at their disposal to begin with. They can revoke any official connection with fraternal organizations, but if students want to live together off campus in squalid conditions and do stupid, drunken shit, well. . . they're legally adults and have the legal right to do that. The only thing colleges can do which would have any real effect is to prohibit students from living off campus, which would not only be unpopular, but isn't even necessarily an option, especially for institutions in urban areas. There are plenty of universities that couldn't house all of their students on campus if they wanted to, which is one of the main reasons fraternities came to exist in the first place.

*I.e., criminal law, for issues like sexual assault, underage drinking, that sort of thing.

**I.e., civil law, for issues like absence of railings, fire suppression, sanitation, etc.

***I'm just sayin'.
posted by valkyryn at 11:14 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Do fraternities get money or recognition from universities as official student groups, in general?
posted by jeather at 11:18 AM on February 20


A more specific reference on brain maturity and how most of our institutions have NOT caught up with the science.

Uh.. It says right there in the article: "The ability to designate an adolescent as “mature” or “immature” neurologically is complicated by the fact that neuroscientific data are continuous and highly variable from person to person; the bounds of “normal” development have not been well delineated ".

So it goes both ways... in a way you're right, but...

[...] is mature enough to not need close supervision

Contrary to your assertion, what the research *really* says is not that 25 should be the cut off date , it's saying that just looking at someone's age is NOT being scientific -- because not only does the research does not support using that as a hard measure of maturity, but the designation of "mature" is a very fuzzy thing that depends on the context and culture, not just brain scans.

That is, as with so many other mixtures of science and policy--various vested interests want direct answers that support their side so they can say "SCIENCE!" -- and the science seldom works on exactly the same axis as the policy does.
posted by smidgen at 11:20 AM on February 20


They can revoke any official connection with fraternal organizations, but if students want to live together off campus in squalid conditions and do stupid, drunken shit, well. . . they're legally adults and have the legal right to do that.

I don't know, it seems to me that there are stronger steps they could take, within the law, than merely dissociating and washing their hands of them. I mean, it's not clear to me whether this would be true of a state/public university, but a private institution can make all kinds of rules about the requirements for admission. Don't let the jocks join or they get bounced off the team, don't let them recruit on campus. Maybe even make joining a frat a condition for revoking their offer of admission? People may have a fundamental right of freedom of association. They don't have a fundamental right to walk on my lawn or go to my school.
posted by Diablevert at 11:23 AM on February 20


The problem is that, even if there were something that a university of college could do to restrict a student's ability to join a frat, the fraternal organizations and the fraternity alumni would raise holy hell like they did in the Wesleyan case. So basically any post-secondary institution that has fraternities is stuck with them unless they can find a way to make up the fundraising they'd lose.

When I was in college, the fraternities were all in university-owned buildings, and when one of the fraternities got busted for running a drug-selling ring out of the frat house, they lost their charter and got kicked out of the house, which because normal undergrad housing. The problem was that this building was on the far side of the frat quad, so the residents basically lived in a frat house anyway.

The difference between having this culture of drinking and excess at a frat house and at some random other house is that when someone dies in a frat house, the parent organization swoops down to minimize consequences for the house, whereas if I lived in a flophouse with a bunch of friends (and I couldn't live in a house with as many people as occupy a frat house because we'd violate maximum tenancy laws that fraternities are explicitly excluded from) and a bunch of people died because of the house not being up to code, we'd be kicked out of the house and the house would be condemned, because there's no wealthy mothership to protect us.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 11:36 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Which is not to say that the horrible stupid things that happened in fraternities in the article are exclusive to fraternities, just that the institutional power that the national organization has makes compensating the victims of these horrible things harder than it would be if my college a cappella group had accidentally killed someone via vodka enemas.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 11:38 AM on February 20


And now it's time to put on my "personal injury lawyer" hat.

Say you've got a client who is injured at a frat party. Could be a resident of the frat house, could be a guest. Almost doesn't matter. Say he gets injured by falling off a railing while drunk, breaking a leg which doesn't really heal right, leaving him with a limp. Okay.

Ideally he has health insurance (most college students are required to, so it's a pretty safe bet), but that's only likely to pay for part of his medical expenses at best. It won't have any coverage for permanent injuries, let alone compensation for non-economic damages like "pain and suffering".* So if that's all that happens, he'll be left financially and physically worse off than he was before the party, to say nothing of potential academic and/or emotional consequences.

Question becomes: who, if anyone, is going to pay for this? Turns out that's a very, very tricky question even totally ignoring the phenomenon that is the Greek system. Let's take a look at potential defendants in roughly descending order of likely liability.

First: the client himself. Yeah, odds are pretty good that a significant portion of fault would likely be assigned to the plaintiff. Falling off a balcony when you're drunk is a dumb thing to do. A jury (or other fact finder) is likely to hold that against you. In most states, if the plaintiff is found at least 50% or 51% at fault--which is entirely possible under the circumstances--there's no recovery from anybody. So that's a huge problem in terms of compensation for the client. This is basically what happened in the Andaverde case in the article.

Second: the other students. They're all adults (presumably), and the residents of the frat house have some responsibility for ensuring the safety of their guests, particularly if alcohol is being served. The main problem with this that assuming you can even convince the client to go for it (i.e., sue his buddies), college students are not going to have much in the way of assets or available insurance, so even if you get a million dollar judgment, you're not going to get any of the money.

Third: the parents of the other students. Not that the parents would be liable directly (they wouldn't) but their kids might still be covered by the liability portion of the parents' homeowners' insurance policies. Two problems though. First, the fact that college students don't reside in the insured home might mean they're no longer "covered persons." Second, to the extent that any of the actions that led to the injury were deliberate, e.g., giving someone a vodka enema or sticking a firecracker in someone's ass, there might not be coverage for that. There's never any coverage for intentional harm. So that's a problem. But not an insurmountable one, as the article mentions.

But she's wrong about one thing: if there's coverage from a homeowners' policy, the company will pay for defense counsel as well. The only way the parents are going to be exposed to direct liability is if the damages exceed the available limits (which when we're talking about serious injuries to affluent young people is actually pretty easy). But still, that's going to be an issue.

Fourth: the fraternity, which presumably owns the house. The main problem here is that though the frat residents are likely members of the fraternity in some form, with respect to its ownership of the house, the frat is likely in the role of a landlord. It's very, very difficult to find landlords responsible for injuries on rental premises, as the tenants are largely presumed to be responsible for what happens at their homes. There can be liability for "common areas" or for really significant structural problems (e.g., the roof falls in), but things like the absence of a railing, bad carpet which leads to a fall, and basically just building design in general, can be hard to pin on the landlord, even outside the frat context. Again: finding landlords liable for injuries on rented premises is just really hard in general.

More specifically to frats though, the risk management procedures discussed in the article should be (and apparently are) very, very effective at shielding the organizations from liability. But even that's not unique to frats. Pretty much any national-level organization will have risk management policies in place which the organization officially encourages its members and events to follow. If individual members/events do not, as happens all the time, the only way to get back to the parent org is to argue--and prove!--that the parent org knew or should have known that the violation was likely to happen and that it did not take adequate steps to do anything about it. Which is not an impossible argument to win, just a very difficult one.

Fifth: the university. Going to be really hard to get that one, as it's going to be very, very difficult to establish that the university had any connection with the party whatsoever, let alone an opportunity to exert any kind of control over the proceedings. Further, if the university is a state organization, you have to go through the state tort claims process, which while doable, is a hassle that can limit potential recovery.

Sixth: corporate sponsors of the party. Like, say, if Red Bull or Diageo shows up to offer free samples, booth babes, whatever. Probably happens, though I don't know for sure. Regardless, those companies are going to have contracts which will protect them from any exposure to liability for injuries that their employees do not cause directly. Get food poisoning from a bad case of energy drinks? Okay, we're good. But that's about it.

In short: There's a reason that many personal injury firms won't take slip-and-fall type cases at all. They're very, very difficult to win, entirely separate from the "dark power of fraternities".

And not to add too much to an already lengthy comment, but the same is basically true for victims of sexual assault suing anyone but their attackers. You've got all the same problems as described above, but you swap out the attacker for the plaintiff, and it's even harder to get any liability to cascade beyond an intentional wrongdoer to third parties. They're just really, really difficult cases to win, let alone win any significant amount of money on.

So yeah. That's basically the size of it. A lot of the problems here don't have anything to do with fraternities as such. I've never been a member of a frat, nor do I have any use for them whatsoever, but just thinking as a lawyer that has done and still does personal injury work, I would be very, very reluctant to take on one of these cases in most circumstances.

*This is just the scope of damages in personal injury cases. Whether or not it's rational, let alone just or even sane is a conversation for a different time.
posted by valkyryn at 11:50 AM on February 20 [13 favorites]


There can be liability for "common areas" or for really significant structural problems (e.g., the roof falls in), but things like the absence of a railing, bad carpet which leads to a fall, and basically just building design in general, can be hard to pin on the landlord, even outside the frat context. Again: finding landlords liable for injuries on rented premises is just really hard in general.

I am actually really surprised by this. The maintenance of a property seems like one of the things a landlord should be pretty much entirely responsible for.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:54 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Having been in a sorority that got shuttered when our lack of partying enthusiasm resulted in low recruitment, I think the "dark power" of the fraternities is that there is definite pressure to bring in new recruits. That's the organization's revenue/member stream. So if your particular frat chapter decided to be responsible in a way that impacted membership (no more wild parties/underage drinking might mean fewer folks want to join), you would lose out, and might even have problems with your national organization.

The worst part is that all the Greek literature is about "service" "leadership" "community" and the various charities that benefit from various events and activities. But as my chapter learned, you privilege service and good grades over recruitment at your peril.
posted by emjaybee at 12:06 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]


This article is good and deserves more respect than it's getting in this discussion. I was put off by the tone at first too, but then I read on to the depth of the research and the case the author builds and it's really strong. The tone comes off as maternalistic, which is unusual for an investigative journalism piece. But I think maybe that's because she's writing from the perspective of an angry mother? A journalist who has a right to be angry because she's done the research to back up her view? It's a long article, but it's really worth reading.

Flanagan makes a very strong case that the fraternities exist in a dangerous zone where they claim to have some responsibility and care for students, when in fact the national organizations are really doing everything they can to avoid any legal liability. And so we're left with unsupervised houses with lots of young reckless people. And then inevitably somebody makes a youthful mistake and someone ends up falling out a window, or dying of alcohol poisoning, or getting raped. And then the fraternity says "hey, not our problem, it's this one guy!". Over and over again. It is a pernicious and broken system that is bad for the colleges. The Wesleyan incidents at the end of the article really drive this point home, and I think justifies the author's anger.

The only school I've been to with a greek system was MIT, but theirs is unusual and pretty far from the fratboy stereotype. But even MIT's fraternities have managed to kill people; it was Scott Krueger dying of alcohol poisoning at Fiji in my time there. An 18 year old doesn't end up with a .401 BAC because he had one too many beers at the mandatory "Animal House Night". The folks running that party absolutely had responsibility for administering a lethal amount of alcohol to him. The response to that tragedy was to require incoming students to live on campus the first year (and to build the necessary housing). I think that's been a good change for the students and the school.
posted by Nelson at 12:14 PM on February 20 [7 favorites]


As a fellow PI (among other things) lawyer, all I would add to valkyryn's excellent explanation is that I make it a point of pride in my practice never to "melt[] away once plaintiffs recognize the powerful and monolithic forces they are up against..."
posted by radicalawyer at 12:16 PM on February 20


Re: code enforcement, see also: all the deck collapses.

There's also the problem that in a college towns, the town's fortunes are linked to the college's continued success in terms of enrolment, so the police have a disincentive to kill the party scene by strictly enforcing drinking laws.

I think the best course of action would be to lobby and inform people of the risks posed by drinking and the use of unsafe buildings for housing. But then you sort of kill the purpose of a frat, which is to bring pledges by organizing parties.

So really, it seems that the most effective way to correct the situation would be to lower the minimum drinking age so that frat stop having a quasi-legal monopoly on underage drinking by students.

So, who among us is going to start "Concerned Alumni of America", a group promoting the health and safety of students in American colleges.

I won't; I'm Canadian.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:17 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


I make it a point of pride in my practice never to "melt[] away once plaintiffs recognize the powerful and monolithic forces they are up against..."

Oh, definitely. Once I take a case, I'm in. But there's a huge difference between fading away when the going gets tough and declining representation in the first place, no?
posted by valkyryn at 12:36 PM on February 20


Having been in a sorority that got shuttered when our lack of partying enthusiasm resulted in low recruitment, I think the "dark power" of the fraternities is that there is definite pressure to bring in new recruits.

I was in a frat that was mainly composed of people who were not "fratty" in the traditional sense and this was an issue for us too. Our biggest cost, by a huge amount, was money owed to our national organization and much of that was a flat amount for insurance so when we started to bleed people a larger and larger percentage of dues was taken up by something that we never saw a benefit from. Eventually there was basically no money left to do events (and I don't just mean raging parties but like, date nights or afternoon cookouts) and at that point how do you convince other people it's worthwhile to join and why bother paying dues yourself?

I enjoyed my particular frat experience and I'm glad I did it but I'd be happy to see the whole system end.
posted by ghharr at 12:37 PM on February 20


Disclosure: I work at a college now; we only have the "good" (i.e., service-oriented) frats.

I went to a college (Tufts) for three semesters that had frats, and they were mostly organizations that abused pledges and threw parties where girls were given free beers but guys paid to get in. (Among a pretty privileged student body, the frats stood out. As someone once said, at one house "they only let pledges touch the brothers' German cars.") I transferred to Boston College which was frat-less, but had a weekend- and tailgating party culture which in many ways felt like one giant, endless frat party. However, at B.C. I never felt the same ugly atmosphere as I did around the Tufts frats.

One frat got kicked off Tufts's campus (somewhere around 1991-1194), after a series of lurid infractions and the influence of a town councilman. I forget which one it was (Sigma Nu, maybe?), but it turns out to have been the same National Scumbag Frat Franchise that my uncle was in, halfway across the country, thirty-some years before…when it was also a hive of scum and villainy.

I say burn em' all down.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:15 PM on February 20


Now, search for Louis Helmburg III and you'll get more coverage of the night in question, including what looks to be an x-ray of the lower half of a certain unfortunate/idiotic gentleman.
While those are x-rays of someone with a bottle up his/her butt, I don't think they are of the incident in question. A) the bottle is in one piece, unexploded; and B) I don't know anything about buttlaunched-bottle rockets (does that make me a winner or a loser?), but wouldn't you stick the base of the bottle in your ass and then the rocket goes in the open end of the bottle?
Either way, that is not an x-ray of the anus in question.
posted by atomicstone at 1:21 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Yeah, BC may be fratless, but they have the Mods, which are a huge compound of modular apartments that are almost entirely inhabited by seniors. The entire compound is surrounded by a fence, and when I was there the administration was trying to stop the annual tradition of roasting a whole pig over open coals in the middle of the compound.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:24 PM on February 20


which was frat-less, but had a weekend- and tailgating party culture which in many ways felt like one giant, endless frat party.

Which is one of the reasons that doing anything about frats as such is so difficult. At one of the schools I attended, there was a notorious annual party, "Rally in the Alley," conducted by students that lived in an apartment complex adjacent to campus. While I was there the university went so far as to hire a major pop band to perform on campus as counter-programming in the not-entirely-vain hope of giving freshmen something else to do.

In short, though there were no fraternities associated with the school, but you wouldn't really have known it. Heck, many dorms had a fund specifically devoted to bailing people out of jail. Given those realities, going after frats in particular not only starts to look like an imposition on the freedom of association (which is a problem for state schools) but also starts to look singularly ineffective at solving the actual problems (which is a problem for every school).

Hell, at least with the current Greek system there is an entity which is at least theoretically responsible for shenanigans and has even illusory risk management procedures. If it's just a bunch of students in an apartment complex, you got nothing. What reason is there to think that you'd end up with something different even if the Greek system disappeared entirely?
posted by valkyryn at 1:27 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


What about a state law requiring student housing to carry liability insurance for all alcohol-related injuries that occur in that student housing? It seems like half the problem here is the national parent organization's ability to say "you broke the alcohol policy, so we're not responsible." It seems like state-level legislation aimed at ALL student housing should be able to put together a diverse enough coalition of supporters to override frat lobbyist objections. (Specifically divorce these insurance policies from drinking AGE violations, because a lot of the problem here is refusing to deal with alcohol liability because 18-20 year olds on campus can't legally drink.)

Then we'll get some risk rating over time and fraternities that actually adhere to some reasonable drinking policies will have reasonable-cost insurance and fraternities that don't will become far too expensive to operate. ("Each brother this year will pay $12,000 in alcohol insurance premiums, in addition to tuition, room, and board ..." "Screw you, man!") And small private colleges with binge-drinking problems will also be held to account. Large public universities will be able to amortize the cost of the policy across a large number of students, and could even offer a discount to students who choose to live in "dry" housing, with the penalty for being caught with beer in a "dry" dorm being paying back the entirety of the policy premiums you were discounted and losing the right to live in a dry dorm.

Off-campus party houses remain a problem, but off-campus party houses are always a problem.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:59 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


What about a state law requiring student housing to carry liability insurance for all alcohol-related injuries that occur in that student housing?

That won't be lobbied against by frats. That will be lobbied against by every college, university, prep school and nunnery in this great land of ours
posted by Diablevert at 2:10 PM on February 20


What about a state law requiring student housing to carry liability insurance for all alcohol-related injuries that occur in that student housing?

Unfortunately, in the off-campus context that we're talking about, "student housing" isn't really a thing. Most off campus housing is just residential housing units on offer on the general market. Requiring landlords that might have student tenants to carry extra insurance is probably both a non-starter, politically speaking, and just a bad idea in general.

That aside, most frats and universities already have insurance. It's just that for a variety of reasons, even when there is liability (and there frequently isn't) there's usually no coverage for the kinds of things we're talking about here. And you can't just say "Insurance companies have to cover all claims that arise out of frat parties," because you'd find that there would cease to be any private market for that insurance, leaving us back where we started.

Changing that would require a massive restructuring of the system of tort liability, which is in most other respects basically working okay. I mean, sure there are problems on the fringes with products liability and sovereign immunity, but the vast majority of deserving plaintiffs (and undeserving ones, to be honest) wind up with a reasonable settlement right now. I don't see any way of changing the system with respect to frat parties that doesn't screw with that. I mean, we're talking changes like making frats and universities strictly liable for all injuries to students on their premises. It would take that drastic a change to accomplish what you're talking about here, and I don't think anyone considers that to be a good idea. Even the PI plaintiff bar might consider that a tad ambitious. I doubt they'd cry if such a bill passed, but lobbying for it might be too much even for them.
posted by valkyryn at 2:13 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Quote:
"A more specific reference on brain maturity and how most of our institutions have NOT caught up with the science.

Uh.. It says right there in the article: "The ability to designate an adolescent as “mature” or “immature” neurologically is complicated by the fact that neuroscientific data are continuous and highly variable from person to person; the bounds of “normal” development have not been well delineated ".

So it goes both ways... in a way you're right, but...

[...] is mature enough to not need close supervision

Contrary to your assertion, what the research *really* says is not that 25 should be the cut off date , it's saying that just looking at someone's age is NOT being scientific -- because not only does the research does not support using that as a hard measure of maturity, but the designation of "mature" is a very fuzzy thing that depends on the context and culture, not just brain scans.

That is, as with so many other mixtures of science and policy--various vested interests want direct answers that support their side so they can say "SCIENCE!" -- and the science seldom works on exactly the same axis as the policy does.
posted by smidgen at 11:20"
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Yeah, after I posted both of these comments, I thought I should clarify that it is more of a mobile spectrum rather than something with hard and fast numbers. I really was not advocating that "at __age the policy should be ____." Rather, I was hoping there could be *some* consideration of what has been learned about the maturing brain when setting policies concerning fraternities and sororities.
posted by RuvaBlue at 2:23 PM on February 20


Eyebrows McGee: What about a state law requiring student housing to carry liability insurance for all alcohol-related injuries that occur in that student housing?

There are several problems with that:

A. It singles out college students when tons of people that age binge drink. College students have quite the reputation, but have you seen blue-collar workers in that age bracket? Military members when they're off base? It's not just college students.

B. College students really don't have the extra money for that, and student housing is already pointlessly expensive. This would just make it even less competitive with off-campus housing.

C. I'm sure insurance like that would set a bunch of rules for what they would and wouldn't cover, which would render the whole exercise pointless. Those rules would just blend together with all of the other million rules about alcohol that college students routinely violate (age limits, dry campuses, etc). So, when incidents happen, the insurance won't cover it. Which makes the entire exercise basically shoveling money into a fire.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:31 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]


Heck, many dorms had a fund specifically devoted to bailing people out of jail.

The. Fuck.

I mean, okay, I never went to university. But lots of my friends did, and lived in res, and I have never heard of such a thing happening up here. Yeah, there's obviously dumb student shit that happens up here, no question about that; an ex of mine went to Trinity College, and being the only fully-enclosed quad on the UofT campus, drinking was legal within the quad. Frosh week there was very, very well lubricated (ahem), including boat races and keg stands.

But it didn't seem--at least to me as an outsider watching this happen--that there was the same level of... desperation? when it came to partying. Yes, students, yes, party hard mentality, and at any school in Canada you can pretty much count on Engineering students to be pretty damn rowdy and cross the line.

But the American frat level of diving to the bottom of bottle after bottle, the relentless and desperate hunt for oblivion, seems to be a much rarer animal here. To say nothing of the institutionalized level of sexual assault. I used to work with a Phi Delta Kappa guy, and his stories of the most extreme nights they ever had would, it seems, barely merit a raised eyebrow in the context of the American frat system.

It's worrying, and maybe I'm getting old but it just seems to be getting worse and worse and worse, enabled by frat alums wilfully closing their eyes to the endless toll these groups are taking on young people.

Joining a frat and partying shouldn't end up with rapes and paralysis and colostomy bags. Yet there seems to be literally no way at all to curb this.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:41 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


It's just that for a variety of reasons, even when there is liability (and there frequently isn't) there's usually no coverage for the kinds of things we're talking about here.

The fine article is about 25% about why there is no insurance coverage from the fraternities for things like this. tl;dr: the national organizations' lawyers set it up that way, shifting the risk to the individuals at the frat. The students pay for the insurance and then don't get the benefit of the coverage.
posted by Nelson at 3:13 PM on February 20


>Heck, many dorms had a fund specifically devoted to bailing people out of jail.

The. Fuck.


Before you decide that American college students are all hopeless deviants, it's worth pointing out that it was only very rarely put to use, i.e., if they used it more than once a year it was usually a single incident with more than one guy. And I don't think they'd have even considered using it for anything more serious than a drunken disorderly or something like that.
posted by valkyryn at 3:14 PM on February 20


Yet there seems to be literally no way at all to curb this.

I think you'd need to make fraternities seem less cool, or at least diminish their relative attraction. Canada has an edge here; its lower drinking age means most students can go to a real bar instead of a frat party. We also have much fewer "college towns", that is towns where one college is the main source of employment and students a considerable fraction of the population. But the ones we have (e.g. Bishop's) do have some US-style problems, if on a smaller scale.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:16 PM on February 20


True, and I've heard some insane stories come out of Queens. Still, the problem isn't nearly so endemic--and I'd agree that our more rational drinking age probably has a lot to do with it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:30 PM on February 20


So are you more or less likely to get injured if you go to a fraternity? Did I miss that fact coz it seems relevant.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:50 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


The fine article is about 25% about why there is no insurance coverage from the fraternities for things like this. tl;dr: the national organizations' lawyers set it up that way

Yes, there is some of that to be sure. But a really significant point that the article slides over somewhat is that if there's no liability, it doesn't matter whether or not there's coverage. Given the state of the law of torts, holding the frat organizations liable was always going to be an uphill battle, even in the absence of shenanigans. So while there may be some nefarious finagling going on, the basic structure of tort law isn't favorable to plaintiffs in these circumstances anyway.
posted by valkyryn at 4:42 PM on February 20


I don't know anything about buttlaunched-bottle rockets (does that make me a winner or a loser?)

Apparently this is an area where the general public needs more safety education. I can fix that.

Butt Rocket.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:58 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


So are you more or less likely to get injured if you go to a fraternity?

Many of the injuries noted occurred at fraternity houses but did not necessarily involve actual members of the fraternity. Which sorta makes sense: if you live there, chances are you know about the busted railing / open window / steep staircase / whatever, and are prepared for it; Joe Freshman, fresh off of his fifth kegstand of the evening, doesn't.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:17 PM on February 20


Drinking is legal in Australia from the age of 18. Many (most?) universities here actually have bars on campus. This sort of gross, coordinated, public inebriation is almost unheard of among adult students. It is, however, notorious among "schoolies": people who have newly graduated from high school and have gone somewhere warm for a holiday. Most of them are under 18, so they're drinking illegally. Surely there's an educational parallel here: put a lot of young people together in an environment where they can't drink legally but they can do what they want illegally and they'll go wild.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:41 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


they are actively engaged in the most significant act of self-improvement available to an American young person: college!

Note to editors: insert picture of John Belushi wearing "College" sweatshirt here, please.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:17 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


there are already ways to fix the problem instead of trying to turn colleges into day care centers

According to the article, colleges (and by extension fraternities) only really abdicated that sort of responsibility in the last 40 or 50 years.

"American students sought to wrest themselves entirely from the disciplinary control of their colleges and universities, institutions that had historically operated in loco parentis, carefully monitoring the private behavior of undergraduates. The students of the new era wanted nothing to do with that infantilizing way of existence, and fought to rid themselves of the various curfews, dorm mothers, demerit systems, and other modes of institutional oppression."
posted by JaredSeth at 4:57 AM on February 21


The opening story is a bro version of Palsgraf
posted by exogenous at 6:17 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


According to the article, colleges (and by extension fraternities) only really abdicated that sort of responsibility in the last 40 or 50 years.

It wasn't voluntarily in many cases. Remember all those protests in the 1960s? A lot of that involved protests against perceived imposition by universities themselves.
posted by valkyryn at 6:43 AM on February 21


For all the mocking of the FIPG Manual by the author, there is a lot of cribbing from it:

Article: "comparative negligence—by which an individual can acknowledge his or her own partial responsibility for an injury yet still recover damages from a defendant—had become the standard"
FIPG Manual (easily found by google): "comparative negligence—the concept that a plaintiff could be negligent and still pursue recourse against a defendant—was becoming the standard"

Article: "The insurance industry ranked American fraternities as the sixth-worst insurance risk in the country—just ahead of toxic-waste-removal companies."
FIPG Manual: "men’s national fraternities were ranked as the sixth worst risk in the insurance industry, and number seven was hazardous waste disposal companies"

Article: “You guys are nuts,” an insurance representative told a fraternity CEO in 1989, just before canceling the organization’s coverage; “you can’t operate like this much longer.”
FIPG Manual: “You guys are nuts”, one of the representatives told your editor as they rose to leave. “You can’t operate like this much longer”
posted by exogenous at 6:48 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


You mention this as if it's some sort of indictment. I imagine there could scarcely be a better source for information on the insurance industry's attitude toward fraternities and their legal liability in general that the Frat's own internal guidebooks on the same. She explicitly mentions getting her hands on two versions of the doc in order to do her research, and openly quotes from it.
posted by Diablevert at 7:00 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Canada has an edge here; its lower drinking age means most students can go to a real bar instead of a frat party.

I think one of the major factors contributing to the culture of binge drinking was raising the drinking age to 21, and socially discouraging teenagers from drinking. My dad fondly recalls that when he was in college, your first experiences with alcohol were cocktail parties at your freshman intro professor's house. So very different norms around drinking, and inebriation was something embarrassing, not the goal.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:36 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


I think one of the major factors contributing to the culture of binge drinking was raising the drinking age to 21

A fair number of college presidents agree with you.
posted by asperity at 8:32 AM on February 21


Renoroc: "Look, I hate sounding like an apologist for these wankers, but there are already ways to fix the problem instead of trying to turn colleges into day care centers. That sort of thinking will just drive up the bureaucracy and increase already bloated tuitions."

In what way is a fraternity being found liable for negligence in a civil suit "turn[ing] colleges into day care centers"? People shouldn't get so drunk they risk falling out of an open window. People should also not put a bed next to a window that is left open most of the time, thus where it is easy to roll off the bed and out the window.

Neither of those things have anything to do with turning anything into a day care center.
posted by wierdo at 1:28 PM on February 21


How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Story About Frat Life
posted by homunculus at 8:12 PM on February 21


Wow that Jezebel hit piece is a nasty piece of work.
posted by Nelson at 10:45 PM on February 21


But her latest piece for the magazine, a 14,000 word behemoth, manages to take on a different culture – frat culture – while insulting and ignoring a variety of factors.

how do you insult a factor, jezebel
posted by Sebmojo at 1:02 AM on February 22


And holy shit what a vacuously spiteful little piece.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:04 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


The final quote in the Jezebel piece (about rape, with one paragraph bolded) is a direct misreading of Flanagan. Either the writer is stupid or it's an intentional misrepresentation, I don't know, but either way it shouldn't have made it into the post. There's a lot to criticize in the original article, but this response was worse by orders of magnitudes.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:34 AM on February 22


Either the writer is stupid or it's an intentional misrepresentation,

A little of both, I imagine.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:22 AM on February 22


It's worth noting there's a tradition of hating Caitlin Flanagan, mostly in response to her counter-feminist views.
posted by Nelson at 7:41 AM on February 22


In what way is a fraternity being found liable for negligence in a civil suit "turn[ing] colleges into day care centers"?

Because the current state of the law of negligence is such that reaching such a result would require either a major transformation in the relationship between universities and their students, or a major transformation in the law of negligence in general. As the latter is simply a non-starter, the former seems more likely.

In short, as I've discussed here, the reason fraternities are frequently found not to be liable is because they frequently aren't liable under current tort law. Making them that way would require imposing significant duties on universities and/or frats that they do not currently owe, and that would tend to make them look at lot more like the proverbial "day care centers". Because if you impose a duty like that on universities, you give them the ability to exert significantly broader and more invasive control over students' lives.
posted by valkyryn at 2:48 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


I understand there's a tradition of hating Flanagan, and I assume the Jezebel article is coming out of that. But making up bullshit reasons to trash a well-research, thoughtful piece because the author isn't on your team is the definition of hackdom.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:04 PM on February 23


Funny, valkyryn. I figured if I set a bunk bed next to an open window where someone could fall out and then invited someone to come share it with me and they did indeed fall, that I would be liable for damages. Owners of property are often found liable for allowing defects that could foreseeably cause injury to remain.

What makes frat houses special?
posted by wierdo at 1:48 PM on February 23


The fraternity wouldn't be liable for that. You would. Read the rest of the thread.
posted by valkyryn at 1:59 PM on February 23


I have read the rest of the thread. Why is it that, as a landlord, if I fail to install a railing on some steps and somebody slips and falls due to that oversight that I can be found liable, but a frat house maintaining an unsafe property cannot?
posted by wierdo at 3:21 PM on February 23


The fraternity settled in the railing case, presumably because they realized they would be found liable if it went to trial.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:41 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


I don't understand how the national organizations can escape liability by coming up with rules like the official FIPG BYOB (six beers or four wine coolers? ha) system that are routinely flaunted. Surely a random audit of fraternity parties would show that they are almost never followed, and the national organization does nothing to enforce them.
posted by grouse at 5:15 PM on February 24


Why is it that, as a landlord, if I fail to install a railing on some steps and somebody slips and falls due to that oversight that I can be found liable

It's really hard to find a landlord liable in circumstances like that.
posted by valkyryn at 12:42 AM on February 25


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