Dry house policies up for debate

The Phi Delta Theta fraternity filed a suit to be reinstated as a fraternity.

A current lawsuit in Pennsylvania could send a message about alcohol regulations to greek organizations across the country, including fraternities and sororities at the University.

Pennsylvania State University’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity filed suit against its national chapter in order to be reinstated as a fraternity after being suspended for drinking. The national chapter considers itself alcohol-free, often referred to as “dry.”

Fraternity members filed the lawsuit on March 31 because the chapter’s suspension caused “immediate and irreparable harm to the students” and the national chapter guidelines had not been officially adopted by their house.

While alcohol-related lawsuits do happen in college settings, it’s usually with individuals, said Bill Dane, a University Student Legal Service staff attorney. He said it isn’t common for fraternities to enter into lawsuits with their national organizations.

Dane also said he hasn’t seen a case like this at the University.

The Pennsylvania case is likely to take more than six months, and Dane said those who filed the suit will need to prove they have been caused considerable harm.

The University doesn’t have a Phi Delta Theta chapter currently on campus, but three houses – FarmHouse, Alpha Tau Omega and Phi Gamma Delta – are dry, Chad Ellsworth, the coordinator at the Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life, said.

The University Interfraternity Council’s policy on alcohol is broad, with rules that comply with the law and University policy, but there is no overarching policy. Each fraternity typically adopts its rules from the national organization.

James Gray, president of the University’s Alpha Tau Omega chapter, said any fraternity that was opened after 1994 would be considered substance-free.

Gray said being a dry house attracts positive candidates because those recruited aren’t as interested in drinking.

“You get really quality guys that want to join a worthwhile organization that will actually benefit them and benefit the community,” he said.

The fraternity’s philanthropy is also directed toward the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Avi Sethi, president of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, said the national fraternity is dry, but the University’s chapter members are allowed to have alcohol in their house.

Though alcohol is allowed, Sethi said the fraternity doesn’t use it for recruitment purposes because it wants to appeal to those who are really interested in the fraternal organization.

“We have a very interesting dynamic at Beta where, yes, we have a wet house and we can party in our house,” he said. “But when it comes to recruitment of new members, we look down upon having any alcohol present.”

Sandy Deveney, a 1970 Penn State alumnus and former Phi Delta Theta member there, said prohibition didn’t work, so education is the best option for keeping college students safe.

“You’re not going to keep college kids from drinking,” he said.