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UNC students are tasked with managing the risks of parties, alcohol

 Ion Outterbridge, the coordinator of the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Community Involvement, speaks to the presidents and risk managers of UNC's fraternities.
Ion Outterbridge, the coordinator of the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Community Involvement, speaks to the presidents and risk managers of UNC's fraternities.

In the week that follows, Sigma Phi Society members fill the document with names of guests invited to their party. This list will be used to determine who can enter the house. The most work happens the night of the party, starting around 9:45 p.m. when Calder, the risk management chairman, chooses a spot for the bar.

“We try to keep it in a location where people can see what’s being served, but also allows the party to flow,” he said, saying he ensures the bar is stocked with shot glasses for measuring alcohol. He also does last-minute cleaning and checks the noise level.

Two fraternity members take their places by the front door, two others take the back door, and two more will man the bar.

When the party begins, Calder remains alert.

“During parties I’m kind of the point man in the sense that people come to me with complaints, and I try to help fix it,” said the junior.

These duties range from making sure cars are parked correctly to making sure members know how to intervene in potentially dangerous situations. Two sober fraternity members, chosen a week in advance, are assigned to watch the party and make sure nothing gets out of hand. A third is tasked with giving rides to guests who need one.

Calder’s job is to implement so-called risk management policies that address drugs, alcohol, hazing, sexual abuse, harassment and fire safety. Aaron Bachenheimer, director of UNC’s Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Community Involvement, works with the 55 fraternities and sororities on campus to shape and enforce these policies.

The policies aim to put fraternities — identified as the sixth highest insurance risk by Willis, a firm that provides liability insurance to more than 60 national fraternities — low on the “ladder of risk.”

“Each time we violate one of the guidelines, we climb up the rung of the ladder and increase the chances we’ll fall from the ladder and harm our organization,” said Ion Outterbridge, assistant director of the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Community Involvement, at Monday’s meeting of Interfraternity Council risk chairmen and presidents.

The IFC is the governing body for 23 of UNC’s fraternities, which typically live in houses near campus, at which they host parties, tailgates and other events with alcohol.

The North-American Interfraternity Conference, of which most IFC fraternities are members, requires risk management policies, which has led some to add positions devoted to keeping members as safe as possible.

“We’re not talking about perfection. We’re talking about doing common sense types of things that would help reduce risk,” Bachenheimer said. “Students often think of policy in a negative light, like, ‘Ugh, another rule.’ But the reality is most policies, most laws exist to prevent something negative from happening.”

The drinking problem

Much of the risk at fraternities stems from the use and abuse of alcohol. Bachenheimer said fraternities are not allowed to purchase or provide alcohol at parties, something Outterbridge reiterated to those in attendance at Monday’s meeting.

“Fraternity money cannot pay for alcohol,” Outterbridge said, receiving laughs in response. “Did y’all know that? You sure?”

There are other rules around alcohol and parties that help reduce the likelihood of theft, vandalism, injury and sexual assault — only some of which are actually put into practice.

IFC fraternity parties must be BYOB, or alcohol can be provided by third-party vendors. Rush and new member events must not include alcohol. Bulk common sources of alcohol — including kegs, cases of beer and party juice — are not allowed. IDs should be checked at both the door and the bar. Drinking games — from pong to dares to drinking shots that equate to one’s age — are explicitly banned.

Calder said fraternity members in Sigma Phi serve mixed drinks and beer — never party juice — but do not check IDs.

Open parties are also prohibited in all IFC fraternities.

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Matthew Lovejoy, president of UNC’s chapter of Beta Theta Pi, said the fraternity uses security guards and guest lists to ensure safety of members and guests at social functions.

“The line that’s commonly made fun of is, ‘Who do you know that’s here?’” he said. “It’s kind of shitty that everyone can’t come in. But from our perspective, if we don’t know you, we can’t take your word for your character.”

Peter Diaz, a member of Phi Delta Theta and president of the IFC, said some problems are easier to tackle than others. He said while alcohol policies are difficult to enforce, the use of guest lists and wrist bands has caught on and limited open parties.

“We’re talking about having a party patrol sort of thing, which isn’t really a popular idea, as you can imagine,” Diaz said. “No one wants to go around and be busting parties, especially not me.”

And to address sexual assault prevention, new IFC members are trained in One Act programs, which started in 2014.

“More often than not, everyone has good intentions and everyone wants everyone to be safe,” Lovejoy said. “Being a social organization doesn’t mean just having parties — it means being socially aware of everything.”

A history of liability

Risk management as it applies to fraternities and sororities originated in the mid-1980s with the Fraternal Information and Programming Group, which consisted of fraternity insurers. The group organized to talk about ways to reduce insurance costs and risk. Bachenheimer said even chapters not affiliated with the group now use guidelines nearly identical to the ones developed by FIPG in that meeting.

Lori Hart, national director of prevention education for Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, said it is common for a student to be designated to handle a chapter’s risk management.

“You can’t play adult half the time. So if you’re going to run the chapter, then that means you’re going to manage and execute the event planning of that chapter. But that’s not to say you’re alone,” she said. “Our job is to provide education, training and mature adult guidance.”

Diaz said it is better this way.

“Fraternity members and students know these chapters in and out more than the administrators do, so I think they need to be the ones working with administrators and making these policies,” he said.

Hart said it’s impossible to measure how effective risk managers are.

“That’s the sad part about it because I think there’s some people that do so much good and really do create change,” she said. “No one comes back when you’ve taken their keys and says, ‘You saved my life last night.’ They’re usually just pissed that you took the keys. But that’s prevention.”

Bachenheimer said when fraternities do violate policies, a judicial board governed by the IFC holds a hearing. The board can impose sanctions, such as social restrictions or community service. He said if risk chairmen are found to have taken reasonable steps to avoid or reduce risk, they are generally not punished.

Hart said the landscape of risk management changed radically after the drinking age was raised in 1984.

“The reality is 75 percent of undergraduates are under 21,” she said. “All men’s and women’s national and international sororities and fraternities have risk management policies. Every single one of those policies prohibits sororities and fraternities from providing the alcohol. That is the policy. Now, the practice of many men’s fraternities is, ‘We’ll provide the alcohol.’ The practice of many women is, ‘We’re going to drink their alcohol and let the fraternities take on all the risk and not be a part of the dialogue or the solution.’”

All national sororities, including UNC chapters, are dry, meaning alcohol isn’t allowed in the house — which reduces their risk considerably.

“It’s insurance and liability,” Bachenheimer said. “It’s a much more pleasant, calm, academically oriented environment to have a substance-free living facility.”