By Paul Sanders
Taken from U-wire
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 6, 1998

Virginia ban won't curb student drinking

(U-WIRE) CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Something about University of Virginia attracts drinkers. No one can say exactly what it is, but there is no denying its presence. The very significant role that alcohol plays in the university's culture is a point of much pride for many students and alumni. We enjoy bragging about it to those outside our circle. As the old joke goes, whenever two or three university students come together in a non-academic setting, there is bound to be a fifth.

Precisely because of this nearly universal acceptance, the informal alcohol-ban agreement stunned so many of us. After all, that is what fraternities do - they make alcohol available to essentially any desiring student.

The proposal making fraternities exclusively "bring your own beverage" has surprised everyone who thought that alcohol at the university was invincible. But fraternity members themselves are the most shocked. The fact that Dean of Students Robert T. Canevari, who wrote the proposal, was himself a member of a university fraternity makes the ruling all the more difficult to swallow.

Unlike many of the customs university students uphold - streaking the Lawn, not voting in elections, etc. -drinking is one tradition that actually has historical basis. According to University Historian Raymond Bice, the student body has been gulping massive amounts of alcohol for a long time.

In the years following the Civil War at the university, for example, there was much concern, both within the university administration and the local community, that students were drinking too much. In fact, Charlottesville residents helped raise money to build the Chapel in 1890 - at least in part - because they hoped it might result in fewer drunk students.

Those locals presumably were very disappointed, as alcohol has - virtually without interruption - remained an integral part of student life for over 100 years. Bice said that even during prohibition there was no shortage of beer and liquor on Grounds.

During the 1940s, university President Colgate Darden publicly expressed concern that the university's academic reputation was tarnished by the excessive drinking. He especially was concerned with liquor bottles continually on display in the windows of Lawn rooms.

Most students today at least are familiar with more recent stories of annual parties likes Easters and Midwinters that helped create the university's reputation as one of the nation's wildest campuses.

Of course alcohol has not been confined exclusively to fraternities. But at a place where, according to Bice, fraternity members historically have constituted well over 50 percent of the student body - though they don't now - it is safe to assume that fraternities have been centers of drinking for their entire existence.

While few dispute alcohol's perpetual presence, many university alumni argue there is a tremendous difference between the role fraternities played in the past and the one they play now.

For example, Sandy Gilliam II, member of the class of 1955, believes fraternities have strayed from their intended purposes. For many years, especially before women enrolled in the early 1970s, fraternities were involved in virtually every aspect of student life. They have since evolved into almost exclusively social organizations.

By forcing fraternities to make alcohol less of a priority, the administration seems to echo the concerns of at least some fraternity alumni. Namely, they think fraternities need more justification for their existence than parties.

Many fraternity members, alternatively, are concerned the ban will seriously damage the health of the fraternity system. This need not be the case. The ban might not hurt the system to the degree many assume it will. After all, for many years in the middle part of the century, nearly all fraternity parties were BYOB. That was a time when fraternity systems flourished. If the system could run successfully then, it could - with some innovative thinking on the part of the Interfraternity Council and the fraternity system - be just as healthy now.

The fraternities should survive this ban. It may even strengthen them and help the university. But if the goal of the administration is to reduce the number of students who drink, the ban certainly will disappoint. If fraternities do not supply alcohol, others will. At the university, we like to drink. This apparently has been true for a long time and there is no indication it will change anytime soon.

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