It’s been almost two years since Dan Tratt lost a fraternity brother to alcohol poisoning, and he hasn’t forgotten.
MSU fraternities work to curb potentially dangerous partying behavior
Evergreen Ave. When police arrived, he wasn’t breathing. His blood-alcohol level was .35 at the time of death.
For two months after McMillen’s death, the Interfraternity Council, or IFC, banned parties at MSU fraternities. The IFC is compromised of 22 of MSU’s 25 fraternities, according to MSU’s website for registered student organizations.
Tratt, now IFC president, spent the time with other fraternity leaders creating policies they hoped would prevent the death of another brother.
“We took a good, hard look at why this is happening,” Tratt said.
“We completely revoked our social policy to basically be hard on the guys.”
Although the IFC already had rules in place to promote safe partying, it was the loss of a brother that made Tratt take the policies to heart.
“We cracked down on pushing — not so much punishment — but education,” he said. “We lost an individual. Punishing a fraternity is not going to change what has happened.”
More than a year later, the impact of the changes are beginning to show.
Addressing the issues
For psychology senior Nick Charboneau, who has been to numerous fraternity parties in the past, the events mean crowded rooms, blaring music and spilled beer.
Alpha Epsilon Pi President Josh Schenk said he’s seen a man urinate on the side of Alpha Epsilon Pi, who turned and continued urinating on a brother during a party.
International relations sophomore Erica Zentner said men have treated her with disrespect at parties, and, as a woman, she sometimes worries for her safety at fraternities.
“I would be more cautious there,” Zentner said. “You hear stories about drugs and roofies.”
The “Animal House” stereotype sometimes still lingers here at MSU, Tratt said. But fraternity members are taking steps to make partying a safer experience, he said.
Under IFC’s current social events policy, which was implemented January 2010, fraternities are required to register their parties with the IFC prior to the event.
Before every registered party, IFC and Panhellenic Council officers tour the fraternity house with a checklist in hand — verifying there are working fire alarms, sober brothers to monitor the party and no glass bottles, among other rules. Other university IFC chapters, such as the Kettering University IFC, have similar rules — although sober monitors are not required there.
Fraternities found in violation face fines from $250-$500. Penalties are highest for not registering a party or refusing to allow an IFC or Panhellenic Council member to inspect the party because without an inspection, fraternities could be in violation of other safety precautions, Tratt said.
Still, failing to register is the most common party policy violation at MSU, he said.
The party at Theta Chi fraternity, 453 Abbot Road, on Oct. 27 was not registered with the IFC, Tratt said.
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“(Not registering) was a miscommunication between myself and our social chair,” Theta Chi President Kyle Laker said. “It’s not like we were trying to hide anything — it was a miscommunication.”
During an investigation, East Lansing fire officials found numerous smoke detectors either were disabled or removed from the house before it was set ablaze on multiple floors.
As fire alarms sounded, people lay drunk to the point of unconsciousness, oblivious to the noise or unable to evacuate on their own, East Lansing Fire Marshall Bob Pratt said.
Laker said members were not aware the smoke detectors were not working.
East Lansing city officials informed the Theta Chi’s Alumni Corporation of Beta Zeta, who owns the property, of the non-working smoke detectors in a letter sent Sept. 30.
Laker said the chapter plans to improve communication with the IFC to make sure similar situations do not happen again in the future.
A watchful big brother
Rules, such as registering parties, ultimately are for the protection of fraternity members and guests, Schenk said.
Brothers watch the entrances, checking for student IDs and making sure no one who already is too intoxicated or belligerent enters the house and causes problems, Schenk said.
But even with sober monitors, controlling the crowds of people can be difficult, Tratt said.
“I think (having a sober monitor is) good, but I don’t think one sober person could control whole crowds of people,” Charboneau said.
Schenk, who is sober for every party at Alpha Epsilon Pi will try to provide bread, water and a trash bin for anyone who gets sick, he said.
Often, college students don’t call police if a party gets out of control or someone is violently ill because they’re afraid of getting minor in possession, or MIP, charges or other citations, East Lansing police officer Jeff Walsh said.
“Our job is to ensure that individual gets the treatment necessary to be safe,” Walsh. “The last thing we’re worried about is issuing citations for MIPs.”
Up to 10 sober monitors typically are present at Theta Chi parties and will call an ambulance if someone is alone and sick, Laker said.
The monitors also are present for security purposes and roam through the house during parties.
“Now we teach fraternity members to call 911 and take care of that person,” Tratt said. “Trust me, calling 911 and having cops come to a party is a thousand times better than the alternative, which could be losing someone.”
Down in numbers
Since the change in policy and enforcement, the number of reported assaults at IFC fraternities decreased from 11 in 2009 to four in 2010, and the number of reported liquor law violations decreased from 14 in 2009 to 11 in 2010, according to East Lansing Police records.
The number of MIP arrests made at MSU fraternity houses also went down, from 13 in 2009 to 10 in 2010.
Police most often deal with fights, noise complaints and underage drinking at fraternities, and incidences have remained steady in recent years, Walsh said.
Common alcohol sources, such as jungle juice or a keg, are not allowed at fraternity parties, according to the IFC’s social event policy.
Violating Michigan law by providing alcohol to minors also is a violation of IFC policy.
Increased penalties and accountability in the greek system might have caused the slight drop in reported crime, Tratt said.
“No fraternity is allowed to provide alcohol or to encourage people who don’t want to drink and be there — we take that seriously,” he said.
“If we ever found a fraternity brother providing alcohol, that fraternity would immediately
go to a discipline mediation (and receive) a punishment fine.”
With education program, the IFC hopes crime will continue to decrease in fraternities, Tratt said.
Members pledged to “help stop alcohol and drug-related deaths in the MSU greek community by partying smart,” this semester as part of the Greeks Stay Strong campaign.
All members completed a mandatory safety session with Olin Health Center earlier this semester, and a crisis management session will be held in January to help sober monitors plan ways to deal with out-of-control or dangerous situations.
“We’ve been taking our guidelines quite seriously,” Laker said. “Things are definitely starting to change in our house, and I can see that in the greek community (as well).”
Read more on this story, including a comparison of crime numbers at MSU fraternities to those at neighboring University of Wisconsin.