Can sororities at Stanford host parties?

Nov. 3, 2017, 12:27 a.m.

While Greek organizations and boozy campus parties may go hand-in-hand in American pop culture, the portrayal is only true of half of Greek life. Gaggles of freshmen descending upon the Row on a weekend may dance the night away at any one of the seven housed fraternities, but one place they invariably skip over is the Cowell Cluster, home to Stanford’s three housed sorority chapters.

While Greek organizations — specifically fraternities — may host more all-campus parties than any other student group, sororities rarely do the same. This is true not just at Stanford: Most sorority chapters around the country face some kind of restriction on large parties where alcohol is served. The Daily investigates why the other half of Greek life isn’t represented in the campus party scene, and whether it’s a bad thing after all.

National chapter restrictions

Why don’t sororities throw parties? According to Inter-Sorority Council (ISC) Vice President Julia Duncan ’18, it’s really more of a question of whether they can.

“Individual sororities’ national organizations have rules against holding parties that largely [stem] from their national insurance policy and the liability that would come with throwing parties,” Duncan said.

Duncan clarified that she does not know of a sweeping rule from the national governing body for Greek life organizations, the National Penhellenic Conference, which expressly bans sororities from holding parties. However, though there is no one governing policy – either from NPC or from Stanford – that disallows the female half of Greek life from holding parties, most, if not all, sororities follow rules set down by their own national leadership that say as much.

Because individual chapters have a complicated legal relationship with their governing national agencies — including insurance coverage for incidents involving alcohol – many sororities simply forbid their members from holding events that might implicate the larger organization.

But that’s not to say sororities at Stanford never throw parties. They arguably do, only on a much smaller scale. For example, like many Stanford organizations, most sororities throw a Special Dinner, or Special D, at least once a quarter. The same goes for sorority formals. At both functions, alcohol is typically served, and sorority members may invite friends and dates who are not part of the chapter.

In these cases, the definitions get hazy. Duncan says it’s about what sororities here feel they can get away with without alerting their national organizations.

“Most chapters skirt the rules on this,” she said. “Most national organizations have rules that require third party vendors of alcohol because the liability shifts to the third party – so the vendor’s insurance covers the event, not the chapter’s.”

Duncan added that chapters can expect no help from the national organization if they break the rules. If an incident such as an alcohol transport or property damage were to occur at a party where alcohol has been provided in the absence of a third-party vendor, the individuals in the chapter would be liable rather than the national organization.

“It’s actually very legally precarious for sororities to throw Special Ds and provide alcohol themselves,” Duncan said.

Running a Special D without proper insurance coverage might be risky, but Duncan explained that the stakes are much higher for all-campus parties, where the possibility of police involvement as well as health and safety concerns is usually higher.

Pros and cons

Legal risks may not be the only reason sororities are reluctant to host large parties in their houses. Alpha Phi social chair Alexandra Hellman ’19 said that the restriction itself strikes her as unfairly gendered in principle but that planning an all-campus is not a particularly appealing prospect in practice.

“On the one hand I think it’s kinda sexist that sororities can’t throw parties while frats can, which gives them the power to determine a lot on campus,” Hellman said. “On the other hand, all-campuses and big parties are a massive hassle… Personally, I’m happy I don’t have to go through that as a member of a sorority.”

Hellman added that liability issues for all-campus parties afflict fraternities too. Although national fraternity organizations do not have the same ban on parties, the various risks associated with serving alcohol to a large crowd of students are no less concerning.

Duncan agreed, saying that she would rather not have an all-campus in her living space. She also commented that many people – especially upperclassmen – may not be keen on going to a party thrown by a sorority in the first place.

“People are already so critical of the night life at Stanford, and I can imagine sororities throwing a party to be the next punchline,” Duncan said.

Kappa Alpha Theta social chair Kiki Couchman ’20 brought up another reason to eschew the all-campus: social insecurity.

“A lot of my good guy friends are in KA and they’re on probation right now, and that’s like a whole issue too, because they’re not able to have all-campuses,” said Couchman. “They just feel inferior to, like,  Kappa Sig or whatever, because they feel like they don’t have their name out there and nobody’s paying any attention.”

She added, “It’s interesting, because it’s just like, [sororities] are always like that.”

Greek bureaucracy

Couchman does wish that things would change, however.

“Row houses can throw parties, and that’s totally fine,” she said. “So it’s just kinda weird that we’re so attached to this name and this organization. It makes it a whole power thing.”

For Couchman, the party issue reveals the sometimes uncomfortable relationship between the individual chapters that most girls see when they rush a sorority and the sweeping national organizations that figure much less in their actual experience. 

While the three buildings in Cowell might be physically similar to any other Row house, entry requires more than just a good draw number. The prize at the end of rush is not just membership in a close-knit campus community, but a sprawling national group complete with its own traditions and idiosyncrasies. Couchman said she personally doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

“I think Greek life will be abolished before the policies change,” Couchman said. “It’s a bureaucratic system. It’s just not gonna happen.”


Contact Emma Fiander at efiander ‘at’

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