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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Greek Row Social Ban Endangers Student Body

Ashley Yang |
November 5, 2013 | 10:14 a.m. PST


Banning Row functions does not protect anyone. (Brian Lee/Neon Tommy)
Banning Row functions does not protect anyone. (Brian Lee/Neon Tommy)
It’s all the student body has been talking about since the news broke: in response to the serious accident suffered by a non-USC student at a Thursday night party at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity several weeks ago, the USC administration has adopted a new level of severity in restricting parties on “The Row.” Although no new policies regulating Greek social gatherings were instituted (the administration is merely enforcing the social policy in a line-by-line fashion), the social calendar crunch was felt by the entire student body. That should have kept the rowdy ones in line, right? 

Except this happens every year. Literally, every single year, to the point that such a move is colloquially known as “moROWtorium.” Last year, specifically, a similar situation involving an “unacceptably high number of alcohol-related hospital transports from the Row” led to a Row-wide social ban that was enforced by LAPD officers parked on 28th Street. So why is this an expected phenomenon every fall? Because after the restrictions are lifted, nothing ever changes. The administration never invests in taking simple steps to break the vicious cycle.  

With Halloween right around the corner from the start of the crackdown, we all knew that the Row would not be stopped. Our expectations were met; at least one large-scale party was organized by several USC fraternities at a venue far off campus on Thursday night. Thankfully, no accidents occurred there. But if one did, the victim would have been in far worse shape had they been partying on 28th Street. 

With all the perceived danger of going out to the Row that specifically stems from alcohol consumption (sexual assault and rape is a whole different story that I won’t get into here), there has not been a case of a student actually sustaining permanent damage as a result of alcohol poisoning on the Row (the tragedy that befell sophomore Thu Yain “Roy” Kyaw, though suspected to be alcohol-related, has not been linked to Greek Row). No one has ended up in a coma or died. This argument might seem too extreme, until you visit sites like this one that detail numerous deaths that were directly caused by excessive alcohol consumption at fraternity parties. No matter how much USC students complain about DPS’s tendency to be a overcautious buzzkill, they are evidently effective in making sure that those who drank too much and need medical attention receive it in a timely manner. Had an incident occurred at the Halloween party that was essentially forced off campus, the student might not have received the same level of attention as they would have if the party took place on the Row, with a fire station several blocks away and with the party under the jurisdiction of campus security. 

The simple fact is, every large university across America has students that drink a little (or a lot) more than they should. Every such university with a prominent party scene, like USC, sends students to the hospital on weekends for alcohol poisoning. The fact that alcohol transports are common in no way makes them acceptable, but it should shed some light on the question that the USC administration has seen fit to focus on within the larger issue of alcohol abuse, one that arose out of the Town Hall forum on October 29th: “Why is there so much binge drinking in the first place?”

That question has an answer so painfully obvious that it confuses me why this was such a mystery in the first place. College students drink, and drink excessively, because they can. College is a time when students are released from their parents’ homes, but aren’t fully integrated members of society yet. It is a time when the consequences for irresponsible behavior are still minimal. At this stage of pseudo-adolescence and pseudo-adulthood, we think we’re invincible, that nothing will really happen to us as a result of our bad choices. And by the time someone ends up in the back of an ambulance because they have toed the line a little too far in, it’s too late. 

Working hard and partying harder has been a decades-old mantra of this student body. The degree to which not only Greek life, but partying in general, is integrated into USC’s social culture is akin to that of a large state university (and many of the images that go with it). Therefore, the problems happening here really aren’t that unique. Their seriousness should not be diminished in any way, but the administration really does need to stop portraying excessive alcohol consumption as a “USC problem” and view it more broadly as a “colleges across America problem.” The administration can take every measure conceivable to prevent alcohol abuse and limit the number of health hazards that USC students are susceptible to, but it must also accept that the target audience is in fact, college students. The variables are simply too numerous and volatile to be controlled, and as a result, some incidents will invariably occur, even at the highest level of supervision. 

The fact is, college students “go hard.” They test their limits. Some of them might know where those limits are, but opt not to respect them anyway. College is the safest place for young people to work this phase out of their systems, because there are safety nets in place for when things really get out of control. Sanctions on the Row won’t stop anyone from partying; it just pushes people to get just as crazy in environments that might not have support systems in place. Such actions endanger the student body more than individual alcohol abuse and increase the possibility that the next accident will will involve a USC student.

  For the adults who have to deal with the consequences of us toeing the line, it’s a scary prospect and a tough job. But that doesn’t justify the high-handed approach that the administration has adopted, which not only does not address the problem in a fair, objective manner, but actually is an outright refusal to affect genuine change. From the perspective of the students, we should feel just as slighted by our university as outraged. The university leadership would evidently rather utilize the same broken approach rather than find ways to incentivize the Greek system itself to make the Row safer. 

The USC administration is rapidly losing its social capital with the student body because it is glaringly evident that the social ban is a public relations maneuver, whose sole purpose is to convince concerned parents and the public that USC is “appropriately sanctioning” a social scene that has spiraled out of control. Hospital transports were a weekly phenomenon before the restrictions went into effect - how many constitutes  an “unacceptably high number,” and who decides that? It is no coincidence that the tipping point occurred on the same week as the LMU student’s accident - which, as opposed to the transports, actually received coverage by major news outlets. USC may claim that the social ban is a consequence of a combination of the two, but it is actually a last-ditch effort to appear effective by an administration whose inability to relate to campus social culture created the problem in the first place. 


Reach Columist Ashley Yang here.



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