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The official byo system is like something dreamed up by a committee of Soviet bureaucrats and Irish nuns

The official byo system is like something dreamed up by a committee of Soviet bureaucrats and Irish nuns

If he passes, he hands over his ID for inspection

It begins with the composition-no fewer than 24 hours before the party-of a comprehensive guest list. This guest list does not serve the happy function of ensuring a perfect mix of types and temperaments at the festivity; rather, it limits attendance-and ensures that the frat is in possession of “a witness list in the event something does occur which may end up in court two or more years later.” Provided a fraternity member-let’s call him Larry-is older than 21 (which the great majority of members, like the great majority of all college students, are not), he is allowed to bring six (and no more) beers or four (and no more) wine coolers to the party. (FIPG’s admiration for the wine-cooler four-pack suggests that at least some aspects of the foundational document-including its recommendation for throwing a M*A*S*H-themed party as recently as 2007-have not received much of an overhaul since its first edition, published in the mid?’80s.) Okay, so Larry brings a six-pack. Does he appear to have already consumed any alcohol? Is he in any way “known” to have done so? Next he must do business with a “sober monitor.” This person relieves him of the six-pack, hands him a ticket indicating the precise type of beer he brought, and ideally affixes a “non breakable except by cutting” wristband to his person; only then can Larry retrieve his beers, one at a time, for his own personal consumption. If any are left over at the end of the party, his fraternity will secure them until the next day, when Larry can be reunited with his unconsumed beers, unless his frat decided to “eliminate” them overnight. Weaknesses in the system include the fact that all of these people coming between Larry and his beer-the sober monitors and ID checkers and militarized barkeeps-are Larry’s fraternity brothers, who are among his closest buddies and who have pledged him lifelong fealty during candlelit ceremonies rife with Masonic mumbo jumbo and the fluttering language of 19th-century romantic friendship. Note also that these policies make it possible for fraternities to be the one industry in the country in which every aspect of serving alcohol can be monitored and managed by people who are legally too young to drink it.

The first stop, depending on which fraternity he belongs to: a “sober check point,” at which he is subjected to an examination

Clearly, a great number of fraternity members will, at some point in their undergraduate career, violate their frat’s alcohol policy regarding the six beers-and just as clearly, the great majority will never face any legal consequences for doing so. But when the inevitable catastrophes do happen, that policy can come to seem more like a cynical hoax than a real-world solution to a serious problem. When something terrible takes place-a young man plummets from a roof, a young woman is assaulted, a fraternity brother is subjected to the kind of sexual sadism that appears all too often in fraternity lawsuits-any small violation of policy can leave fraternity members twisting in the wind. Consider the following scenario: Larry makes a small, human-size mistake one night. Instead of waiting for the slow drip of six warm beers, he brings a bottle of Maker’s Mark to the party, and-in the spirit of not being a weirdo or a dick-he shares it, at one point pouring a couple of ounces into the passing Solo cup of a kid who’s running on empty and asks him for a shot. Larry never sees the kid again that night-not many people do; he ends up drinking himself to death in an upstairs bedroom. In the sad fullness of time, the night’s horror is turned into a lawsuit, in which Larry becomes a named defendant. Thanks in part to the guest/witness list, Larry can be cut loose, both from the expensive insurance he was required to help pay for (by dint of his dues) as a precondition of membership, and from any legal defense paid for by the organization. What will happen to Larry now?

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