By Lily Vining | Campus Life Editor
What happens when power, privilege, and partying intersect in a frat basement?
This question is a key focus for Kathryn Wanner, Director of Student Wellness Education and Violence Prevention. On Wednesday, February 23rd, at the request of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, Wanner presented a training about the power dynamics and responsibility involved in hosting a college party to the fraternity and Alpha Delta Pi sorority. If other organizations wish to participate in this training, they can reach out to Kathryn Wanner or request it here.
President Ryan Mullahey of Phi Kappa Psi noted from the outset that he hopes this conversation can help to “foster a welcoming culture” among the Greek and entire F&M community and open dialogue about party culture on campus.
During the presentation, Wanner asked the audience to identify different privileges involved in hosting a party, including control over the guest list, the type and amount of alcohol served, and the safety of attendees. She also noted that different types of privilege, including race, gender, seniority, and ingroup membership, play a vital role in the level of control and responsibility that party hosts hold. These intersecting identities contribute to and can alter the power dynamic present at any party, specifically at a private, predominantly white institution like F&M.
These power dynamics also have the ability to influence guests’ and hosts’ comfort during parties, especially when alcohol and drug use are factors as well. At a college party, there is the real threat of substance misuse, as well as higher instances of sexual assault. According to the National Institute of Justice, in more than half of sexual assault cases on college campuses, the perpetrator and/or victim are under the influence of alcohol. The audience reported that women at parties often feel they must match the number of drinks they consume with men, either unconsciously or due to male pressure. Since women typically require fewer drinks to become fully intoxicated, they are at higher risk to lose control and be unable to give consent. Women expressed concerns that with an already skewed power dynamic, they are concerned that men may take advantage of their state, especially with other privileges and powers factoring in as well.
Audience members also noted the connection between race and substance use in the power dynamic. Race may play a role in the comfort and safety students feel with contacting public safety or the police should there be a substance-related incident, such as overconsumption, violence, or injury. Age is also at play in interactions with authority over substances, as rules regarding drinking age often appear in college party settings.
For these reasons, having a reliable system for monitoring parties is essential for keeping these powers and privileges in check. Phi Kappa Psi President Ryan explained the rules and regulations that Phi Psi holds for hosting parties, including measures taken before, during, and after the party. Some of these measures include Public Safety pre-checks of the event space, compiling a list of attendees’ birth dates and college houses. This information is necessary in case of disciplinary measures, as well as to gauge alcohol supply based on one drink per hour for every attendee who is over 21 years old. Mullahey discussed how the fraternity’s executive board, sober event monitors, and the college work together to make events safer and more enjoyable for both the hosts and the attendees.
Party attendees also have a role in keeping themselves and others safe. Molly LaVoe, the Wellness Specialist for Alpha Delta Pi, shared initiatives that the sorority takes to ensure that their members stay safe and enjoy themselves at college parties. In keeping with the sorority’s open motto, “We live for each other,” LaVoe stressed the necessity of open conversation among the chapter and guaranteeing that everyone has someone to walk home with after a party. Students who are not affiliated with a campus organization may not have a support system for getting home safely, so party monitors pay close attention to the wellbeing of these attendees when they leave. While there are measures that Phi Psi has in place to host safely, attendees of the party must also hold responsibility for themselves and their group members. “Both organizations have a shared commitment to keep everyone safe,” says Lavoe.
At the end of the presentation, Wanner stepped out of the room to allow for open dialogue among the chapters under the direction of student facilitators. Members of both chapters discussed changes that they have already put in place to ensure the safety and comfort of hosts and guests and brainstormed ways in which they can continue to improve.
The presentation showed that despite the power dynamics involved with hosting and attending a party, both organizations share a common goal: keeping parties safe, inclusive, and fun. “The discussion with Phi Psi was an incredible opportunity to strengthen our Panhellenic relationship on campus and form new bonds between our members,” says Alpha Delta Pi President Bryn Fitchett. Both she and Mullahey have expressed a commitment to keeping this dialogue open and advocating for changes that pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable party culture at F&M.
The Office of Wellness Education and Violence Prevention and the Executive Boards of Phi Kappa Psi and Alpha Delta Pi consented to share their discussion in hopes of bringing awareness of the issues and their preventative initiatives to the greater campus community.
Sophomore Lily Vining is the Campus Life Editor. Her email address is email@example.com.