Greek community rocked by substance abuse incidents

After three isolated incidents of substance abuse poisoning at Greek life formals, President Ruben Armiñana warned all members of the Greek community that he would suspend Greek life if similar incidents happened again.

“I have asked [Chief Student Affairs Officer] Matthew Lopez-Phillips to look into this matter before considering any actions,” Armiñana told the STAR. “Clearly, I am not going to pre-judge.” Lopez-Phillips declined to comment. 

If some sort of suspension action were taken, Sonoma State would not be the first university in the California State University system to do so. CSU Chico suspended fraternities Pi Kappa Alpha for three years and Sigma Chi for two years last May, both for alcohol-related incidents.

While these particular incidents happen to relate to Greek life, alcohol use by both minors and legal consumers is not a secret of college life. Armiñana’s warning was only to Greek life members and is by no means guaranteed, but the incidents highlight the issue of alcohol and substance abuse campus-wide. 

“I don’t think the issue of an excessive use of drugs or alcohol is an isolated Greek issue,” said Heather Howard Martin, director of the Center for Student Leadership, Involvement and Service (CSLIS). “I think it is a societal issue around college students. The excessive use of hard alcohol seems to be the norm and the drink of choice. Brining a handle to a party seems to be the drink of choice. When drinking straight from the bottle, one loses [track of] how much they consume.”    

“I don’t think that we can blame the individual, or even the individual organizations – we need to blame the whole,” said Skye Dow, an unaffiliated freshman. “I don’t think substance abuse is amplified in the Greek community as a whole. We’re wrongfully targeting them based off their Greek affiliation.”

An anonymous member of Alpha Omicron Pi said she doesn’t believe there is a drug or alcohol problem in the Greek community. “I think in general, college students like to experiment, let loose and have fun,” she said. “If that means resorting to alcohol or drugs, that’s a personal choice.”

A member of Gamma Phi Beta shared similar sentiments. 

“Some individuals may have an alcohol problem, but there are strict rules in Greek life where people are not allowed to be associated with any alcohol during sorority events—at least for Gamma Phi Beta,” she said.

However, another member of Gamma Phi Beta disagreed.

“I feel that Greek life adds more pressure onto teens to feel like they have to drink,” she said. “Hazing is technically banned, but I am sure there is still some form going on. I think within the youth culture, it is considered ‘cool’ to get drunk to fit in at parties.”

Michael Rood, an unaffiliated freshman, also felt that substance abuse is a common occurrence. 

“I would argue that the Greek community, like every community, encourages substance use. When a group of people get together, common interests are more freely shared under the influence of substances,” said Rood.

Some Greek members want to change the way others view fraternities and sororities.

“I know every Greek organization on campus is doing their absolute best to change the scrutiny of the public eye. Being a member of a fraternity or sorority is to get an education and create memories like everyone else, not to promote drinking or drugs,” said a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi. 

“I think that the Greek organizations should try to monitor functions more closely or put measures in place to prevent things like this from happening,” said Maya Jones, an unaffiliated sophomore.    

A member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon said he believes people don’t just join Greek life to drink and party, but to make connections for their future. Another Sigma Alpha Epsilon member argued that unaffiliated students with drug or alcohol problems use the Greek system as a “scapegoat.”    

“As a campus and as an administration, we can only do so much,” said Martin. “The community and students have to regulate and develop what they want their new norms to be. I think that shifting a social culture is going to have to come from the students. Administration can help to provide education and resources but students have to decide what they want as a community and how they are going to make that happen.” 

“I think one really needs to understand their limits, understand safe drinking, and understand the symptoms of alcohol poisoning,” said Martin.