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Greek engagement or estrangement?

By Kelly Lewis

Surrounding the nearly $2 trillion university industrial complex is the $250 billion alcohol industry with alcohol marketing budgets in the billions openly celebrating the consumption of alcohol across college football, March Madness, spring breaks and in movies and television.

Whether we like it, admit or desire it, alcohol is a spirited cultural institution in America.

Most college freshman and sophomores are predominantly under 21 years old, the legal age for alcohol purchase and consumption.

Across America we’ve criminalized underage drinking, severely punishing a behavior, which randomly after age 21, is legal.

Despite the massive cultural momentum to drink and obvious challenges with underage drinking, universities and college towns are charged with policing the impossible: producing perverse, unrealistic and ridiculous results.

Facing an alcohol industry that crushed prohibition and funds massive TV and media advertising budgets, school and town leaders are stuck trying to find villains.

Enter Exhibit “A,” fraternities and sororities.

Since the 1800s, school leaders have found a welcome villain in fraternities and sororities. Largely underfunded, unaccountable, but easily identifiable, these groups are ideal scapegoats, which is logically why universities haven’t issued death sentences to the U.S. Greek system.

Why kill your only scapegoat?

Since the 1978 release of the movie, “Animal House,” school and town leaders have largely continued attack, destroy and denial strategies against the Greek system with dismal and deadly results.

By denying the culture of drinking, avoiding the hard work of student-engagement and enacting severe penalties after the fact, schools and short-sighted school PR firms have passed the buck, while openly destroying their school brand names and negatively impacting recruitment.

Since prohibition has proven ineffective, and student deaths and injury continue to severely impact school branding and recruitment, universities and towns should use the Greek system as its first line of defense and offense and deploy large student engagement strategies for responsible drinking.

Like drunken driving advertisements, school and political leaders should get the alcohol industry to fund responsible drinking programs and marketing throughout the Greek system.

Schools and industry should also fund and fuel good student behaviors, like scholarships for high GPA success and community service projects, both of which align with the stated ideals of most Greek organizations.

Greek alumni are standing ready to help financially, support positive programs and hire students, especially when school stop stigmatizing all Greeks based on the actions of the few.

Instead of the current emphasis on attacking bad individual behavior, we should get on the front end, richly reward and promote good behaviors and actions, and let law enforcement handle the bad actors.

Concurrently, Greek marketing and outreach should showcase these good behaviors, resulting benefits and jobs.

It’s time to face facts, get strategic and use the Greek system to develop a realistic first line of defense/offense at universities and towns.

Alternatively, by continuing the attack and denial strategies with Greek organizations, universities and towns will simply face underage drinking alone.

Kelly Lewis is a member Zeta Psi international fraternity and a member of Bloomsburg University’s class of 1986. He’s worked with colleges on this topic from across the state, including Penn State Altoona, Saint Francis and Mount Aloysius.

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