By Gus Hoffmann and Paul A. Djupe
Alcohol is one of those sneaky chemicals that has been propped up by US society. Much like how people link caffeine with productivity, drinking alcohol is associated with winding down, loosening up, and being social. Binge drinking isn’t in most cases an individual decision, but a social one that hinges on access to alcohol. On Denison’s campus that almost inevitably means reliance on upperclassmen and affiliates of a Greek organization. Though they only constitute about a third of the campus community, Greeks seem to play an outsized role in the party culture. Just how much is the subject of this post.
127’s drinking questions have evolved into a standard set that asks about “your closest friend on campus,” which serves to make the result entirely anonymous and surely very close to the survey respondent’s own behavior. For instance, our binge drinking question asks, “In the average week this semester, how many days did your closest friend on campus consume 4 or more drinks in 2 hours or less?” The results, shown below, highlight how drinking is concentrated among greek affiliates – only among non-drinkers (0 days a week) are the GDIs (g*d damn independents – non-greeks) in higher concentrations. Just under 70 percent of greeks drink heavily 2 or more days a week. That figure is almost thirty points lower for GDIs (43 percent).
Greeks were somewhat underrepresented in the October survey (20 percent), but punched well above their weight, accounting for 31 percent of all binge drinking days. That 3/2 ratio doesn’t quite hold in older data. For instance, in spring 2021, greek survey respondents were more in line with historical numbers (36 percent of the sample) and accounted for 45 percent of the binge drinking days. Regardless, these stats tell us that a student could be excused for thinking that binge drinking is dominated by greek affiliates.
But given that Greeks are not a random sample of campus, there are bound to be other social distortions in binge drinking, in particular that can implicate race. The figure below shows how drinking culture is concentrated among white respondents and among greeks of any racial identity. The median greek, whether white or non-white, binge drinks 2 days a week (the mean is just above that), while the median for those outside the greek system is at least half as much – 1 day for white GDIs and half a day for non-whites. Since non-whites only make up 11 percent of greek affiliates (translated, that means ~3 percent of campus is a non-white greek), party culture is largely a white student affair.
Clearly Denison party culture has been in a significant degree of flux over the past few years, not just due to the pandemic, but also as a result of the Administration putting the squeeze on fraternities (not that some haven’t earned the scrutiny). In this it’s easy to miss the shift in Denison’s broader culture that likely has long-term consequences for party culture. Admissions have been tremendous, standards have been increasing, and Denison is diversifying. All of these trends mean the student body has been steadily drifting away from a stereotypic greek system profile – upper class and white. Sometimes these forces combine to show quite dramatic year-to-year changes, such as the following graph shows. While greek affiliates have maintained the standard rate of binge drinking twice a week (the median is 2), independents dropped from 2 days to 1 from March (dashed lines) to October (solid lines). The social gulf is growing.
Pinning down where people drink on campus is largely based on class year, social circles, and campus policies. The greater concentration of drinking among greeks suggests they should be found in greater concentrations everywhere, but that’s not quite the story as the following figure shows. Denison’s administration has taken a starker stance this year on alcohol consumption at fraternity houses, making those spaces a less ideal location for drinking. Compared to last year, this differs. The Covid-19 guideline urged students to socialize outside, with plenty of space, making fraternity houses perfect for drinking while following the guidelines. However, with those guidelines removed we see a shift displayed in the data, regarding where people drink. Surely reflecting the “notorious suites of east” and that greeks are older and more likely to inhabit the Sunnies, greeks are far more likely to report they drink in their rooms/apartments, the Sunnies, and East. (Note, the question asks for all locations in which student respondents were drinking, not the concentration, so drinking there once counts as much as 20 times). Naturally, they are more likely to report drinking in fraternity spaces, though clearly that’s not where most of the action is (by fiat this year). Beyond that, we find greeks and GDIs drinking in locales at roughly equal levels – in the Moonies, at Beaver Beach, etc. The exceptions are the freshmen dorms and none of the above (which host more GDIs).
In the past four years, Denison has made some major adjustments to party culture. The construction of the Moonies and the 15 guests allowed in an apartment rule clearly illustrate that Denison was trying to change/reduce/contain the university’s party culture. Denison does not want people to drink behind closed doors. By making it harder to throw parties in senior apartments, Denison has an easier time monitoring their students and is trying to reduce the already wide social gaps within the community. Before, where parties were going to be thrown spread by word of mouth, and you had to know the host or people who knew the host to go to the party. Now, basically the Office of Student Life throws parties which lack attendance, aren’t fun, and feel more like a middle school dance. However, on the flip side, Denison now has a safer party culture, because everything is on camera and Campus Safety knows where most parties are.
Even though Denison’s party culture has changed, the people who predominantly participate have stayed the same. There appears to be no doubt that greeks dominate the party scene at Denison. They are almost twice as likely to be binge drinking than independents and are far more likely to be found drinking in the dominant party spots. The question is whether it matters. If the social gulfs that separate greeks from others are limited to the party scene, then there’s likely not much to worry about. But if that, perhaps widening, gulf is part of a social line in the sand that extends across other involvements (ahem athletics), then that seems like grounds for further conversation.
Gus Hoffmann is a senior at Denison University where he majors in Global Commerce and serves as a ghost writer for Adam Weinberg’s Community Update emails.
Paul A. Djupe is a local cyclist who runs the Data for Political Research minor. He started onetwentyseven.blog a few years ago in a bid to subsidize collective action. He’s on Twitter and you should be too, along with your president.