Post Classifieds

New rules seek to preserve tradition of greek mixers

By Matthew Cecil
On February 16, 2012

 

Tom Henning didn't expect the first woman he approached at a sorority Flower-In to break his ankle.

But when he bent down to hand her a flower, the freshman sorority member lunged, tackling him to the ground and fracturing his foot.

Henning, now a sophomore and member in Sigma Chi fraternity, spent weeks in a cast and on crutches, but he says he still supports Flower-Ins and even regrets some of the rule changes implemented this year.

Those new rules emerged in response to a growing concern over similar incidents of tackling, hazing, disrespectful behavior and alcohol use.

Last fall, senior and former Panhellenic Council Vice President of Risk Management Erin O'Donnell established a committee to address the current state of the fraternity and sorority meet-and-greets.

The group included members of the Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council executive boards, greek life coordinators and other greek students.

The resulting rules went into effect this year, the first time such a comprehensive list of prescriptions on Flower-Ins has been used.

"In the past, the quote, unquote ‘rules' that were broken were never written down and were unclear," O'Donnell said. "We couldn't tell people not to do something, because we didn't have a rule base to tell them not to do it in the first place."

Previously, Flower-Ins were treated as another registered sorority event. Rules and restrictions existed, but O'Donnell said sororities were mostly left to follow the limitations imposed by their various insurance policies.

That meant no alcohol for all sororities and for some, restrictions on where guests were allowed and how long they could stay.

O'Donnell said sororities still have the freedom to follow their own risk management policies, but the new guidelines provide a framework for equal enforcement.

Kathryn Drew, a sophomore and Panhel's new vice president of risk management, said the most important change in the new rules was increased accountability.

Responsibility to remove any individual causing problems now rests on the sorority hosting the Flower-In as well as the visiting fraternity. Drew said a failure to comply could result in the cancellation of future Flower-Ins.

SAFE OR FUN

Addie McDonnell has attended as many as 16 Flower-Ins since pledging Alpha Phi sorority freshman year.

Now a junior, McDonnell said she didn't "really see a big difference" from past Flower-Ins when her boyfriend, sophomore Bradley White, and other members of Sigma Chi visited Alpha Phi Wednesday night for their first Flower-In of the year.

"I feel like they're really similar to how they've been in years past," McDonnell said.

Still, others feel the rules have brought misguided oversight to a longstanding tradition.

In an article posted Wednesday on the HerCampus DePauw website, junior Natalie Swiler wrote that the university "blew it" with the new restrictions on timing.

"The university thinks that this is the way to get us to not drink before the event," Swiler wrote. "Instead of not drinking, people now just have to start the shots before 7 p.m."

The new rules require a 30-minute pre-Flower-In period starting at 7:30 p.m. wherein all sorority members attending the event must be in the chapter house. Two sober representatives from the visiting fraternity then meet with the sorority's risk managers at 7:40 p.m. The Flower-In begins at 8 p.m. and must be completed by 9 p.m.

Sorority women must also remain in the chapter house for at least 30 minutes after the end of the Flower-In.

"The new rules haven't completely tainted the tradition," Swiler wrote. "As if we're going to let our party school name go to waste just because we have to start a little earlier."

Yet even though some say the new Flower-In rules are less fun, Tom Henning said the change is for the better.

"This is probably how it should be run," he said. "You can have fun afterwards."

Incidents like Henning's have yet to occur under the new rules, although greek life coordinator PJ Mitchell said there have only been about four Flower-Ins so far this year.

"We're hoping that everyone continues to respect the guidelines," he said. "Hopefully, it'll take off in a positive direction."

Still, Henning's ankle wasn't the only thing broken last year.

In one incident, fraternity men left alcohol containers on a sorority's lawn after a Flower-In, a violation of all chapters' insurance policies.

The new rules seek to address these and other issues that have arisen over the last several years.

In a section labeled "strict and mandatory," new regulations disallow tackling, "anything that would make a member uncomfortable," and "forceful behavior or pressure."

The list also prohibits "all unwelcome items," specifically mentioning paddles, blow horns, flasks and alcohol.

"I think that (reports of hazing with paddles at Flower-Ins) sparked some discussion of what have these become and has this become a problem, and what can we do to make sure that we're getting back to the initial roots of a Flower-In," Mitchell said.

Mitchell and Erin O'Donnell both said those roots are planted in the opportunity for new members to get to know each other in a social setting.

And while Kathryn Drew said some men have been "iffy" about the ban on paddles, sorority women especially appreciate that particular change.

"It's really rude," Drew said. "If your boyfriend is getting paddled because he has a girlfriend, it's really disrespectful."

In other cases, Drew said fraternities have had fun with the new restrictions.

Some men have taken to chanting sayings like, "Take her a on a date," and "Meet her parents," she said.

"I think students really like them (Flower-Ins)," she said. "It's tradition and now that they're safer, it's just more playful, more thrilling."

While not all students see the changes as an improvement, some like McDonnell maintain that Flower-Ins are just as fun as they always were.

Without those new rules, however, O'Donnell said the future of Flower-Ins may have been short lived.

TRADITION IN TROUBLE

After last year's risk management concerns, Erin O'Donnell said the university began considering a ban on the fraternity-sorority mixers.

PJ Mitchell confirmed a ban had been considered but said he wouldn't know what such a restriction would look like.

"It has been discussed as an option and always has the potential to be revisited if it needs to be," Mitchell said in an email to The DePauw. "That said, it is good to see our students stepping up and holding each other to a set of expectations. Ultimately, this is the best way to create some positive culture change at these events."

O'Donnell said that past problems with Flower-Ins have largely stemmed from a small group of individuals.

"On a general basis, our students are very responsible," O'Donnell said. "We have a few bad decisions that happen and those wreak havoc on the whole system."

Kathryn Drew says random oversight from Panhel executive board members will ensure fraternity men and women to follow the rules during every Flower-In.

"We're not there to be mean," Drew said. "We're just making sure that there's no hazing, no one out of control because of drinking and no one's being pressured to do something they don't want to do."

And O'Donnell agrees with Drew.

"I'm not a fun sucker," O'Donnell said. "I don't want anyone to be in danger and I still want everyone to have fun. These [rules] are hopefully going to make that happen at once."

While O'Donnell spearheaded the rules revision, she said others played a crucial role as well.

She credited the Interfraternity Council executive board members for stepping in to help Panhel in their discussions with representatives from the university, sparking notice with Mitchell.

"The students have worked hard on taking ownership of this," Mitchell said. "From our side, that's pretty cool to see."

Ultimately, O'Donnell, Drew and Mitchell would like to see a return to more traditional Flower-Ins, when alcohol and other concerns weren't an issue.

FROM KISSES TO FLOWERS

Communications professor Jeff McCall '76 said Flower-Ins, or Kiss-Ins as they used to be known, have kept at least one constant over the years: Kissing.

According to McCall, a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, the active members of both houses would line up on the sidewalk outside a sorority house and create a tunnel with their raised paddles. New members from each chapter would walk through the tunnel and kiss on the sorority house steps.

"They would have a short kiss," he said. "These weren't like deep romantic embraces or anything. They were just quick little pecks."

Looking back, McCall said the events probably sound a little more "primitive" than they actually were.

"I don't think it was as oppressive as it maybe comes off sounding 30 years later," he said. "I'm sure some people felt under the gun to participate at times, but people could opt out."

Kissing remains an optional tradition today, and Drew said the new rules ask that students not be pressured to do anything.

Either way, McCall said the purpose of Kiss-Ins wasn't the quick peck, but the opportunity to meet with new members of other greek houses.

At the time, there were 13 Interfraternity Council fraternities and 10 Panhellenic Council sororities.

Those numbers have since shrunk, but the number of Flower-Ins each fraternity and sorority conducts has more than doubled.

McCall said Kiss-Ins would only take place on weeknights and a fraternity usually participated in no more than two or three of the mixers.

They were also done by the middle of September, with the whole Kiss-In season lasting a week or two. When McCall attended DePauw, students went through formal greek recruitment before fall semester classes even started.

Fraternities now visit most of the six Panhel sororities on campus for Flower-Ins over the course of spring semester.

The Flower-In season often lasts months and some events take place on weekend nights.

Like in the ‘70s, students today often remain at the sorority house after a Flower-In to mingle with each other.

McCall said that some men would even ask the sorority women if they wanted to come over to their house for a party.

But, according to McCall, at least one difference existed between now and then.

"I don't remember anybody drinking at the Lambda Chi house before we went to these Kiss-Ins," he said.

Mitchell, who graduated in 2006 and was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, said alcohol wasn't as much of focus in Flower-Ins when he was a student, too.

"I'm sure there were [issues with alcohol]," Mitchell said. "[But] it wasn't always an underlying culture of alcohol as a defining piece of the Flower-In."

McCall said that he would advise the greek system to take out all the drinking from Flower-Ins and not forsake the meet-and-greet aspect.

Many of the changes, McCall added, stem from a change in culture.

He said the use of lewd language, for example, wasn't as socially acceptable in public and particularly not in front of sorority women you were trying to impress.

"The greek system has changed in some ways, and I think in some ways maybe not for the better," McCall said. "But I think at its best, the greek system still does provide for what it was set out to do in the first place."

FUTURE OF FLOWER-INS

Tom Henning misses some of the excitement from past Flower-Ins, but he says the trade-off is better for fraternities and sororities in the long run.

Erin O'Donnell and Kathryn Drew agree, saying the mixers' future is more secure than it was a few months ago.

Still, McCall said university faculty and staff members have mixed feelings about the greek system.

Most professors believe the greek system shouldn't exist at DePauw, McCall said, adding that they also probably don't know the all-greek GPA is higher than the all-student GPA.

McCall said greek students need to return to the original focus of fraternities and sororities: To provide opportunities for people to get to know each other and develop close friendships.

And some believe that purpose may reemerge from rules revisions like those made with Flower-Ins.

"I think if we can work and get back to the value of new member classes getting to know each other out of these things — with maybe taking some of the risk out of it — then I think it's definitely a positive direction," Mitchell said. 


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