University of Virginia leaders are pushing campus fraternities and sororities to curb drinking after a rash of alcohol-related emergency room visits during rush week, officials said Thursday.
Two students who were put on life support and at least six more who were taken to the hospital last week all have recovered, said Allen Groves, university dean of students.
Although the numbers are not out of line with what the school has seen in the past, university officials said they took the potentially life-threatening situations seriously.
Last year, nine students were admitted to the hospital in cases related to drinking. Up until this point, only three had been hospitalized since July, said Dr. James Turner, director of student health.
Turner estimated that complications from drinking send 220 to 240 students to the emergency room each year.
After speaking with one student who was hospitalized due to alcohol consumption related to Greek organizations, Groves summoned all fraternity and sorority leaders to his office for an early-morning meeting Jan. 24.
"On less than 24 hours notice, they all came in," Groves said. "We have a zero tolerance stance on alcohol abuse. My staff and I were very clear with them about how seriously we take those policies."
Groves directed the organizations to create plans that would minimize the potential for alcohol-related incidents ahead of bid night this Saturday, a Greek selection event that historically involves heavy drinking, he said.
Groves said both groups demonstrated a commitment to put safety first. Sororities hosted a UVa Medical Center professional who presented information about the dangers of alcohol abuse. Fraternities agreed to ban hard liquor from houses during recruitment and self-police, with serious consequences for violators, Groves said.
Representatives from the school's Inter-Fraternity and Inter-Sorority councils did not respond to requests for comment.
"I applaud [Greek leaders] for taking that initiative," Turner said. "Anything they can do to decrease access to alcohol or increase support is critical."
Although alcohol-related trips to the hospital have doubled since 1999, when 110 to 120 UVa students a year required emergency attention, the severity of those cases has declined, Turner said.
"Nationally and here, Greeks have tended to have a higher incidence of binge drinking," he said.
A survey of more than 300 undergraduates joining Greek organizations found that students who pledge are more likely to drink and binge drink than their non-Greek counterparts, said Pietro Sasso, a researcher and assistant professor at Monmouth University.
The predisposition led several national umbrella organizations for local fraternities and sororities to adopt guidelines against "wet" recruitment processes that involve alcohol, Sasso said.
"Using alcohol to recruit sets the wrong expectations and will only recruit individuals with those pre-college drinking patterns, and they will self-select into these 'party' chapters," he explained. "This creates an enabling environment of alcohol misuse that will only increase with their membership."
Groves met with the school's Greek leaders again Tuesday to revisit their plans to reduce alcohol abuse — this time alongside UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan.
"The first thing we said to the fraternities was, 'What are you going to do?'" Sullivan said Thursday.
She encouraged them to think beyond the next themed party.
"If you plan to have a life as a professional, I think you need all of your gray cells," she said.
Daily Progress reporter Ted Strong cont