DA targets unsupervised fraternity parties

In response to sophomore Arman Partamian's alcohol-related death on March 1, Livingston County District Attorney Tom Moran vowed to crack down on binge and underage drinking on and off campus.

Moran noted that providing alcohol to underage drinkers is a Class A misdemeanor - unlawfully dealing with a child in the first degree - punishable by up to a year in jail. Maintaining a residence where underage guests are charged money for alcohol is a class B misdemeanor - criminal nuisance in the second degree - and can "jeopardize the real property in question."

The Phi Sigma Xi fraternity, known informally as Phigs, was indicted by Moran on both of these charges in addition to hazing. Allegedly, the fraternity sold alcoholic beverages to several underage students at its official residence at 72 Center Street.

Moran said that whenever police encounter a person under the age of 21 who is intoxicated or has committed a crime while intoxicated, they will trace back to where the alcohol was obtained and who provided it.

"My desire is to bring those people before grand jury and have them indicted for their illegal activities," he said.

In response to the commonly stated argument that eradicating underage drinking in a college town is an unrealistic goal, Moran noted that drinking can be moderated in smaller gatherings where friends can keep an eye on each other.

He said, however, that he is very concerned about the unsupervised drinking that can occur when large parties are held where students may not have anyone monitoring their behavior or alcohol consumption.

Partially in response to Partamian's death, Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard announced that his county will make available an anonymous tip line where the public can report suspected underage drinking. Such a program already exists in Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming and Monroe counties.

Robert Bonfiglio, vice president for Student and Campus Life, is another member of the community who is looking to control the underage drinking in Geneseo. Bonfiglio is a member of the College Community Alcohol Coalition, which is comprised of representatives from the college, village and law enforcement. The coalition seeks to ensure that "whatever drinking is done is done in a legal and responsible way."

Bonfiglio said that while members are aware of unsupervised parties that can harbor dangerous activities, the police force does not currently have enough staffing to monitor these parties on a regular basis. "I worry about what happens at these house parties," he said.

Organizations are currently barred from displaying any advertisements on campus for events where alcohol will be involved. Dean of Students Leonard Sancilio said that technically the college has no power over promotions done through Facebook or other Internet venues. He noted that such advertising can, however, be used to support claims that an illegal activity, such as underage drinking or the illegal sale of alcohol, has occurred.

Wendi Kinney, coordinator of Greek Affairs and Off-Campus Living, said she agreed that "open parties are the riskiest thing [an organization] could engage in" when it comes to liability.

Fraternal Information & Programming Group, a national organization, provides information on risk management to Greek organizations. FIPG prohibits open parties and drinking games, among other measures.

Kinney said that while publicity focusing on the criminal behavior of fraternities can provide an opportunity for Greeks to take a fresh look at their organizations, it will likely not "taint an image that's probably already tainted."

According to Kinney, the negative perceptions of Greek organizations are already pervasive in the media and popular culture.

An April 1 InsideHigherEd.com article titled "Why Not Go Greek?" implied that students nationally agreed with Kinney. According to the article, which examined a recent survey of over 1,500 undergraduates, 74 percent of respondents not members of Greek organizations indicated they did not care to be associated with the "negative stereotypes associated with membership."

Bonfiglio said that the college tries to "accentuate the positives of [Greek] membership" and regrets that some have come to associate Greek organizations with consistent lawbreaking rather than their dedication to community, leadership building and service. He suggested that Greeks "do some self-evaluation" in response to the recent public criticism.

Daniel Bach, director of public relations for Geneseo's Inter-Greek Council, said in an e-mail statement: "The culture of drinking in college students is a national problem and cracking down on underage alcohol use at 'opens' in Geneseo is a bit like emptying a swimming pool with a thimble. Cracking down on 'open parties' is not going to reduce the drinking culture in Geneseo, it is just simply going to move it to different locations."