Rush week this year at the University of Maryland was a sobered affair, thanks to drinking age restrictions imposed by the state legislature and a ban on alcohol at fraternities and sororities during the week.
Members of Theta Chi fraternity even invited potential members to a rush party featuring topless dancers--and no beer--but drew only half as many students as the organization's beer blast did two years ago.
"We had 120 come through two years ago and 60 this year," said Theta Chi president Paul Richardson, 22.
Drinking is traditionally not a part of rush week at Maryland sorority houses, but it has long been a part of fraternity rush socializing.
However, students say the tough new guidelines drawn up by university administrators this year to help enforce the state's gradual phase-in of the 21-year-old legal drinking age have not stopped many students. The law, passed last year, says that persons born on or after July 1, 1964, cannot drink until they are 21. (Because of the date in the law, there are still some persons under the age of 21 who are still legally able to drink.)
What the new rule has done, students said, is dramatically change social life on the campus. "It's really cut down on mass socializing," said Steve Holtzman, an 18-year-old dorm resident. "It is a lot harder to meet people--especially girls."
Although alcohol has not been banned from the campus entirely, university officials have adopted new rules prohibiting the sale or distribution of alcohol at events normally attended by freshmen and sophomores.
Because 60 percent of the students living in campus dorms are under legal drinking age, campus officials have banned alcohol from all events held in or around the dorms, according to Sandy Neverett, assistant director of resent life. Even those students who are of legal drinking age are prohibited from drinking at those events.
According to Neverett, an "event" is "any group getting together with the intent of socializing. If the primary focus is on alcohol, that would be a party," she said.
"We want to allow those who are of legal age to take a beer into the lounge to watch a game," she said. "If five or six students are watching the Redskins and drinking beer the staff will probably let it go.
"But if there are 30 people and two kegs of beer in the lounge, we expect the staff to intervene and check it out. There are a lot of gray areas and a lot is going to be up to the individual judgment of staff members," Neverett said.
Students said the new rules have forced drinking activity behind closed doors and replaced the large parties with small ones.
"Some group tried to have a big party last week," said Jimmy Byrne, 19, who turned 18 last year four weeks before the new drinking age took effect. "I went to that party but I left because nobody was there. Everyone was out in front drinking until the cops came by and ran them off. That's discouraged everyone else from having a big party."
While dorm residents are prohibited from serving alcohol at their parties, fraternity members are not, except during rush week. But many fraternity members said the red tape involved in getting a one-day liquor license from Prince George's County is often not worth the effort.
"If you get a liquor license you can count on the county liquor inspectors being there," Richardson said. "And you don't want to get caught serving minors."
But many fraternity members said they will continue to serve alcohol at large parties.
Don Ball, house president of Alpha Tau Omega, said his organization's fund-raiser for muscular dystrophy tomorrow night will be the first test of new guidelines for parties serving alcohol.
Ball said his group plans to use a new system devised by the campus activities office in which students of legal drinking age are provided a wristband similar to those used in hospitals. Because removing the band involves breaking a seal, students will not be able to give their identification to someone else.
"It should relieve us of some of the responsibility," said Ball.
Fraternity members also said they expect the new rules restricting drinking in dormitories to eventually increase their memberships. "The campuswide parties just won't exist," Richardson said.
"The illegal parties will just pick up throughout the entire Greek system," said one student. "No one is going to try to get a liquor license. There is no point to it with 60 percent of the people under age. By next year it will be 75 to 80 percent," he said.