ORLANDO — University of Central Florida fraternities and sororities won't host social activities or any events with drinking for at least the first six weeks of the spring semester, up from the two-week ban on alcohol that has been in place in the past.
The councils that oversee Greek life also will review the use of alcohol, according to an email that went out to members on Friday, with finals week winding down at UCF.
Student leaders of the school's four Greek councils said they made the decision in light of drinking-related controversies at several universities, including UCF, which suspended a sorority last month after a member told university staff that other members were encouraging pledges to "chug" mimosas.
At Florida State University last month, President John Thrasher suspended all Greek organizations indefinitely after the suspected alcohol-related death of a freshman pledge and cocaine charges for another fraternity member. It was at least the third university nationally this year to suspend all fraternities and sororities.
UCF shut down most fraternity and sorority activities for about six weeks in 2013 while it investigated two organizations for alleged hazing and alcohol abuse. It was the first time the school had taken such action.
Three UCF Greek leaders said in a phone interview Friday that the death of the FSU student, 20-year-old Andrew Coffey, hit them particularly hard.
"We felt it was our job as students to take the reins and say we see what's wrong in the community both locally and around the country, and we wanted to work on things to remedy that," said Greek Council President Robert Smith.
Reaction on social media was muted Friday afternoon, as finals week came to a close. One man, apparently a member of a UCF fraternity, posted on Twitter "RIP to UCF Greek life."
Greek leaders acknowledged some of their members were skeptical about the change but said they made the decision in hopes of preserving Greek life at UCF.
"It may seem like a step back initially," said Jessica Nguyen, president of the Diversified Greek Council. "I believe it is a great preventative measure for years to come. I know that once everything is completed, our community is still going to be there in the next five, 10, 20 years."
Just before Thanksgiving, Alpha Xi Delta's UCF chapter was placed on interim suspension, which means it can't participate in fundraisers, social activities or recruitment while the university investigates whether sorority members violated the school's code of conduct. UCF officials were told members "shoved a pitcher of alcohol" in pledges' mouths at a dinner following an event, according to university reports.
Greek council leaders said they were talking about putting a hold on Greek social events and alcohol use before Alpha Xi Delta's suspension was announced.
But Woody Joseph, UCF's director of fraternity and sorority life, said the move was "eye-opening" for students.
"I think whenever you're talking about an organization within the community being suspended for any reason it's going to throw an alert on anybody's radar," he said.
Asked about the prevalence of alcohol abuse at UCF, the Greek council leaders stressed that they think it's a campuswide and national issue.
"I would definitely say that underage drinking in the entirety of the UCF campus is an issue," said Kyndle Dennis, president of Panhellenic Council.
The goal, Smith said, isn't "demonizing" alcohol, but encouraging college students to use it judiciously.
"This is the first time you're being exposed to those freedoms and alcohol, and there is definitely a learning curve that comes with that," said Smith, a senior. "If we can educate our members about how to drink responsibly, then we can give them the tools to go be safe about that."
©2017 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)