Fiascos at sorority formals: A look at events gone awry

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Start with alcohol. Take a few shots before leaving. Sneak a drink on the bus. Pass around a flask in the bathroom. 

Not everyone partakes, but for many, it’s the way to start the fun for a sorority formal. And then, every once in a while, it’s the beginning of a disaster.

Junior Kelsey Moore, president of Alpha Phi sorority, knows that all too well, as she shut down her chapter’s formal barely an hour into their event April 2. 

“I would characterize it as the perfect storm of a terrible formal,” Moore said. “Not only did we have our women who were out of control, we had dates who were out of control.” 

Moore arrived at Serendipity, an event venue in Plainfield, Ind., 30 minutes after the event began. By that time, two women were being sent home for having flasks and multiple members had thrown up. It was 7:30 p.m.  

Alpha Phi requires there to be 10 “sober sisters” at formals who will go home with members or dates who behave poorly, are excessively intoxicated or break any rules, such as having a flask. By 8:15 p.m., Moore had fewer sober sisters than women being told to go home, so she and her executive board ended the party.  They called the limos, loaded the buses and were on their way home a half hour later. 

Getting out of control

The incident with Alpha Phi resembles the fiasco Kappa Alpha Theta sorority dealt with five years ago. 

According to a story published in The DePauw on April 11, 2006, Theta’s formal ended an hour and a half early, after emergency vehicles took two women to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. There were also reports of damage to the event space, The Ritz Charles in Carmel, Ind.  

The Ritz Charles also hosted a wedding reception that night, which attendees of the dance disrupted. As a result of their experience with Theta, the venue immediately stopped hosting greek events. 

Rhonda Coulter, the owner of Serendipity, wasn’t sure what to think after her encounter with Alpha Phi. She had hosted an event for DePauw’s Delta Gamma sorority in November with no issue, her first experience with a greek event. With a good first impression as a reference, she took on Alpha Phi’s formal.  Though Coulter said the sorority’s leadership handled the issues on their own and there was no need to call extra law enforcement, she thinks she might consider putting more security in place before allowing another greek event in her space.  

“I won’t host them (Alpha Phi) again,” Coulter said. “I’m just ready to put this behind me.” 

Serendipity and The Ritz Charles aren’t the only venues to be shocked by the behavior they saw from a DePauw sorority. In 2008, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis decided to stop serving alcohol at greek events because of the formal Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority had there.  

Jess Pesola ’08, then-president of Kappa, said that at least one woman vomited at the museum and that members got “loud and rowdy.” The museum told the sorority that smoking was not allowed, even outside the space, but Pesola said people kept going out on the balcony to smoke anyway.  

“There were a lot of rumors of people peeing in exhibits, but that completely wasn’t true,” Pesola said. No one at the event caused any damage to the museum. “They were mostly upset at having young people drunk in the space. … They were not ready for what they found,” she said. 

Promising events gone wrong

Pesola said she thinks the downfall of their formal was the choice to have it at the Children’s Museum. 

“I think the greek community has to be mindful of where they choose to host their events,” she said.

Pesola compared the formal to a wedding reception with mostly people in their 20s, but choosing a “cool venue” over a banquet hall meant choosing a place that doesn’t encounter college kids’ behavior. 

“People go there to have a good time,”  Pesola said. “You try as a leader the best that you can to make sure your members are making good decisions. Some people definitely go too far.” 

Moore was surprised by the disastrous event, considering how well Alpha Phi’s fall-semester formal had gone. She had been concerned about new members making poor decisions because it was their first formal, but more than half of the women who went through Alpha Phi’s judiciary process were seniors.  Pesola said that much of the drunken behavior at their formal came from seniors, as well.

After the negative outcomes of the Children’s Museum formal, Pesola said Kappa put more policies in place to prevent similar problems in the future. They tried to provide food before and during the event to balance the alcohol consumption. Furthermore, members had to check in an hour before leaving for the event and stay to socialize at the sorority house, in order to prevent drinking elsewhere before getting on the buses.  

Traveling presents another issue. People try to save money by getting intoxicated to achieve their buzz before leaving for the night, resulting in concealed drinks on buses, Pesola said. In Alpha Phi, the seniors take limos to the spring formal, and each couple is allowed either one bottle of wine or a six pack of beer for the journey. Even if the woman’s date breaks rules or becomes belligerent while she makes good decisions, the sorority member is held responsible and goes through the judiciary board. 

“A lot of the issue was people bringing flasks and a lot of that was dates having flasks on them,” Moore said. “We’ve decided…until we have a really good formal where no one gets in trouble that we will host all of our formals and informals pretty much in Greencastle, within 15 minutes of the chapter house.” 

Lessons that don’t stick

Becky Ruegg ’06 remembers her first informal in Pi Beta Phi sorority — everyone got breathalyzed. 

As a freshman in 2003, she remembers that the Indiana State Excise Police had been stopping at college parties frequently, and it had DePauw on edge. 

“I remember sitting in chapter receiving the threats that no one underage should be drinking,” Ruegg said. “We were aware Excise had been showing up at formals to breathalyze.” 

She couldn’t remember the exact location, but they had taken buses from campus to a venue in the woods. That night, when she and friends stepped outside from the hot building, Ruegg saw a long line of headlights approaching them.  

They went back inside, where Excise eventually arrived and told the party to divide themselves into two groups: over 21, and under 21. With their IDs out, the college students waited in the two lines as every person received a breathalyzer test. 

Everyone passed.  

“It was remarkable,” Ruegg said. “It scared everybody on campus.”  

Ruegg took over as president of her sorority as a sophomore. She said there was a culture of caution at DePauw in 2003 and 2004, and she remembered getting wrist-banded, having to show both her driver’s license and DePauw ID when attending large fraternity parties.  

“I believe that experience from our freshman year kind of kept everybody grounded,” Ruegg said. “It was almost like everyone was on edge about the possibility that you could always be caught drinking.” 

But by her junior and senior year, the tension faded. She said risk management decreased and people stopped being fearful. Between her freshman year and graduation, Ruegg only remembers one other big greek incident: Theta’s spring formal of 2006. 

A community with a bad reputation

The Ritz Charles isn’t the only venue that stopped hosting greek students. Chateau Thomas, a winery in Plainfield, Ind., refuses greek events to avoid dealing with damage and underage drinking.

“I’ve been in the hospitality industry for over 30 years,” said Cindy Schrader, Chateau Thomas’s director of catering. “They are, generally speaking, a problem in my experience. … Taking drinks on the floor, dancing barefoot, dropping glasses. Just stuff like that — vomiting. Not good stuff.” 

Though some are turned off by the negative image, other venues have no complaints about DePauw students. The Skyline Club in Indianapolis has hosted multiple formals for DePauw fraternities and sororities. 

“We’ve never had issues with DePauw,” said Traci Ashcraft, private events director at the Skyline Club. “That’s one school I know that we don’t have to worry about.” 

Both Kappa and Alpha Phi apologized to the owners of the event spaces they used during their chaotic formals. Multiple attempts to contact Theta’s president from 2006 were unsuccessful. 

Moore, though disappointed in the chapter’s inappropriate behavior, was happy to hear Serendipity had not decided to automatically reject other greek groups. 

“We worked really hard to make them understand that it was, one: uncharacteristic of ourselves, and two: uncharacteristic of DePauw and our greek community.”