Following the death of 19-year-old UC Berkeley student Eloi Vasquez, who was killed last March while trying to cross the 10 freeway after attending a Tau Kappa Epsilon party on the Row, a lawsuit was filed against USC and TKE’s executive board. The Vasquez family is asserting that both the University and TKE were responsible for allowing their son into the party and serving him alcohol despite being underage. They further argue that the frat and its party organizers failed to take care of Vasquez after it was clear he was too drunk to care of himself. This lawsuit points to a larger conversation about who is at fault for minors’ alcohol consumption at frat parties.
The University must address the dangerous and sometimes even deadly consequences of failing to enforce its own rules with regard to underage drinking at university-sanctioned parties — policies that only stand to further endanger students if they are not meaningfully enforced.
This isn’t the first time a visiting student has been put in danger on university grounds. In 2013, the University and fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon — which has since been disbanded — came under fire following an incident in which a female student from LMU was critically injured after falling off a table at a party. This coincided with an increase in hospital transports due to alcohol consumption, prompting the University to issue sanctions on the Row — one of which included requiring students to show USC identification in order to attend registered events.
Though the extra security precautions were established in an effort to promote a safer social atmosphere, such attempts are futile if they are made in name only. The fact of the matter is that student IDs are rarely checked at parties and the University would have no way of knowing if they were in the first place. By establishing policies that simply can’t be enforced, the University cannot expect meaningful change — and neither can students.
USC has attempted to implement proactive changes to the University’s drinking culture, such as mandating that students enroll in online AlcoholEdu training. But such initiatives need to be supported by meaningful University action. Promoting personal responsibility is fundamentally important, but such efforts can only go so far if the University fails to enforce its own policies with regard to safety.
We’ve all heard the tired arguments that parties will happen regardless of the rules put in place, be it on the Row or elsewhere — that students can’t be stopped from underage drinking and attempts at limiting it is futile. And though there is certainly truth to these arguments, it doesn’t make underage drinking any less illegal or any less dangerous. Simply dismissing this reality as the norm or citing how long we’ve gotten away with such risky behavior without consequence isn’t an argument that will hold up in court — and it shouldn’t.
Yes, parties will continue to be thrown. And yes, underage college students will continue to drink. But USC needn’t enable the process. If the University has any hope of providing a safe social environment at university-sanctioned parties for both its students and the guests who attend, then it has both a moral and legal obligation to enforce its own policies and ensure that what happened to Eloi Vasquez doesn’t happen again.
Yasmeen Serhan is a senior majoring in international relations. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.