OXFORD, Ohio — Sorority spring formals call up visions of young women in colorful dresses dancing the night away – not vomiting on tables, urinating in sinks or having sex in closets.
The drunken shenanigans of three sororities at Miami University in southwest Ohio sound like something out of "Animal House" and were especially startling for a school that frequently makes the top 50 in a U.S News & World Report academic ranking but never makes lists of big-time party schools.
The school suspended two of the sororities and put the third on probation. A task force is reviewing discipline and education policies on student behavior and alcohol, and the campus group governing sororities says it will begin teaching new members to speak out when they witness bad behavior.
There is little evidence excessive alcohol consumption is any worse at Miami than other colleges, but students are worried the antics will damage the school's reputation.
"It's embarrassing," said Christina Zielke, 21, a senior from Cleveland, who doesn't belong to a sorority. "This kind of thing gives a bad name not just to the Greek system but to the university and students like me who aren't in the system."
Students also are worried the debauchery could even devalue a Miami diploma, said Heath Ingram, student government president.
"They're angry about the actions of a few damaging Miami's reputation and the effect that might have on getting into the best graduate programs and job opportunities," he said.
The three sororities' spring formals took place over the span of about a month.
On March 26, Alpha Xi Delta sisters and their dates vomited, dropped drinks on the dance floor and tried to steal booze at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, center officials reported. One male even tried to urinate on the center's Slave Pen, a slave-holding pen reclaimed from a Kentucky farm, the officials said.
Two weeks later at the Pi Beta Phi formal, staff at Lake Lyndsay Lodge in nearby Hamilton found a couple having sex in a closet and two girls "repeatedly trying to urinate into the sinks on the bathroom counter," the lodge said in a complaint letter to the school. It complained of students vomiting, flipping over an appetizer table and of being so drunk they couldn't walk.
On April 23, about 30 students on the way home from a Zeta Tau Alpha formal trashed a bus and harassed and shouted obscenities at the driver, who tossed them off, the transportation company said. The company had to send another bus.
Miami suspended Alpha Xi Delta and Pi Beta Phi and put Zeta Tau Alpha on probation.
Zeta Tau Alpha's Miami chapter president, Meghan Hughes, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that "while a small percentage of our members behaved inappropriately, we all take responsibility." Other members or officers of the local chapters did not respond to requests for comment.
National leaders of the sororities supported the school's discipline and put their chapters on probation, though some noted that members told them some of the claims were exaggerated.
About one-third of Miami's 16,000 students belong to one of its more than 50 Greek groups.
Larissa Spreng, president of the Miami Panhellenic Association governing campus sororities, said students in fraternities and sororities are disappointed in behavior she says doesn't represent the Greek community. She called it "an atypical Miami semester."
The association requires new members to take a program on managing alcohol and other risks. Next year, for the first time, it will focus on the need for bystanders to speak out when witnessing bad behavior, Spreng said.
A new task force of Greek and non-Greek students, staff and student-group advisers is meeting this summer to review and recommend changes in discipline and education policies on student behavior and alcohol, said student affairs Vice President Barbara Jones.
The school already requires freshmen to complete an online alcohol-education program.
Miami, which has had to discipline other Greek groups over alcohol, last year invited a national Greek coalition to assess its Greek organizations and programs. The school is implementing the group's recommendations to improve Greek values, including more alumni and faculty involvement.
Some educators and researchers suggest binge drinking among college students has increased over the past decade – and that women are catching up to men in terms of the percentage who binge – but statistics from major national studies indicate very little change.
Schools are seeing increases in both the number and severity of alcohol-related incidents, not just among sororities and fraternities, said W. Scott Lewis, president of the Association for Student Conduct Administration.
The disparity between stable drinking trends and reports of worse behavior may be that "we really don't have good measures of behavior associated with drinking and parties," said Robert Saltz, senior scientist at the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, Calif.
The two- and one-year suspensions for Alpha Xi Delta and Pi Beta Phi mean they lose their campus dorm suites and can't recruit members or participate as a group in campus activities. Zeta Tau Alpha can't hold social events with alcohol the first year of its two-year probation.
Jenny Hoy, the mother of a Chi Omega sorority member at Miami, thought the discipline was fair.
"As a parent, I'm concerned about what is basically roguish behavior, but I don't believe it will permanently damage the school's image," said Hoy, 46, of Reno, Nev.
A member of another Miami sorority doesn't approve of the conduct but doesn't think all members misbehaved.
"I don't think it's fair that people who were innocent are being punished, too," said Kappa Kappa Gamma member Rachael Fraleigh, 19, of Chicago.
Lake Lyndsay Lodge manager Lyndsay Rapier-Phipps, a Miami graduate, acknowledged that about a quarter of the students were the worst troublemakers at Pi Beta Phi's formal. But she said others "just stood around watching and laughing."