Ed­u­ca­tors weigh po­ten­tial end of Greek life

Haz­ing-re­lated deaths cited

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY MARK PACE

AU­ni­ver­sity of Mis­sis­sippi sopho­more faces grand lar­ceny charges after a fra­ter­nity scav­enger hunt re­sulted in the death of two Chilean flamin­gos at the Hat­ties­burg Zoo. The Texas Tech chap­ter of Phi Delta Theta lost its char­ter after dis­play­ing a banner at a Septem­ber party that is unfit for print. Clem­son Univer­sity last month sus­pended all so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties for some two dozen fra­ter­ni­ties fol­low­ing the Au­gust death of a stu­dent in a haz­ing in­ci­dent and what of­fi­cials say are a “high num­ber” of in­ci­dents “rang­ing from al­co­hol-re­lated med­i­cal emer­gen­cies to sex­ual mis­con­duct.”

The in­ci­dents range from the weird to the crude to the fa­tal, but they’re fu­el­ing a grow­ing de­bate about the role of fra­ter­ni­ties in col­lege life and spark­ing a back­lash on at least some cam­puses against Greek life.

More than 60 peo­ple have died since 2005 in fra­ter­ni­tyre­lated in­ci­dents, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg Data, and more than 70 col­leges and univer­si­ties are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion after ac­cu­sa­tions that the in­sti­tu­tions im­prop­erly han­dled sex­ual as­sault cases. Cit­ing cases of al­co­hol abuse, sex­ual and racial ha­rass­ment and haz­ing, some small lib­eral arts schools have al­ready banned fra­ter­ni­ties al­to­gether, in­clud­ing Mid­dle­bury Col­lege and Colby Col­lege.

Con­necti­cut’s Wes­leyan Col­lege sparked head­lines last month when it an­nounced it was forc­ing the school’s three res­i­den­tial fra­ter­ni­ties to go co-ed. Dart­mouth Col­lege, whose fra­ter­ni­ties helped in­spire the movie “An­i­mal House,” re­cently man­dated the end of pledge sea­son, the source for many haz­ing in­ci­dents.

“To im­prove their sit­u­a­tion, [fra­ter­ni­ties need to] elim­i­nate, or at least re­duce as much as pos­si­ble, th­ese vi­o­lent and sex­ist images and any be­hav­ior that goes along with them,” said Alan Reif­man, a pro­fes­sor of hu­man de­vel­op­ment and fam­ily stud­ies at Texas Tech. “That would be a ma­jor step to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion.”

The of­fen­sive banner was not the only se­ri­ous in­ci­dent in­volv­ing fra­ter­ni­ties at the Lub­bock, Texas, school.

Po­lice re­spond­ing to noise com­plaints at a house near Texas Tech the week­end be­fore classes be­gan early last month found a party full of col­lege stu­dents cel­e­brat­ing be­fore their first day of classes, many of whom were un­der­age. The po­lice left, but they re­turned a few hours later. This time, the call was more se­ri­ous.

Dal­ton De­brick, an 18-year-old fresh­man rush­ing the Al­pha Sigma Phi fra­ter­nity, was found dead at the of­f­cam­pus party. The cause of death was later de­ter­mined to be acute al­co­hol in­tox­i­ca­tion. The fra­ter­nity was closed on the Texas Tech cam­pus for a min­i­mum of four years.

A Penn State stu­dent com­mit­ted sui­cide after be­ing hazed by mem­bers of Phi Sigma Kappa. His par­ents found pic­tures on his phone of a man blind­folded with a gun to his head, and they also found mes­sages ex­plain­ing that pledges had to choose be­tween pen­e­trat­ing them­selves with a sex toy or snort­ing co­caine, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg. The chap­ter was sus­pended for six years.

“I see not only our cam­pus but all cam­puses strug­gling with the ques­tion around the di­rec­tion the fra­ter­ni­ties need to take, and how that will fit in with the over­all in­sti­tu­tion of the school,” said Michael Lal­ib­erte, vice chan­cel­lor for stu­dent af­fairs at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Mil­wau­kee.

Ban fra­ter­ni­ties?

Fra­ter­nity de­fend­ers say anec­do­tal ev­i­dence tends to over­state the role the all-male so­ci­eties play in the prob­lems that face all col­leges and univer­si­ties. Most fra­ter­nity brothers do not get caught in dis­ci­plinary prob­lems, must an­swer to cam­pus over­seers and their na­tional char­ter­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion and tend to be more loyal — and gen­er­ous — to their school once they grad­u­ate.

Ban­ning or­ga­nized on-cam­pus fra­ter­ni­ties, they ar­gue, and the drink­ing, so­cial­iz­ing and other mis­chief that col­lege stu­dents en­gage in will sim­ply move to off-cam­pus, un­reg­u­lated sites, mak­ing the prob­lem even worse.

Bans “don’t ac­com­plish any­thing,” Thomas Fox, na­tional ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Psi Up­silon, told the pub­li­ca­tion Inside Higher Ed re­cently.

“The prob­lems that fra­ter­ni­ties and soror­i­ties [en­tail] ex­ist out­side of the Greek sys­tem as well. We of­fer ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties to help com­bat th­ese is­sues and have alumni vol­un­teers to help men­tor our mem­bers. When done right, we are com­ple­ment­ing the aca­demic mis­sion of the in­sti­tu­tions where we ex­ist,” he said.

Peter Smith­hisler, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the um­brella North Amer­i­can In­ter­fra­ter­nity Con­fer­ence, said it has be­come “in­creas­ingly fash­ion­able … to den­i­grate the col­lege fra­ter­nity ex­pe­ri­ence as lit­tle more than an or­ga­nized ex­cuse to mis­be­have.”

In a blog post this spring, Mr. Smith­hisler ar­gued that fra­ter­ni­ties must do a bet­ter job of polic­ing them­selves — and high­light the char­i­ta­ble and so­cial work they do — if they want to counter a ris­ing anti-fra­ter­nity tide. Among his rec­om­men­da­tions: Elim­i­nate haz­ing, en­force drink­ing re­stric­tions and reg­u­larly self-as­sess the health of each house.

“If we in­tend to pre­serve all that is right with to­day’s fra­ter­nity move­ment, we must im­prove our ef­forts to ad­dress that which is wrong,” he wrote.

But some in­de­pen­dent re­search points to trou­bling signs re­lated to Greek life and cul­ture. Two stud­ies in 2007 and 2009 by NASPA, the pro­fes­sional group for stu­dent af­fairs ad­min­is­tra­tors in higher ed­u­ca­tion, found that fra­ter­nity mem­bers were three times as likely to com­mit rape as the av­er­age col­lege stu­dent and twice as likely to en­gage in binge drink­ing and other prob­lem ac­tiv­i­ties.

Most see elim­i­nat­ing Greek or­ga­ni­za­tions at big pub­lic schools, where there may be dozens of soror­i­ties and fra­ter­ni­ties with thou­sands of mem­bers, as un­re­al­is­tic. But how to tem­per the abuses while sav­ing the sys­tem re­mains a ma­jor chal­lenge.

While there are cer­tainly fra­ter­ni­ties in­volved in in­ap­pro­pri­ate and ex­treme be­hav­ior, there are un­mis­tak­able ben­e­fits that fra­ter­ni­ties bring to cam­puses. The ques­tion is whether the bad is start­ing to out­weigh the good.

“Over­all, I would say that [fra­ter­ni­ties] are very pos­i­tive,” the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin’s Mr. Lal­ib­erte said.

Mr. Reif­man said that the fra­ter­nity ques­tion must be ex­am­ined on a “house-by-house” ba­sis, but he added that there are cer­tainly houses and chap­ters mak­ing a ma­jor pos­i­tive im­pact on their com­mu­nity and in­sti­tu­tion.

Fra­ter­ni­ties such as Al­pha Sigma Phi are giv­ing pre­sen­ta­tions on sex­ual as­sault preven­tion as well as how to be­have dur­ing so­cial events. At In­di­ana Univer­sity, Al­pha Sigma Phi and 20 other fra­ter­ni­ties re­leased state­ments con­demn­ing sex­ual as­sault.

Zeta Beta Tau brothers at George Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity raised $17,000 for the Chil­dren’s Mir­a­cle Net­work last year, and they are also ed­u­cat­ing mem­bers about in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior.

“We worked to­gether to pro­vide pro­gram­ming for our mem­bers, which in­cluded teach­ing them about safe dat­ing prac­tices and what to look for among friends when they’re fac­ing sit­u­a­tions that may be un­com­fort­able for them,” Daniel Egel, pres­i­dent of Zeta Beta Tau, said.

Mr. Egel said his chap­ter has never had an in­stance of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior since it was es­tab­lished on the George Wash­ing­ton cam­pus in 2007. He also said most fra­ter­ni­ties don’t have in­stances of such ac­tions, but the in­stances that do hap­pen point “to mis­man­age­ment of the in­di­vid­ual fra­ter­nity chap­ter rather than fra­ter­nity cul­ture.”


Clem­son stu­dents re­mem­ber Tucker Hipps, who was found in a lake after go­ing miss­ing dur­ing a run with his fra­ter­nity. A slew of rush-re­lated haz­ing deaths has col­lege cam­puses con­sid­er­ing re­mov­ing Greek or­ga­ni­za­tions.

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