Just a short while ago The University of Virginia suspended the activities of its fraternity and sorority community after the Rolling Stone published an article covering the sexual assault of a woman by some fraternity members at a party.
The trouble was that the article was poorly researched and the story was, as far as anyone knows, completely fabricated.
Let’s set aside all of my animosity toward how sensationalism and generalities have ruined our ability to fight for causes and ignore the fact that the fraternity men will likely win a lawsuit for having their reputations and esteem permanently damaged due to the terrible publication that calls itself the Rolling Stone.
Here’s my problem today:
The University of Virginia banned all activities of all fraternities and sororities on campus, without an investigation, based on an accusation that a sexual assault happened at one chapter house. Thomas Jefferson, founder of the institution, is likely still rolling over in his grave.
Imagine if the situation were any different. Would the university instill a curfew at its residence halls if the alleged sexual assault occurred there? Would the university ban activities of all service organizations if the alleged sexual assault was instigated by a member of one club?
The chance that a university would ban the activities of a swath of organizations for a single aggression by a small number of one of those organizations is extremely low. . . unless they are Greek-letter organizations.
We live in a fantasy world where the people we hire as Fraternity and Sorority Advisers accept and often advocate in favor of policies and reality tunnels that threaten the very existence of the organizations they claim to elevate.
The men and women who have sworn an oath to a college fraternity or sorority should take offense to this. We should be up in arms.
We come in to these systems with an animosity and hatred for fraternity men and sorority women and it forces some sort of visceral, “SHAME ON YOU,” response every time something goes wrong.
Should bad things happen at a fraternity house? No. But as we suggested here, there is a better way to solve problems than to shut the system down.
Short of shutting it all down are the following policies that contribute decisions like that which happened at Virginia:
Freshman students are adult enough not to have their grades automatically packaged and sent to mommy and daddy, but are not adult enough to choose which organizations they wish to join. . . if that organization is a fraternity or sorority.
Sure they can dedicate their life to a service club, student government or some sort of professional fraternity or sorority, but our specific organizations are too big of a commitment for their tiny little brains.
Maybe there is merit to this one. Our organizations are demanding. Part of that is related to the expectation of complete dedication to a brotherhood or sisterhood. A big chunk of that is likely due to the fact that our folks in fraternity and sorority life offices require more of a fraternity at their campus than they’d expect of a person applying for citizenship.
If a first year’s first term is really so critical to their success, and a fraternity is too heavy of a commitment to make that first term, why not ban participation in athletics? Why not ban first years from joining any other club on campus? There is no reason, these policies are just unjust.
“Standards of Excellence”
We all love to flex those higher education degrees. Everyone knows that leadership is achieved through a 50-point plan.
When a man or woman commits to the higher standard of a fraternity or sorority, they are committing to the higher standard of that fraternity or sorority. Isn’t that enough? We trust that students who join the Red Cross Club will do well in the name of the Red Cross, so why is there a suggestion that only fraternities’ and sororities’ standards aren’t good enough for our students?
These standards are nothing more than programs to keep groups out of trouble. Almost no other student organization is subject to the same level of micro-management as fraternities or sororities. Didn’t host 15 leadership programs this year? Suspended. Didn’t have the GPA to meet some arbitrary, “that’s good,” standard? Suspended. Don’t have someone hired to mow your lawn? Suspended!
I could establish a club at almost any school, have one 15 minute meeting a month and maintain that club’s status as a student organization. We are going to put a fraternity on probation because they missed a couple points on some ridiculous assessment that has no scientific proof behind making our men and women “better”?
I am all for standards. I absolutely believe we should have benchmarks and expectations of our members, but a chapter should not lose recognition because they didn’t live up to some bloated standards that may or may not have anything to do with their actual organization. Some schools grasp this concept and expect that their organizations meet the expectations of their organization. Imagine that!
That brings us to the next assault. . .
Closed Expansion Policies
We often hear, “if things were only more like the sororities, fraternities would be so much better.” My thought is yes and no. Sorority chapters are huge and may close less often, but the extension process (how sororities get to an institution) and recruitment process (heavily regulated) disagree with the open expansion policy of all NIC fraternities and my personal philosophy that folks should be able to associate with whomever they please no matter the institution.
Let’s take my example from the last item. I can literally gather a small group of students at almost any institution in the country, meet a few times a year and do whatever I want and call it a club. At some schools, we can even have a representative in the Student Government!
Not so for fraternities.
Men or women who wish to set up Greek-letter organizations may do so only with permission. Not just permission from the Student Activities office, but from the governing councils, Fraternity/Sorority Advisers and sometimes the institution’s president.
We’ve gone in-depth with this injustice here. This is, again, just another instance where some students and associations are treated unfairly because they’ve chosen to join one student group as opposed to another.
Sanctions, Sanctions, Sanctions.
A fraternity member gets drunk at a party and punches someone in the nose. The institution’s response is to impose sanctions on the chapter demanding a professional come in and educate the chapter on underage drinking, how to manage one’s temper, and the policies of the institution and fraternity.
I don’t know how to say this more clearly. . .
Your sanctions do nothing. Nothing.
There is a reason why fraternities and sororities are so eager to get past their sanctions. . . IT MEANS THEY GET TO PARTY AGAIN!
Our approach needs to be long term. We are not police officers, we are professionals whose job is to help young men and women make themselves better through a friendship organization. I’m referring to it as a friendship organization because I fear that if I say it’s more than just a friendship club, one of us will find 50 new standards for our men and women to complete each year or face suspension.
Students learn from their peers. They learn in the language they speak in. We all do. That’s why the things we hear from fellow professionals make so much sense to us; it’s in our language. We know that prison alone doesn’t reform a person, tender love and care does.
Everyone has an idea for how they would like to help the fraternity and sorority community. All of the options listed above have failed miserably.
The needle hasn’t moved. People still do stupid things because we are all too eager to find quick fixes instead of having adult conversations with adult students about solving stupidity like adults.
When will we learn? This is the definition of insanity.
*UPDATED* The comment referring to the NPC organizations in the “Closed Expansion” section has been modified to more accurately reflect the opinion and intention behind the process. My stance is complete freedom of association, which I believe is inhibited by a closed or tightly regulated recruitment/expansion process.