Fraternities and sororities are an iconic staple of American college culture, but with mounting pressure on universities across the nation to curb sexual assault and misconduct on campus, some colleges are giving greek life the boot.
Between heavy media coverage of misconduct and federal action to ensure colleges are in compliance with Title IX, a non-gender discrimination law that now umbrellas sexual assault, some colleges, such as Amherst College, are banning greek life entirely in the hopes that instances of rape and violent misconduct will decrease.
The UA has dealt with its share of fraternal misconduct, including fraternities holding events in which alcohol was served to minors and reports of hazing, resulting in four chapters losing recognition in the past three years. Unlike Amherst and other private colleges, the UA cannot prohibit students from belonging to a sorority or a fraternity.
Johanne Ives, director of Fraternity and Sorority Programs, said she can understand why some colleges are looking to decrease sexual assault associated with greek life, but it is naive to assume that restricting or eliminating fraternities will solve the problem.
“I don’t think the solution is saying, ‘We’re not going to have fraternities anymore,’” Ives said. “I think it goes back to … talking to students about what consent is and how to look out for one another.”
Ives said all fraternities on campus are required to hire security and register events where alcohol will be served with the UA.
“I would say if there are problems, typically, they’re at events that aren’t registered, that they’re not notifying the university they’re hosting,” Ives said.
A member of the UA’s Phi Gamma Delta chapter, Michael Anderson, 19, fell from a ventilation tower on the roof of the Colonia de la Paz residence hall and died from the resulting injuries in April of this year. A Pima County coroner’s report released in May stated that Anderson was drunk at the time of his death with a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit.
At the time of Anderson’s death, Phi Gamma Delta, commonly referred to as Fiji, was already under investigation by the Dean of Students Office for holding unregistered parties where underage students were served alcohol. Soon after Anderson’s death, the University of Arizona Police Department issued search warrants to gain access to surveillance footage from the Fiji house to see if there was an unregistered event that night and if Anderson was in attendance.
Ives said research conducted throughout the last decade indicates that fraternity affiliation does correlate with alcohol abuse and binge drinking. One aspect of these studies that is difficult to quantify is whether students are joining fraternities because there is a perception they will have access to alcohol or if students become high-risk drinkers after joining a fraternity, Ives said.
“I think that on a college campus, a lot of sexual assaults are tied to alcohol,” Ives said.
Ives said there is often an incorrect perception that rapists are always strangers, when, on a college campus, assaults are often committed by someone the victim knows.
“I think educating men, in general, about sexual assault is a good direction because in most cases men tend to be the perpetrators of violence against women,” Ives said.
The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Programs tries to prevent misconduct of this kind with education on sexual assault and alcohol abuse. The Interfraternity Council, which governs the fraternities on campus, has partnered with Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse for four years, Ives said, and has donated close to $40,000 to the center.
Ives said she also thinks it is important to educate both men and women on looking out for their friends when they are consuming alcohol.
Susan Wilson, the UA’s Title IX investigator, said that Title IX prohibits sex and gender-based discrimination against students.
The most recent expansion of Title IX includes sexual harassment. The definition of sexual harassment under Title IX includes sexual assault, stalking and relationship violence.
In April 2011, Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary for Civil Rights, issued a dear colleague letter putting educational institutions on notice that sexual assault and sexual harassment should be considered a prohibited form of sex-based discrimination under Title IX.
Wilson said the UA is responsive to complaints and tries to respect students’ confidentiality as much as possible. Many complaints are received directly from the UAPD, Wilson said, but sometimes c omplainants come directly to the Dean of Students Office.
When an assault takes place on campus, the university’s investigation is administrative, rather than criminal. However, complainants can always press criminal charges too, Wilson said. Additionally, if an assault takes place off campus but involves UA students, the UA has jurisdiction to investigate under the Student Code of Conduct.
The Dean of Students Office provides due process during its investigations, Wilson said, and investigators try to look at both perspectives, remain impartial and protect both parties’ rights. Wilson said finding someone responsible for sexual misconduct can result in a wide range of disciplinary sanctions, with the consequences for sexual assault including suspension or expulsion.
Wilson said sanctions are meant to be both educational and to ensure the safety of the campus community.
“The criminal and college systems are still working to improve the process,” Wilson said.
Wilson said she sees alcohol as a common denominator in sexual assaults on college campuses, whether the assault takes place at a fraternity house, residence hall or off campus. The focus should lie on the impact of alcohol in an attempt to curb sexual assaults, rather than a certain group such as fraternities, Wilson said.
Another concern surrounding fraternities and sororities at a national level is hazing. Hazing is against the UA Student Code of Conduct and has been publicly renounced by most greek organizations affiliated with the UA, but still frequently occurs nationally, with some cases resulting in serious injury or death in the past few years.
Ives said the UA is participating in a national research collaborative with nine other colleges to look at how to prevent hazing.