by Sophie Lipman
Recently, the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has rightfully been increasingly gaining attention. Many schools across America have been creating new policies, but perhaps the most eye-catching action taken to combat sexual assault occurred in the fall at the University of Virginia. After a Rolling Stones article told the story of an alleged brutal rape by fraternity men, the school’s administration suspended all Greek life on campus. Quickly after, Rolling Stone apologized for the article, claiming it had reason to believe that the story they had been given was likely, at least in part, untrue. Regardless of the truth or falsehood of the magazine’s original allegations, speaking as a chapter leader, I believe that the suspension of Greek life was an inappropriate and arguably even counter-productive response to the issue of sexual assault.
Fraternities have always been given grief for traditionally having an aggressive, chauvinistic, reckless attitude. Often times, they truly are responsible for major problems on campuses. What many people fail to realize, however, is that the structure of a Greek organization serves as a mechanism to hold its members accountable. In my chapter, if a member breaks a federal, state or university law, they are punished not only by legal and school authorities, but also by the sorority’s governing council. These additional sanctions serve as a deterrent to bad behavior, and the executive and advisory boards that all Greek organizations have ensure that members are closely monitored—arguably more monitored than those students who are not affiliated with a Greek organization. Obviously, standards boards, risk managers and chapter advisors cannot combat all the conduct issues that arise among college students. That being said, they do have a noticeable impact—members of Greek organizations are far more likely to be penalized for illegal activity. The deterrence of additional sanctions imposed by Greek organizations do play a part in reducing crime among members, especially considering that Greek legal codes are created pursuant to state and national laws.
On the flip side, these executive, advisory and standards boards also serve as an outlet for members to safely and comfortably voice their issues, including problems of this nature. In my chapter, one of the primary functions of the personnel board is to keep a close eye on members who have been behaving erratically or appear to be dealing with difficult personal issues. Once those members are identified, we will call meetings, either formal or informal, to check in and find out what is going on and what we can do to help. It is in this safe, completely understanding and confidential space that members are able to discuss whatever personal issues they may be having, which can include feeling victimized, threatened, or actually overcoming assault. As a member of a sorority, if I were to experience assault in any form, I would feel more comfortable alerting a trusted and supporting chapter leader or advisor before addressing such a personal issue with an anonymous school administrator. By suspending sororities, the University of Virginia has taken a safe environment to discuss assault from hundreds of women.
Lastly, it is important to remember the often-cited “main problem” with sexual assault on campus—many victims are afraid or embarrassed to report. As stated above, victims would likely feel much more comfortable reporting to people they trust within the Greek community who can then help them report the crime to the proper authorities, but diverging from that, another big issue with a fear of reporting to school administration is the precedent that the University of Virginia has created. The seemingly knee-jerk reaction of suspending Greek life has impacted the lives of thousands of UVA students and made national news. If students were afraid to report before this scandal occurred, they will surely been even less inclined now to take action if they were to believe that doing so would result in such a public furor.
That being said, the situations at a large public university like the University of Virginia and the much smaller, more inclusive Greek system at Millsaps are difficult to compare. It goes without saying that sexual assault on campus is a very real and urgent issue in need of attention—I hope not to minimize the issue but rather point out faulty policy in hopes of replacing it with something more effective. I can speak only from my experiences as a very involved member of Millsaps’ incredibly unique Greek system, but from that perspective, I can say with confidence that threatening the existence of Greek organizations is absolutely not the answer.