Nightmare on High Street: The Beta Chronicles

If you’ve checked your Wesleyan email in the past 24 hours, you’ve surely seen an alert from P-Safe Director Dave Meyer and Student Affairs VP Mike Whaley regarding recent reports of sexual assault at Beta. Details are blurry and scarce, but the Middletown Police have been involved, and we are led to believe that this is not a single isolated incident. Regardless, the email affirms that the administration will not hesitate to “pursue campus judicial charges against any students who may have been involved” and “continue to do all [it] can to support those who brought these reports to our attention.” (Over at Tenured Radical, an outspoken Wesleyan Professor of History and American Studies, who prefers to remain nameless on hir blog, takes a self-empowerment stance on the issue, listing ten positive students can take to prevent rape and sexual assault on campus.)

And, perhaps not altogether surprisingly, the University is taking the opportunity to remind us to study hard, eat our vegetables, and—you know—stay the hell away from Beta, because goodness knows what goes on in that place. From Meyer and Whaley’s all-campus email:

These recent reports have renewed our concern about illegal and unsafe behavior on Beta’s premises, as well as our concern for the safety and well-being of Wesleyan students living at the residence or visiting the house. We remind all members of the community that this privately-owned house does not have any formal relationship with the University.  Further, we advise all Wesleyan students that they should avoid the residence because we cannot establish the safety of the premises.

These words sound familiar. In recent months, the University has made no secret of its tenuous at best relationship with Beta. It first withdrew recognition of the frat in June, 2005, after “members of the organization failed to satisfy the requirements to remain in [Wesleyan’s] ‘program housing’ system . . . and prohibited representatives from our office of Public Safety from addressing behavioral and/or safety concerns on their property.” Since then, Beta has retained its off-campus status, and will not be granted on-campus housing status unless it signs the Wesleyan University Fraternal Organization Agreement, which permits Public Safety to patrol the house as it does any other on-campus housing. No dice. As President of the Baird Association Adam Diamond ’03 put it: “The University doesn’t necessarily have the right to send their Public Safety officers to patrol [the house]—we’re adequately protected by the Middletown Police Department.”

Last March, the University reminded students of Beta’s unaffiliated status—and, more controversially, advised students to steer clear of the premises, expressing great concern for “the safety of those students who choose to affiliate with the house or attend events there against our advice.” At the time, a prominent Wesleying blogger ’10 (now alum) questioned the University’s motives and almost parental tone, blasting the email in question as “condescending fear mongering”:

I get that the administration wants to make it clear that whatever happens in Beta is not their fault. But there must be a way to make it clear that you’re not liable for these things without making the independent frat look like a den of sin and danger. Even more importantly, there must be a way for admins to acknowledge our freedom to make certain decisions without making it all about how bad things will happen to us if we don’t listen to the adults. Unless something else has been going on at the house that I don’t know about, this email just seems like condescending fear mongering.

One anonymous commenter remarked that the administration’s safety concerns almost certainly pertained to issues of sexual assault and rape. Another, bothered by that conclusion, and apparently agreeing with whatshername‘s stance, wrote in:

This is fucking ridiculous. No one gets sexually assaulted at beta, the brothers who live there are actually really good guys. Stop spreading nonsense.

Given this week’s unfortunate development, I’m curious to see how, if at all, opinions regarding the Beta controversy have changed. Should the administration continue to take an active role in dissuading students from visiting the frat? Might its unflattering characterization—as a “den of sin and danger”—be more warranted now, in the wake of recent reports, than it was in March? Are efforts at re-affiliating the frat with the school even feasible at this point, or worthwhile?

And moreover, what aren’t we doing to prevent sexual assault?

Weigh in in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

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25 thoughts on “Nightmare on High Street: The Beta Chronicles

  1. Pingback: Update on Beta-Gate – Wesleying

  2. Dkewesleyan

    I slightly wonder how many conversations the Wise Tenured Radical has had with current and alumni Beta brothers.

  3. anon

    i’m an alum. this all makes me really sad. i of course didn’t go to beta that often, but i think the point is that this is happening within the wesleyan community at all. who the fuck ARE these assholes.

  4. L8

    I remember going to the Beta Rave my freshman year and TOTALLY regretting it because there was no room to breathe and not be crammed up against some sketchy, drunk person. I considered going some stupid rite of passage, but I immediately regretted my decision because 2 guys I was dancing near forcefully started touching me and there was no room to flee the scene. I have never gone back in protest–and to some extent–in fear. This being said, I think it’s also safe to say that any small venue that mass advertises events (especially to curious freshmen) are likely to be places for unwanted sexual contact. I don’t really know what a solution is, but I know Eclectic (which is owned by the university and can hire event staff) sometimes polices traffic so the venue doesn’t get too overcrowded.

  5. Tenured Radical

    Just to let you all know: I’m actually *not* an anonymous blogger. My profile takes you to my Wesleyan webpage, although thank you, Wesleying for being safe rather than sorry. Yes, faculty do read the ACB — we always have. Sorry.

    But that said, people need to remember that the police think there is enough information that they are investigating this as a crime. Under those circumstances, the university has a moral and a legal obligation to inform the students of that. That there is something else simmering beneath the surface is also true. But go to the Beta webpage and look at the correspondence: the fraternity has consistently maintained its independence by asserting its willingness to take responsibility for what goes on there. What that means — and what that means for the majority of Beta brothers who are “good guys” and want to fulfill that pledge is a question that would probably benefit from discussion.

    Tenured Radical

    1. Beta alum

      I’d be very curious to see statistics on reported sexual assualt cases at Wesleyan. Is there evidence that certain locations have more reported incidents? Specifically – is Beta a riskier location than Eclectic, DKE, Womanist House? When is the red flag raised – one incident, five incidents? Is Wesleyan sweeping other cases under the rug but highly publicizing those of alleged “rivals”?

    2. Beta alum

      I’d be very curious to see statistics on reported sexual assualt cases at Wesleyan. Is there evidence that certain locations have more reported incidents? Specifically – is Beta a riskier location than Eclectic, DKE, Womanist House? When is the red flag raised – one incident, five incidents? Is Wesleyan sweeping other cases under the rug but highly publicizing those of alleged “rivals”?

    3. Betaalum

      I will tell you point blank for experience “discussion” goes absolutely no where. I have sat in that room, have said let’s fix this. They have pushed a piece of paper at me saying sign your house over to the school. I have said you know I cannot sign that, even if I did my signature goes nowhere I do not own that property. I say let me bring in my alumni counsel but you know their stance. They say kids go to the hospital after going to your parties. I say you have never been to my parties because if you did you would know the line is literally too long to drink enough to get alcohol poisoning. I say I have to buy my own alcohol for my own parties because of this. This must mean they are drinking hard alcohol in their dorm rooms before going to a party. We should police the dorms more often. I say it sounds like you and your RA’s have something to fix first and foremost. The topic is switched to rape. I say name a case. The topic is switched to noise complaints. I say I am under the same jurisdiction as every other house in this town. I have a relationship with the Middletown police and do not need one with your Public Safety, who will just call MPD to fix the problem anyways. FYI MPD thinks you are a joke.

      You are. A joke.

      The second this email was sent out our current president was in the MPD headquarters, was in North College asking how we could help. We got zero info. Is there not a crime to be solved here? If it happened under our roof, that is completely no OK with us. But we did not commit this crime. If someone comes to a party you are hosting a commits a murder, is the house owner then the one responsible?

      Again, you are a complete joke.

      Let’s be real, this is a 20 year old fight between Wes admin and Beta alumni. Don’t you dare drag in an innocent little girl into this mud sling. If there was a real crime committed, lets please solve it. But don’t you dare blast an email to the entire school calling us criminals before a FUCKING crime has been charged. You act like children. You know exactly who I am talking to.

      Grow up. Little kids. Some of us have graduated and have real jobs now. Enjoy your mud fight, we’re not going anywhere. Lawyer up.

  6. N. Senada

    How can the administration make such bold claims discouraging students from even entering the premises yet retain their bona fides while allowing Beta to sell tickets to pledge events this weekend?

    This university is so fucking soft sometimes.

    1. stanley fish

      it doesn’t matter. if beta can’t prevent rape on at its parties, it should be held accountable (and there shouldn’t be parties there anymore).

      1. Art

        give me a break. this could have happened anywhere. if it happened at senior cocktails, should Wesleyan cancel all future social functions?

        1. stanley fish

          look, there’s a consistent pattern of sexual assault at beta, meaning that there’s a problem there. counterfactuals are useless. the problem lies where the problem is.

          but yes, the university should absolutely end senior cocktails and ruthlessly crack down on events centered on problem drinking. and i say this as a student.

          1. Orange Vagina

            “look, there’s a consistent pattern of sexual assault at beta, meaning that there’s a problem there.”

            You should supply:
            1) Evidence of “a consistent pattern of sexual assault at beta”
            2) Evidence that this pattern, if it exists, is much more frequent than at other locales on campus
            if you would like to be taken seriously.

  7. anon

    the administration does an awful job of preventing sexual assault/rape on campus property as well. (have we all forgotten last year already?) the only difference here, is that the university does not have to take responsibility for what goes on in beta, so they choose to make this particular case public. i’m all for warning students about the potential risk of sexual assault at beta, but i find it hypocritical of the administration to sweep all other incidents of sexual assault on campus under the rug. (and trust me, it happens way more often than you would expect.)

      1. JC

        There was a lot of controversy about how the university handles rape- aka, a student counsel (I can’t remember if the counsel is trained in any way to handle sexual assault or rape cases) and avoiding contacting the police if the person claiming rape doesn’t want them too.

        Many times, the rapist is (at the most) suspended from the university for a semester or so. Because of this system, many rapists walk campus with no warning system, people with multiple rape counts have gone without punishment (because the girls or guys didn’t want to take any action- it’s not easy being a sexual assault victim) or didn’t want to get the accused rapist’s lawyers involved (there was a cited case of a very rich and influential student getting away with several reasons because none of his victims wanted to try to take the guy down), and many girls walk around facing the possibility of seeing their rapist around once they get off suspension- that is, if they were ever suspended.

  8. anonymous

    I loved the TR post on the issue.

    That said, it’s awful that rape is becoming the fuel for this holy war between beta and the administration.

    Let’s settle this like gentlemen — in a small room with a few pairs of boxing gloves.

    1. stanley fish

      ummmmmm. rape is the source of the conflict between beta and the administration. the administration wants people to keep away from beta because they do a shitty job of preventing sexual violence. beta and idiots like whatshername who think that the administration is capital and the student bod is labor argue that there’s some principle at stake (i guess our constitutional right to party).

      1. Anonymous

        i think it’s great that the university is finally trying to take some sort of stand on protecting students from sexual assault, but it can happen anywhere and everywhere on this campus and it is misleading for them to make it seem like Beta is responsible for all sexual assault at Wesleyan. The university needs to take broader action to address the sexual assault that can and does happen throughout our community.

      2. anon

        come off it. I have no desire to defend Beta specifically but you know as well as I do that sexual assault can and does happen anywhere on campus. publicizing it in an email is just a really transparent attempt to leverage student opinion. yr analogy is cute but if they were going after a dressed-up program house like 200 church you’d be crying bloody murder instead of scoffing at “our constitutional right to party”

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