If you’ve been on campus this semester, you’ve probably had at least one conversation about sexual assault and residential fraternities. Since spring break, there have been four contentious WSA meetings on the subject, drawing sexual assault survivors, fraternity brothers, and other members of the community together to discuss policy to reduce sexual assault, and what that means for Wesleyan’s residential fraternities. The discussion has morphed into a discussion encompassing not only sexual assault and fraternities, but also male privilege, gender equality, gender relations, and how all of those impact the social spaces in which we move daily.
Despite all the discussion on this topic, there has been considerable confusion on both sides about the various resolutions that have been introduced. This FAQ post aims to clear up some of that confusion.
Sexual assault has always been a problem on campus, but we haven’t talked about it much until a few months ago. Likewise, we don’t seriously discuss the role of fraternities on campus very frequently. How did the current discussion begin?
Last spring, a Wesleyan student was raped in the common room of Psi U. Following the incident, the student who committed the rape was dismissed by the University. The survivor left the University as well. In early March of this year, the survivor sued Psi Upsilon, the Wesleyan Xi Chapter of the frat, and several Psi U brothers for negligence. It was this lawsuit that set off the current discussions about sexual assault and fraternities.
But this isn’t the first time that a student has been raped at a fraternity on campus, nor is it the first time that a survivor has sued one of Wesleyan’s fraternities.
Correct. In October 2012, a student who was raped at Beta Theta Pi in fall 2010 sued the national fraternity, Wesleyan’s chapter, and the University itself for negligence. As of April 2014, the Beta lawsuit has been settled. In the lawsuit, she was referred to as Jane Doe, and will be referred to as such here as well.
So, why is this discussion happening now? Why didn’t this happen in 2012?
The answer to that is complicated. A lot of it is that these lawsuits have been wake-up calls for the administration and the student body.
At the end of spring 2010—the semester before the rape occurred—the University sent out an email following a sexual assault at Beta stating that, because the fraternity was technically off-campus at the time, the University could not guarantee students’ safety, and warned students to not attend events there. Jane Doe’s lawsuit in 2012 sued not only Beta, but also the University; because Jane Doe was a freshman and had arrived in the fall, she had not received the email, and thus was unaware of the University’s warning to avoid Beta.
In the wake of the October 2010 rape at Beta, the University’s recommended that students stay away from Beta because the University “cannot establish the safety of the premises.” While this was nothing new, the University sent out an email in February 2011 announcing a change in Wesleyan’s housing policy, which can be summed up with the following quote: “In brief: beginning Fall 2011, Wesleyan students will be prohibited from residing in — or using for social activities— houses or property owned, leased or operated by private societies that are not recognized by the University… Students found to be in violation of this policy will be subject to disciplinary measures by the University, including suspension.”
This generated significant flak from students, many of whom argued that the policy was intentionally vague and could be used to limit students from attending parties and other events at any off-campus locations. The University clarified the policy to specifically target Beta. After a tense few months, Beta agreed to join the University’s housing plan as a program house.
The University’s response in 2010 focused on Beta’s status as an unregulated off-campus space. The underlying assumption here was that it could be made a safer space for students by being brought into the campus’s housing program, giving Public Safety permission to request entry to walk through events, and having a House Manager representing ResLife in the house itself.
What was different about the rape at Psi U in spring 2013?
In 2014, the lawsuit was against Psi U, a fraternity that had always been on campus. As a result, The University could not claim, as with the Beta case, that the solution would simply be to give the University more influence over the space; that Psi U has always had on-campus status shows that this is clearly not a solution to the problem. In his email to the campus community, Roth implied that the University was questioning whether Wesleyan should have residential fraternities at all; the second paragraph of his email ended with the following sentence: “In addition, we will be gathering information to present to the Board as it considers what role, if any, residential fraternities will have on our campus in the future.” [Emphasis added.]
Moreover, student mobilization following the 2012 lawsuit against Beta focused less on the sexual assault and more on the University’s too-broad housing policy. This time, the focus has been entirely on the frats. Shortly after this email, students began to discuss meaningful policy changes regarding sexual assaults—and sexual assaults in fraternities more specifically.
What did they do?
Here’s a timeline:
March 11 – The Hartford Courant posted the article announcing the lawsuit against Psi U by a former Wesleyan student.
March 12 – President Roth sent out the “what role, if any” email (quoted above).
March 23 – A post titled Don’t Assume She’s Lying went up on Wesleying. In the second to last paragraph, this post identified fraternities as fundamentally unsafe spaces where sexual assault is more likely:
The alleged rape in Psi U last May was not an isolated incident. Whether the defendant is found innocent or guilty, sexual assault on our campus—and that includes inside fraternity residences—must be urgently addressed. Regardless of the services fraternities provide to our community, fraternity brothers are three times more likely to sexually assault someone than a non-affiliated male student. And this is not because fraternities attract a certain kind of male; it was only after membership in a fraternity that this likelihood increased. If this is shocking, consider the attitude behind comments such as “you should probably hook up with him because he brought you to formal” or “it’s bullshit that you won’t have sex with me, we have before!” Preventing sexual assault means eliminating places on campus in which consent is undervalued and sexual coercion is the reality.
March 30 – In the weekly WSA meeting, members of the WSA discussed sexual assault on campus. In broad strokes, the discussion cautioned against viewing the elimination of Wesleyan’s fraternities as a resolution to the problem of sexual assault on campus, identifying other on-campus locations where sexual assault occurs. It was established that fraternities and societies currently are not required to undergo bystander intervention training. At that meeting, one of the co-authors of the Don’t Assume She’s Lying post from March 23 spoke out against fraternities, arguing that they do not take a role of leadership in preventing sexual assault, and was criticized heavily for her comments. [Minutes Here]
April 6 – The Silence is Violence website was launched, which includes anonymous quotes overheard from students speaking about sexual assault on campus—including quotes by survivors and members of fraternities. [Wesleying Post]
April 6 – The second WSA meeting on sexual assaults and frats. Two resolutions were introduced: Resolution A and Resolution B. After a three-hour discussion of the benefits and problems with both resolutions, the WSA did a preliminary non-binding straw-poll [Minutes Here], finding the following:
April 13 – The third WSA meeting on the subject. President Roth, Dean Whaley, Alysha Warren (SART), Reverend Tracy, and Antonio Farias (Office of Diversity and Inclusion) were all present. There were over 120 students, and the discussion over the resolutions was heated, including input from many sexual assault survivors, fraternity brothers, and supporters of both sides. [Minutes Here]
April 16 – A letter was posted on Wesleying and sent to the administration. The letter laid out a number of facts, ending with the following: “We urge the University to redact its current endorsements of male-exclusive residential Program Houses by delivering an ultimatum to its three all-male residential fraternities: these fraternities must either choose to co-educate and drastically reform their societies to be welcoming and safe organizations and spaces for students of all genders, or choose to lose all affiliation with Wesleyan University and be forbidden use of their residential facilities.” This is in line with Resolution B. When the letter was posted on Wesleying, it had 431 signatures from faculty, staff, alumni, and students. Following the post on Wesleying, more members of the community added their names. Now, there are over 500 signatures—including 74 members of Wesleyan’s approximately 310 faculty members.
April 18 – The WSA sent out a survey asking the student body for their input on sexual assault, fraternities, and the intersection between the two. From April 18 to April 21, they received 796 responses. These responses showed that females, trans* people, gender nonconforming people; and cis males who are not involved in Greek life generally believe that coeducation would make fraternity spaces safer (59% and 54% respectively), or that it would have no effect (29% and 31%, respectively). In contrast, relatively few cis males in fraternities believe that coeducation would make fraternity spaces safer (18%), with a majority saying that it would have no effect (54%) and some saying it would make them less safe (26%). [Wesleying Post, WSA Blog Post, Full Survey Results]
April 20 – The fourth WSA meeting about sexual assault in fraternities. The WSA had previously scheduled a vote for Resolution B on this date, and a motion to vote on the resolution on this date passed with majority support of the Assembly. The WSA voted in a secret ballot to protect the anonymity of votes, given the vitriol and harassment from community members on both sides of the debate. Resolution B passed with a narrow majority. The breakdown was as follows:
April 27 – The last WSA meeting of the year at which resolutions will be discussed and voted on. It takes place at 7:00 PM tonight.
So let’s clarify some of these things. What are the various resolutions that have been introduced on this topic?
There are four resolutions explicitly addressing the relationships between sexual assault and fraternities: Resolution A, Resolution B, Resolution C, and Resolution D.
All four resolutions call for a set of reforms approved by the Inter-Greek Council (IGC), including bystander intervention and special host training (and there is a fifth resolution introduced that contains only these reforms to ensure that they pass regardless of whether any of the other resolutions make it through).
What is the Inter-Greek Council?
The Inter-Greek Council is a voluntary organization comprised of two (or so) members of each campus Greek organization. This semester, only AEPi, Chi Psi, RhoEP, Beta, DKE, Psi U, and Alpha Delt have attended (Eclectic has not chosen to attend). They authored a statement in March concerning a set of reforms that these seven organizations tentatively agreed to, including bystander intervention training, social host training, sober party patrolling, and other changes. It has yet to be published. The Wesleyan administration does not formally recognize the IGC.
What are all those organizations?
Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi): a single-sex Jewish fraternity founded at Wesleyan in 2009. AEPi has never had a house at Wesleyan.
Chi Psi: a single-sex fraternity that has sprung up again at Wes in 2012 after its initial iteration (founded 1844) went dormant in 2000. Chi Psi used to inhabit 200 Church but lost its house in the 1990s after financial and judicial troubles, as well as significant damage to the house.
Rho Epsilon Pi (Rho EP): a single-sorority established at Wes in 2011. Rho EP is a Wesleyan-only sorority with no national chapter. Rho EP has never had a house at Wesleyan, despite significant efforts by the organization and the WSA in the 2012-2013 school year.
Beta Theta Pi (Beta): a single-sex fraternity established at Wes in 1890. Beta inhabits a house on High Street.
Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE): a single-sex fraternity established at Wes in 1867. DKE inhabits a house on High Street.
Psi Upsilon (Psi U): a single-sex fraternity established at Wes in 1843. Psi U inhabits a house on High Street.
Alpha Delta Phi (Alpha Delt): a co-educational Greek society established at Wes in 1856 as an all-male literary society. Alpha Delt began secretly admitting women in the 1970s, and in 1992 the Alpha Delta Phi national fraternity split into the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and the Alpha Delta Phi Society, of which the Wesleyan chapter was a member.
What is Resolution A?
Resolution A calls for the IGC reforms listed above, as well as additional reforms to increase the safety of those spaces, including increased daytime hosting, greater access to fraternity spaces for other student groups, and increased safety measures for events. Philosophically, it calls upon the use of the leadership structures of the Greek organizations to create cultural changes within the organizations themselves. It does not call for co-education.
What is Resolution B?
Resolution B calls for the IGC reforms, but also calls for a change in University policies surrounding Greek life. Most notably, Resolution B calls for the removal of program housing status from any housed fraternity that does not develop a plan for co-education by the end of Fall 2014 and begin initiating a co-educated pledge class in Spring 2015. Essentially, this would give the all-male residential fraternities (Psi U, DKE, and Beta) the option to either co-educate their societies (like Alpha Delt or Eclectic), or remain an all-male fraternity without a house (like AEPi). [WSA blogpost]
What is Resolution C?
Resolution C calls for a similar set of reforms as Resolution B—many of the reforms, in fact, are exactly the same—with one key difference: Resolution C seeks “co-habitation,” in which each fraternity house would cease to be a program house, but would instead be half fraternity house and half program house, each with a 50-50 control of rooms and house governance. Fraternities themselves would not have to co-educate. Upon refusal to share their houses, fraternities could remain all-male fraternities without houses.
What is Resolution D?
Resolution D calls primarily for greater oversight of Greek life—both externally through a newly established Office of Greek Life, and internally through judicial powers granted to the IGC. It also calls for the introduction of academic standards for living in house, the requirement of consent-focused event hosting, and the establishment of a task force to examine further reforms of Greek Life.
What barriers exist within the frats to co-education?
Psi U’s national organization, like Alpha Delt’s, allows for co-education. Thus, if Psi U were to co-educate, they would not lose their national affiliation.
DKE and Beta, on the other hand, have all-male national organizations. Were DKE and Beta to co-educate, they would have to give up their national charters. Resolution B would require the organizations to either co-educate (and thus lose their national charters), or give up their house (and thus maintain their single-sex status and the national charters tied to it). Technically, both Beta and DKE can co-educate, although Resolution D’s clauses attempt to negate the option presented between losing their national charters and keeping their houses.
What if the frats refused to co-educate?
Psi U, Beta, and DKE are all owned by their local alumni charters, as far as we know. If the University implements Resolution B and the fraternities refused to co-educate, the houses would no longer be program houses and no one could live or host events there. Presumably, after a lack of incoming rent, the houses would be put on the market – old houses are expensive. The University says it has every intention of buying them and making them new student residences, if they are put on the market. But that’s up in the air.
How did Resolution B pass?
Resolution B was introduced on April 6. By the WSA’s bylaws, resolutions must be introduced one week before they are voted upon. There was no motion to vote on April 13, probably because there were 100+ people who wanted to speak about it. The vote was scheduled for April 20. On April 20, a member motioned to vote, and that motion passed by majority support of the Assembly. A vote was held. The resolution received majority support and was adopted as the official stance of the WSA.
How would Resolution B be implemented?
Resolution B includes an addendum about implementation, with provisions for what should happen in the case that (1) fraternities adopt co-education or (2) fraternities lose their houses. The provisions for (1) include recommendations that fraternities pledge initially only upperclassmen women (rather than freshmen) to decrease power differentials, that within three pledging seasons the organizations should reach 30% non-male membership (this is the only “quota” in the resolution), and insistence that the University support fraternities through this change. The provisions for (2) include recommendations that students not be allowed to live in these houses if they lose program-housing status, and that the houses be purchased and turned over to student use as soon as possible if they enter the market.
What does it mean that the WSA passed Resolution B?
It means that the WSA has recommended that the University adopt the reforms outlined in Resolution B. The WSA cannot make binding policy. It can, however, act as a voice arguing what’s best for students and student life on campus.
But none of this will solve sexual assault!
Correct. Sexual assault is a major problem, and can be reduced, but not solved. There is no magical policy to eliminate sexual assault. As people on both sides of the debate have pointed out, eliminating residential fraternities on campus will not eliminate sexual assault—and anyone who argues that it will is either uninformed or disingenuous. That said, 52% of students believe that co-education would make the spaces safer (32% predicted no change, 12% thought the spaces would be less safe, and 4% somehow had no opinion). [Wesleying Post, WSA Blog Post, Full Survey Results]
However, regardless of what policy the University takes toward fraternities, the discussion of reducing sexual violence on campus cannot stop with fraternities. We as students must continue to change our campus’s culture if we wish to make Wesleyan a safer place.