I’ve been trying to figure out how to start off this post and I’m not sure I’ll do better than the Hartford Courant: “A former Wesleyan University student who was assaulted two years ago during a Halloween fraternity party filed a federal lawsuit Friday accusing the school of failing to protect her from dangers at [Beta Theta Pi] fraternity, which she claims was known on campus as the ‘Rape Factory.’ ” In an extremely brief article, the Courant notes that one ‘Jane Doe’ of Maryland has filed a 27-page lawsuit in the US District Court of Connecticut, alleging that the University violated Title IX by failing to “warn or otherwise take corrective action” against the fraternity that could have prevented the assault.
As many of you may know, Betawastheprimarysubjectofsomecontroversyveryrecently, as the University, in the midst of a smoldering disagreement with Beta, changed its housing policy to specifically declare that “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,” which essentially meant that the University could punish you for eating dinner at a ‘unrecognized’ church, or secret society, or a cupcake shop, or a strip club, or pretty much anything else. Needless to say, some people were pretty confused and pretty pissed.
About two weeks ago, in the scorching heat of student outrage over the housing policy revision, we reported on a letter sent to President Roth from FIRE.org—the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Most notably, the note criticized the controversial policy, expressing grace concern regarding “the threat to freedom of association posed by Wesleyan University’s new policy.”
We’re glad that President Roth has begun to see the problems with the language as written. Unfortunately, even if the language is made less broad, there is still the fact that Wesleyan promises its students “freedom of assembly” in its “Responsibility of the University to Its Members” policy. It’s hard to see how Wesleyan will be able to reconcile its intense desire to forbid its students from being a member of the off-campus Beta Theta Pi (whether you call it a club, private society, fraternity, or what have you) with its promise to students to respect their freedom of assembly.
“I want to thank the vocal Wesleyan undergraduates for reminding their president to be more careful in his use of language, and to be more attentive to student culture. Of course, I should have known this already, but hey, I try to keep learning.”
Roth begins by outlining the original intention of the policy, which relates, obviously enough, to recent issues regarding Beta’s off-campus status:
Our goal was to remove a dangerous ambiguity that has existed for more than five years: the Beta Fraternity seems to be a Wesleyan organization, but the university has no oversight over the house. We wanted to accomplish two things with this change: 1. to encourage Beta to join the other fraternities and societies in working together with the school; 2. to prevent similar situations from arising in the future with private homes adjacent to campus.
But the policy itself employs dangerously vague, overreaching language [key quote: “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”] that many have interpreted as a direct threat to student liberties. Here, Roth is refreshingly clear in addressing the issue, taking responsibility on multiple levels, and assuring that the policy will be clarified and amended:
Along with providing a general narrative of everything you pretty much already know, the Fox article, headlined “Wesleyan University Students Complain New Housing Policy Exerts Too Much Control,” provides some especially interesting viewpoints from David Pesci, Wesleyan’s director of media relations, and Jeff Tanenbaum ’12, president of Beta (and currently misspelled as “Tanendaum”). Despite last week’s striking student backlash, Pesci isn’t backing down:
“They’re stretching the definition of the rule,” Pesci said.
Pesci told FoxNews.com that next fall the regulations aren’t changing, just being more heavily enforced to protect the students. He said the revisions are being made only to tell students they will face disciplinary action if the rules are broken.
But Tanendaum isn’t convinced. He said if students wish to gather at any private society, such as “The Italian Society,” it would have to be approved by college officials, or else they could face consequences.
If you couldn’t make the protest in Usdan today but wish to protest the University’s revisions to its residency policy, you may sign the petition online here. (Do not sign this if you already signed the paper petition today.) Full petition text after the jump. If you have photo or video of today’s protest, send to staff(at)wesleying(dot)org and we’ll post it.