Future of Fraternities Discussed During Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and its observance at Wesleyan has coincided with a spirited discussion about campus climate, including a particular focus on the future of single-sex, residential fraternities.

On April 20, the Wesleyan Student Assembly passed a resolution calling on residential fraternities to accept full co-education – “with a clear and swift plan of action” to become coeducational in membership and residence, and an initial co-educated pledge class in spring 2015. The purely advisory 14-12 vote, however, underscored a difference of opinion.

Separately, several hundred students and about 70 faculty members signed a petition calling for co-education of the fraternities. President Michael Roth acknowledged the co-education proposals, and in an April 30 blog, Roth said: “The issue of fraternities attracts strong emotions ‘for and against,’ but I’ve been pleased to see that most discussions of the issue here – be it in public forums, letters published in the Argus, or emails to the president – have been conducted in ways that aim at shared understanding.

“Many of our peer institutions have entirely eliminated ‘exclusive societies’ like fraternities, while a few others have charted different paths. I’ve already made clear to the residential fraternities that we will not accept the status quo. We have informed them that they must allow Public Safety the same level of access required of any other student residence. Failure to agree to Public Safety access will put an end to that fraternity’s existence as a student residence, and given the fact that the owners of the buildings have not yet agreed to this expectation, students now slated to live in fraternities (including Alpha Delta Phi) should make contingency plans with Student Life.

Campus conversation during Sexual Assault Awareness Month has taken place under the shadow of a widely publicized lawsuit recently filed in federal court against Psi U fraternity, alleging a sexual assault at a party. The assailant has been expelled from Wesleyan, and many have pointed out that the problem of sexual assault is by no means confined to fraternities, but fraternities – with heavily used social spaces – have nonetheless emerged as a focal point in ongoing discussions among students, in the Argus, at a faculty meeting, and at the WSA.

The petition signed by students and faculty stated: “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.”

The petition acknowledged that no single action will eliminate the problem of sexual assault on campus, but it also singled out fraternities, citing a “broad range of studies conducted nationally which explicitly link fraternities and high rates of sexual assault.

Roth has made clear his anguish over the issue of sexual violence on campus, saying, “On our campus, we have had our consciousness raised concerning this issue, but each incident is still agonizing – traumatic for survivors and painful for the whole community. As president of alma mater and as a parent, nothing disturbs me more than these attacks. My heart aches for those who have been victimized, and I work to ensure that we do everything we can to support them.

One form of student-to-student support is the annual Take Back The Night event. Held on April 24 and facilitated by Students for Consent and Communication, it provided a forum for students to share personal stories about sexual assault in a supportive atmosphere. Take Back the Night followed a sexual assault forum, held April 21, in which more than 100 students, faculty, and administrators gathered to discuss Greek life, support for survivors of sexual assault, and the reporting and judicial process.

Alysha Warren, the University’s sexual assault resource coordinator and therapist, was present and told the Argus that she thinks “it’s incredibly important that the people working on sexual violence administratively talk directly with students, and that they know who we are.”

In another blog post, Roth elaborated on the measures Wesleyan is taking to address sexual assault. “In addition to supporting survivors and creating a clear, effective process for adjudicating these incidents, we have been developing initiatives such as the Bystander Intervention Program that have a proven record of effectiveness.  And because offenders often use alcohol to exploit potential victims, our work also includes efforts to shift norms around alcohol use. Any groups that are found to encourage binge drinking will be sanctioned or disbanded.”

Resources and programs dedicated to sexual violence – published by Roth in a recent campus email – include:

  • Wesleyan’s Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator is a full-time member of the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services staff and serves as the point person for coordinating support for survivors of sexual assault. She works closely with the Sexual Assault Response Team – a group of trained staff and faculty who provide support for survivors.
  • We Speak, We Stand, Wesleyan’s Community of Care program, provides bystander intervention training to empower bystanders to intervene in situations involving such issues as high-risk alcohol use and sexual violence. Sexual violence is a complex and multi-faceted societal issue, and therefore requires the attention of all campus constituents.
  • “We Speak, We Stand” also leads mandatory sessions on sexual violence at new student orientation. Subsequently, new students convene for small residentially based discussions about sexual assault and alcohol use.
  • Wesleyan annually makes its policies regarding sexual violence clear to all students, faculty, and staff through communications from the Dean of Students and the Vice President for Student Affairs.
  • The Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator and Director of WesWELL have worked with student groups on a healthy relationship workshop series, a consent campaign, a “Red Flag” campaign to address dating violence, and several support group for survivors of sexual assault.
  • Wesleyan continues to work with student organizations, including fraternities, on the safety of their programs for all students.
  • The university annually evaluates its own efforts to assess efficacy and ensure that everything possible is being done to provide a safe environment for everyone on campus. We want all members of our community to be confident in the care we take in dealing with any reports and in the fairness of our procedures.

 

In his April 30 blog post, Roth concluded: “It’s up to all of us to create the kind of campus climate we value, and it’s become very clear that fraternities, as presently constituted, pose challenges to that ongoing effort. I expect to make a further announcement with respect to the role of fraternities on campus after consulting with trustees at the Board meeting in May. Meanwhile, I‘ll continue to listen to and learn from a variety of perspectives on how to create the best residential learning environment we can.”