The product of a month-and-a-half long ban on Greek social activities is a host of new safety regulations for every Greek organization. Of particular focus are the requirements for fraternities under the purview of the Inter-Fraternity Council, which have borne the brunt of the criticism in the aftermath of Rolling Stone’s story about the gang rape of a first-year student.
Though the facts of Rolling Stone’s report were later called into question, University President Teresa Sullivan continued the suspension of fraternity social activities, reiterating the importance of staying focused on addressing sexual violence in the University community.
The focus on fraternity safety is not only derived from Rolling Stone’s report. Research has shown fraternity men are more likely to commit sexual assault than non-fraternity men. The new safety regulations — which include guest lists, mandatory sober brothers, and restrictions on the types of alcohol served — have the potential to make fraternity parties safer, if enforced. And the regulations developed by all Greek organizations, not just in the IFC, are designed to improve overall safety.
It will be difficult to immediately discern what impact these regulations have, particularly on the issue of sexual assault. The University’s climate survey is not yet complete, so the actual rate of sexual assault in this community is unknown. Implementing these regulations in the spring semester might also be easier than in the fall, when first-year students have not yet made any upper-class connections and may not be able to get on a guest list for a fraternity party.
Time will tell what, if any impact the FOA addendum will have. Whether the regulations will be enforced remains to be seen. IFC President Tommy Reid said the IFC Judiciary Committee will investigate and adjudicate any reported violations of the new regulations, but “fraternities are accountable to themselves.” We believe the rules were developed with good intentions, and a full recognition of the role the Greek community plays in helping to combat sexual assault. But when rules are only enforced internally, fraternities’ adherence to them can be fairly questioned. Without an effective system of enforcement, these regulations will only be a façade to improve the image of the Greek system and the University as a whole, without improving the safety of the community.
Even if these stipulations are obeyed and enforced, they cannot safeguard against every potential sexual assault at the University. The FOA addendum only applies to certain types of fraternity functions, leaving much unregulated ground. And to regulate every single aspect of fraternity life would be an overreach of power, as fraternities are both social hubs and private households.
This is not to say the safety measures are inadequate; they may very well increase the safety at fraternity parties. But requiring changes in behavior does not necessarily produce changes in attitudes, and if some aspects of fraternity culture contribute to the prevalence of sexual violence, as some evidence suggests, then larger cultural changes are necessary beyond reforming how parties are thrown.
It is also important to remember that not all sexual assaults are committed by fraternity members. Apartment parties and bars can be unsafe spaces as well, but it is likely impossible to regulate parties which are not accountable to any particular organization.
So in addition to any reasonable regulations it is possible for the University to implement, constant education programs are necessary to change attitudes as well as behavior. Ideally, education about sexual autonomy and effective consent should begin before college, in high school sex education programs, to lay a foundation for good behavior when students are beginning to explore their sexualities.
An effective disciplinary system within the University and the police department is also necessary to encourage survivors to come forward and report their assaults. Prosecuting and punishing rapists will contribute to a necessary change in culture — sending a message that rape is a crime that will not be tolerated in the community.
We have discussed these cultural reforms before, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate them as we think about how to move forward. Just as this drive toward change began before Rolling Stone’s story, it must continue after the dust of the media storm settles. The University community has made progress, but there is still much work to be done.