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Is Campus Sexual Assault Just a “Greek” Thing?

Examining the Link Between Greek Life & Sexual Assault

Greek life sexual assault case

So what is going on with the association of Greek Life and sexual assault?

In the wake of many months’ worth of negative press surrounding collegiate Greek Life, this question is likely top-of-mind for students, universities and national fraternity organizations alike. And rightfully so.

Over the past few months, countless articles and editorials have tried to piece together the messy puzzle that links Greek Life organizations with alleged sexual assaults.

Should it be attributed to the alcohol-bingeing subculture? Do fraternity members feel organizational pressure to sleep with a certain number of women? Is the fraternity date-rape culture linked to hazing? Are members forced to do it? Is there really a link to Greek Life at all or is it, perhaps, part of a bigger-picture problem? Does correlation imply causation?

“Some say that thinking of campus sexual assault as a fraternity-only problem is misguided,” said Anna North, author of a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece.

Still, nobody has successfully answered any of these questions. At least not with proven answers. In fact, a Rolling Stone cover story featured in a fall 2014 issue of the magazine proved to lack substantial or accurate facts, leading to an eventual apology from the publication for its lack of fair research and representation. Failure to obtain any facts or information from the opposing side crushed the credibility of the story, inevitably rendering it useless.

While the Rolling Stone piece was far from the first of its kind, it did seemingly set a trend in the media’s portrayal of Greek Life. Perhaps incidents, like the ones that now pop up in the news daily, were swept under the rug or handled privately in previous years, or maybe the problem is steadily growing worse.

Is Sexual Assault Happening on College Campuses Everywhere?

Sexual assault on college campusesThis issue doesn’t appear to discriminate geographically. Universities in Connecticut, Texas, Virginia and other states across the country have experienced sexual assault allegations within their Greek Life community.

Even prestigious universities right here in our own backyard in North Carolina are far from immune to the problem. Already this year, fraternities at Duke University in Durham and North Carolina State University in Raleigh have faced allegations of sexual assault that were publicized on both a local and national level.

To complicate matters further, some of these incidents occurred off-campus, in houses privately owned by the fraternity or one of its members, which can limit a University’s level of involvement in the case.

According to Shelly Dobek, the director of Greek life at North Carolina State University, N.C. State has discussed its role and ability as a University to prevent incidents like sexual assault from occurring.

“We can set expectations, we can design interventions and we can hold students accountable,” Dobek said. “There will always be issues that will bubble up and the challenge is in what areas do we need to increase efforts and awareness.”

What Measures Are Greek Life Organizations Taking to Prevent Sexual Assault?

Greek Life programs at Universities all over the country have taken different approaches to preventing sexual assault and fostering a safe community for their students.

Just last month at Purdue University in Indiana, the Interfraternity Council voted to ban hard liquor drinks containing more than 15 percent alcohol on fraternity properties. Purdue’s Panhellenic Association passed a similar resolution, which will encourage sorority members to avoid hard liquor at organization functions.

Meanwhile at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Delta Kappa Epsilon has filed a lawsuit against the University after it ordered all fraternities on campus to admit women as members and residents. According to The New York Times, the order came from the University “as many schools were struggling with issues related to heavy drinking, dangerous behavior and sexual assault at fraternities and sororities.”

Here in North Carolina at N.C. State, Dobek confirmed that the Greek Life Department was on top of the issue.

Dobek said that even before the allegations N.C. State has faced this school year, the University started some efforts to prevent sexual assault in the campus community as a whole.

“We started some efforts early in the fall. We’ve been working in partnership with OIED and with the women’s center to provide sexual violence prevention training.”

In addition to campus-wide prevention resources, Dobek said that N.C. State fraternities and sororities have heightened awareness this year by creating programs and plans to address the sexual assault and sexual conduct within their organizations.

The Interfraternity Council has discussed bringing in experts to help the University’s fraternity chapters with risk assessment, while the women’s groups are working to train two to three members per year to help bridge the gap between their organizations and campus resources if a member has faced sexual assault. Dobek said that the University is working hard to help the women’s groups understand the resources available to them.

Dobek also confirmed that the University’s Greek Life organizations truly want to be a part of the solution, noting that naming organizations hides the individual held responsible behind the organization, and gives the rest of the group, who are doing right, a bad reputation.

Dobek also mentioned that this is the first year that the University has named the organization, rather than just the location on campus where the incident occurred, which may have heightened the sense that the issue is isolated to fraternities and sororities.

“When you paint with broad strokes we’re not talking about holding individuals accountable,” Dobek said. “Most students are doing the right thing most of the time.”

Are All Greek Life Programs Experiencing Sexual Assault Issues?

College fraternity sexual assaultMeanwhile, a couple hundred miles away at the University of North Carolina Asheville, UNC Asheville Assistant Director of Student Engagement Elliott Kimball said he has had nothing but positive experiences since starting his role at the University last June.

“Coming from a familiar place with two previous Greek Communities on larger campuses, I think it is the culture that gives context to how our fraternity men and sorority women operate,” Kimball said. “It is rare that my chapters have alcohol at their mixers or social functions, and I think this is just one example of what I mean by this culture. Given the national statistics regarding student involvement with acts of sexual violence, we know that most often a collegiate alcohol culture plays a large role in creating those tragic situations.”

“I am not naive or ignorant enough to believe sexual violence isn’t taking place on any campus. No institution is immune, Greek Community or not. But, I think the difference lies in educating students on available resources, reporting structures and options and where the line of consensual sexual activity is drawn,” Kimball went on to add. “I’m just thankful my students are so open to these conversations, and view sexual assault prevention as a community responsibility.”

In addition to a seemingly unique culture, UNC Asheville appears to be somewhat of a leader in its approach toward sexual assault education.

“I find UNC Asheville to be progressive and consistent in our campus-wide programming around topics of bystander intervention, sexual violence prevention, and education around the idea of consent.”

Still, as many organizations and universities across the country work toward a solution to sexual assault, both in Greek Life and campus-wide, the negative reputation Greek Life has gained in recent months has left a bitter aftertaste in the community. Even for those who were members of Greek Life at some point.

As writer Ali Vitali of MSNBC wrote in her editorial piece addressing the campus sexual assault crisis, “the sexual assault stories are becoming too frequent, with too consistent a tie to the Greek community.”

Vitali, a former sorority member herself, said after years of defending Greek Life and pushing back on negative stereotypes that she could no longer proudly defend the lifestyle.

“I can’t, in good faith, do that anymore,” Vitali said. “The way the system is now, the costs far outweigh the rewards.”

Where Does Greek Life Go From Here?

Some, like Vitali, wonder if it’s time to shut down the Greek Life community entirely, while others are working hard to reinstate the good reputation fraternities and sororities once upheld.

As a Huffington Post editorial suggests, fraternities may finally feel forced to address the issue as more women are becoming less afraid to speak up.

There is no formula or equation that will completely eliminate the issue in Greek Life, or on college campuses in general for that matter, but there are certainly steps that can be taken to lower the number of sexual assault cases and increase education around the issue.

It will be interesting to see how the proactive measures that some Universities are taking will compare to the reactive measures that Universities who have already faced sexual assault allegations are being forced to take.

And, as more sexual assault cases continue to occur on college campuses across the United States, it may be time to take a deeper look to understand if this issue is isolated to Greek Life, or if it is a wider campus community problem.

This entry was posted in Sexual Assault.