Goldberg: Injustices at fraternities must provoke thoughtful policy change

Gideon Goldberg, Op-Ed Contributor

In response to the recent reported events alleged at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, many have joined together to demand that Interfraternity Council be eliminated on our campus. However, these fraternities are more entrenched than students might imagine. If we are truly interested in securing students’ safety, we should focus our challenge on Northwestern policies that allow such unsupervised autonomy in IFC spaces.

The news of alleged sexual assaults and possible distribution of a date rape drug at SAE and another unnamed fraternity is jarring. Even though the University is requiring IFC chapters to get live-in house directors when they renew their on-campus house leases, the vast majority of fraternities currently remain unsupervised. And when groups of men are entitled to live together in on-campus housing but have little to no monitoring, we can expect these incidents to continue. Stressing accountability and threatening to remove the culpable Greek organizations is a shallow fix; when one fraternity is removed from campus, another will come to fill the void.

In the face of such injustices, compounded by the problems of classism and sexism in the IFC and Panhellenic Association communities, it is compelling to advocate burning the whole thing to ground. As someone who is not in Greek life, I have many friends who hope to pull the Greek institutions out by their roots. Aaron Boxerman reflected on whether IFC should have a place at NU in an October op-ed; while this is a great theoretical exercise, IFC’s deep-seated involvement and powerful alumni networks likely prevent its removal from NU. In the meantime, we should move our efforts to addressing the administration’s unsafe policies.

NU’s most direct involvement in Greek life regulation is through IFC, a group of students within the Greek system that develops standards and policies. The council toes a thin line to permit the fraternities to put on parties, while ensuring they can plead ignorance in the case that anything goes wrong.

This careful ignorance has gone on too long, with too many students suffering the consequences. On many a Friday or Saturday night, the fraternity quad is packed with people standing in lines outside of frat houses or walking in circles to avoid attracting attention. Generally speaking, each house has alcohol, unless the party has been registered with IFC (and even in this case, pre-games are saturated with alcohol). But removing these communities, and the parties they host, merely pushes them to off-campus nooks where supervision is harder, and University regulation is non-existent. This would-be solution only introduces more problems.

Instead, we must push the University to introduce greater supervision at Greek parties, similar to the supervision we have in any standard on-campus dorm. IFC fraternities are likely to continue to hold their parties in their homes on campus because they won’t be shut down for sound complaints, they have large space and can avoid having to deal with the Evanston Police Department.

The live-in house director policy has yet to be implemented across the fraternity quad. It should be. Further, the University should consider adding a program like one at Cornell University requiring Greek parties to admit well-trained members of a student group against sexual assault to monitor parties. Programs like these combat the dangers that emerge when unsupervised students drink together in fraternities.

As we protest injustices inherent to IFC and stand with the victims of sexual assault, I challenge the student body to be expressive in our anger but thoughtful in our politics. When the only way we challenge IFC is by calling for it to be eliminated, we overlook the infeasibility of this goal and the consequences of removing these institutions from our campus. Instead, we should focus on pressuring the University to establish policy, such as mandatory supervision in fraternity houses, that will communicate the message that the administration will not tolerate these injustices.

Gideon Goldberg is a Weinberg senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.