Closson: Like FSU, Northwestern’s response to Greek issues must acknowledge problems with culture

Troy Closson , Opinion Editor

On Monday, Florida State University announced an indefinite suspension of all fraternities and sororities following the recent death of Andrew Coffey, a fraternity pledge who died at an off-campus party. The announcement also cited a separate incident in which a member of a different fraternity was charged with the sale and trafficking of cocaine as a reason behind the university’s decision.

Other colleges and universities have also taken action against fraternities after similar incidents. Louisiana State University suspended Greek activities after freshman Maxwell Gruver died as a result of a “potential hazing incident” at a fraternity. When Penn State fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza died at a party for those who accepted bids, the fraternity was suspended pending investigation.

Among all the responses, however, FSU’s stands out. And Northwestern administrators should take a page out of their book.

When discussing issues within Greek life, many quickly jump to shout “not all fraternities.” And during sexual assault conversations, men can often feel the need to make sure everyone knows “not all men” act that way. Rather than suspending the individual fraternity where Coffey died or limiting action to restrictions on events, FSU administrators took a clear stance. They sent a message and didn’t say, “Well maybe this wouldn’t happen in some fraternities or sororities.”

At NU, it’s important to examine the culture behind sexual assault and harassment on campus and in fraternities, rather than treating them as isolated, unrelated incidents. Discussion surrounding last year’s reports of multiple alleged sexual assaults and druggings at Sigma Alpha Epsilon is valuable — but we can’t forget that the reports involved another unnamed fraternity. In these conversations, it’s vital to address individual organizations when issues are brought to light, but not expanding them to underlying problems only limits potential change.

In FSU’s statement, university President John Thrasher clearly addressed the culture behind issues concerning Greek life on campus, saying: “For this suspension to end, there will need to be a new normal for Greek life at the university. There must be a new culture, and our students must be full participants in creating it.”

None of this is meant to compare FSU’s response to a student’s death to sexual assault and harassment at NU. The two issues are entirely different and both situations require different responses — but the key is that FSU sent a message and showed exactly where it stands. The specific fraternity involved, Pi Kappa Phi, may face larger consequences upon further investigation. But FSU took a step back and addressed the deeper issues existing in the culture of Greek life on their campus and recognized that they weren’t limited to a single organization.

No, I’m not advocating for all Greek life to be indefinitely suspended on this campus. But NU administrators must strongly show where they stand on the issue of sexual assault — even beyond their efforts last spring. The University decided not to take disciplinary action against SAE and the other unnamed fraternity after concluding its review of reports, but a stronger action addressing the greater issues on campus should’ve been taken by administrators. It’s not a secret that rape culture, sexual assault and hypermasculinity are problems that impact many spaces on campus including fraternities. It’s time Northwestern clearly addresses that. While the University has facilitated dialogue on these subjects, it has to become a participant in them too — just as FSU did.

Further investigation into SAE’s actions is obviously necessary. But beyond that, now and in the future, the University needs to show it actually supports survivors with clear and immediate responses like FSU’s when issues arise. Rather than taking a middle ground or delaying action, FSU administrators showed they clearly see the issues existing within Greek life on their campus. NU must do the same. NU must show exactly where it stands.

Troy Closson is a Medill sophomore. 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.