Bhardwaj: On an unnerving introduction to campus life

Divya Bhardwaj, Op-Ed Contributor

After struggling through a surprisingly exhausting first four days of classes, my friends and I were looking forward to enjoying the weekend. But as we got ready to go out, our carefree mood was interrupted when a notification popped up on my phone: “Crime Notice.” Huddling around the screen, we read that multiple people had reported being drugged at an Alpha Epsilon Pi on-campus fraternity house event the previous night. Hearing that students faced such abuse saddened and angered me, but, naively, I trusted that Northwestern would hold the perpetrators accountable.

I tried to enjoy my night, but I could not stop thinking about the incident. I managed to convince myself that surely such an occurrence was not commonplace. The next day, however, I received a nearly identical email. Another person reported being drugged at an on-campus fraternity house event, this time at Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

It’s strange for crime notices to contribute to your first impression of social life at NU. As a freshman, I wanted to meet new people, attend social gatherings and make campus feel like home, but being surrounded by strangers and trying to navigate a new environment made me anxious. Reports of drugging only exacerbated these uncertain feelings, as it sickened me to think that such abuse could happen to anyone. Not only that, but it was also frightening to see that I could not expect accountability on campus.

I believe the terms under which the University investigates these incidents should be determined by the people who report being drugged, and I hope that is the case. I cannot speak to how the investigation is being handled internally, but from an external perspective, it appears NU is prioritizing the wrong people.

Instead of centering survivors, the University seems to protect abusers. Its commitment to minimizing fraternities’ responsibility was immediately apparent in the crime notices — instead of mentioning fraternities by name, it simply listed the street addresses of their on-campus houses. If NU will not even name the fraternities involved, why should I believe that those responsible will face any consequences?

Furthermore, after numerous students protested Greek life after the incidents, the University chose not to act. NU had previously instituted a ban on chapter-sponsored social events and recruitment activities, but I found it disappointing that the University did not further acknowledge students’ concerns. NU has made it clear that it is committed to working with fraternities, but I would be more reassured to hear the University is prioritizing survivors’ voices.

It is frightening and alarming that not only did people report being drugged during my first week of classes, but also that the University is unwilling to acknowledge the root of the problem: the inherent power that fraternities unfairly hold. I am not calling for NU to abolish Greek life immediately, but I would expect both fraternity and university administrators to at least recognize that we should be working to ameliorate systemic issues. Focusing on the experiences of those who have faced mistreatment at the hands of Greek life instead of deflecting blame from those responsible would help restore my faith in NU’s justice system.

Divya Bhardwaj is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, 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.