University support grows for national fraternity and sorority safety efforts
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A growing number of public university presidents and chancellors indicated broad support for new collective action to make fraternity and sorority systems safer across the country. The efforts, prompted by growing national concern over hazing, sexual assault and alcohol misuse within these groups, could eventually be adopted by hundreds of universities.
At the request of Penn State President Eric Barron, F. King Alexander, president of Louisiana State University, and John Thrasher, president of Florida State University, public university presidents and chancellors from across the country discussed proposals for collective action during a gathering that the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) hosted in Washington, D.C. The meeting was an outcome of an initial leadership meeting in April at the Big Ten headquarters in Chicago that was hosted by Barron, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and University of Nebraska–Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green on the topic of Greek life.
The collective measures for which there was broad support include the creation of a nationwide Greek chapter score card, which may include elements similar to the one instituted in 2017 at Penn State and at the University of Iowa, such as total members, cumulative GPA, alcohol and hazing violations, as well as chapter suspensions. The exact format of what may be included is yet to be determined, but the presidents agreed that being able to look at national information to determine how Greek chapters vary from institution to institution would be highly useful. In addition, the ability to discern patterns associated with national Greek organizations would be a valuable tool to assess whether national organizations are supporting strong cultures and values.
This tool would be the first to allow universities to have individual scorecards with consistent metrics to see where issues persist, and to factor that cumulative data into decisions, such as loss of recognition or disciplinary actions for violations. Importantly, it may surface issues within one organization, such as “secret” hazing practices, dangerous abuses of alcohol, or other issues of serious misconduct — allowing corrective action to be taken.
“This collaborative approach will now allow college officials to learn from other institutions and compare how different chapters of particular fraternities or sororities are performing,” Barron said. “It gives students and families an indication of the priorities and management of a particular chapter on their campus, and it holds national organizations accountable.”
In their discussions, the presidents also broadly supported the creation of a resource database where universities can share promising new approaches to managing Greek life; legislative actions on a state-by-state basis; federal anti-hazing legislation efforts; and other vital reports that could help advance student safety. The database will allow an exchange of information on what may work and what challenges remain, and will provide institutional leaders with tested initiatives that can be implemented on their own campuses. Further, a national repository of research and data-driven approaches would allow researchers to collectively compare, track, measure and analyze potential solutions to the longstanding problems plaguing Greek life. A tool of this nature would permit long-term evaluation of various actions and policies.
“We want to make it easier for our colleagues around the nation to access a resource for best practices, and we can create a new and safer standard of engagement between colleges and Greek life,” said Alexander.
The presidents also supported the idea that colleges and universities, fraternity and sorority members, and the national Greek-letter organizations must all be aligned in their commitment to improve safety.
“This is the beginning of our collective thinking beyond traditional limits. We will continue to explore additional solutions. It is time for everyone with a meaningful stake in Greek-life to fully understand the serious obligation they have to exercise responsible conduct,” said Barron. “We are committed to approach these issues from every possible angle, and to test, learn, measure and continue to problem solve together.”
Leaders noted that the challenges within Greek organizations are complex and in, some cases, unknown. The hope is that the considerable influence of this large group of institutional leaders and these collective actions will provide much more information than exists today; compel fraternity and sorority organizations to make critical changes; and help to create a sustainable path forward.
“APLU applauds presidents Barron, Alexander, and Thrasher for elevating the critically important issue of student safety at fraternities and sororities and setting forth a series of steps each university can take to protect students. Their proposal for action sparked a vital dialogue about the urgency of student safety at Greek-letter organizations and how to best improve safety on campus generally,” said Peter McPherson, president of APLU. “APLU fully supports the proposals and will send them to the presidents and chancellors at our member institutions. Our association looks forward to continuing to facilitate additional conversations in support of these ideas.”
To begin, the initiatives will be hosted by Penn State. Once the value of these tools is proven, ideally these resources will be permanently housed with an independent entity. Hazing, sexual assault and alcohol misuse is a problem that persists not only within Greek-letter organizations, but also within other student groups on college campuses across the nation. A culture shift is needed, and these initial steps are meant to establish more accountability, and create sustainable and meaningful change.
APLU’s McPherson noted that the proposals present an opportunity for university leaders to combine collective interests in student safety and well-being, in an effort to lessen the likelihood of more tragic deaths within fraternities and sororities.