Critics: Targeting Fraternities Won’t Solve U of O Sexual Assaults Problems

October 29, 2014

By Shelby Sebens at GoLocalPDX

A proposed recommendation to stop the expansion of greek life at the University of Oregon in an effort to curb sexual assaults makes fraternity members an unfair target, reinforces old stereotypes and doesn’t solve the underlying problem, critics say.

A University Senate Task Force, called Twenty Students Per Week ( a reference to the number of students sexually assaulted on campus), has made several recommendations including funding for rape prevention, mandatory education and more. The task force, made up of students and faculty, made the recommendations last week to the univesrity.

The University Senate will vote on the recommendations Nov. 5.

The recommendations call for stopping the expansion of fraternities and sororities. The task force cites a campus survey that states men who join fraternities are 3.5 times more likely to rape while women in Greek life were nearly twice as likely to have experienced rape or sexual assault.

But critics say the assessment is unfair.

“Not to say that people in Greek life don’t party and don’t like do stupid things but I think so does everyone else in college,” said Trevor Curtis, a U of O fraternity member. “I think that we’re under a microscope. I think there’s a lot of unknowns for people outside of Greek life so we’re kind of targeted. I think that anyone who goes to a party in college could be a target.”

Colleges across the country have been honing in on fraternities and sororities in an attempt to combat the rampant problem of sexual assaults on college campuses amid pressure from lawsuits, federal investigations and multiple media reports of sexual assaults on college campuses.

Universities in Tennessee, Illinois and Mississippi have suspended or put fraternities on probation, according to theNew York Times.

Universities’ Discretion

While critics and some students might not like the focus on fraternities, universities are within their legal rights to decrease Greek life, said Professor John Banzhaf of GWU Law School

“It would not be unreasonable for the college to say ‘let’s cut back on the fraternities’,” Banzhaf said. “This is an experiment. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t work.”

Fraternity members argue it’s unfair to just target Greek life and that the priority should be focusing on the entire student population.

“To see all of this kind of stuff going around and to hear what’s being said about our community hurts me a lot,” senior at the U of O and fraternity member Ryan Donlon said. “I know how much our community puts in to breaking down the stereotypes of ‘frats.’”

Donlon said it’s easier to target a smaller group of students than to look at the university as a whole in trying to combat the problem.

“I unfortunately disagree with a lot of the blame that’s being placed on fraternity life,” he said. Donlon said his fraternity requires alcohol and sexual assault education courses that result in an $800 if they are not completed.

The University Senate is taking feedback online.

Targeted

Critics say it’s unclear what impact ending or suspending greek life would have on campus sexual assaults, if any.

“You’re now saying all members of Greek life have to be put through additional scrutiny.  That doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense,” said Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education. “I just get concerned that we’re not making individual determinations in a more thoughtful way.”

But proponents of the task force recommendations say the numbers speak for themselves and something needs to be done.

“We thought it best that we try to make it (Greek life) better before we make it bigger,” said task force co-chairman Randy Sullivan. “I’m optimistic though. I think that we can get some programs in place and then start looking at expansion.”

The heat on universities to decrease sexual assault cases is leading to a variety of new approaches, from California’s“yes means yes” law to Wesleyan University’s “co-ed” fraternities. What impact these measures will have remains to be seen, he added.

“It’s very practical. They’re looking at where they’re seeing high incidents of sexual assault,” said Cari Simon, an attorney at Bode & Fierberg, who represents survivors of school related sexual violence.

Simon represented a woman at Wesleyan University who was raped at a party. In response, the university has ordered fraternities to allow both men and women.

Simon said there are multiple reports that show rape is more likely to occur at fraternities and that if the U of O moves forward on the recommendation it would be a step in the right direction.

“They take what is a logical response to that,” she said of rape occurring more often at fraternities. “They’re not going to expand an area where this is most likely to happen.”

But critics argue the targeted approach will not have its intended effect.

“I think that there is a danger to colleges and universities if they fail to consider the issue from the broader lens,” said Peter Smith Hisler, president and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference. “When they begin to make specific communities within their campus separate from the rest then I think that there is a risk involved… I think a target of the fraternity community is not going to lead to the culture changes that folks think it will.”

Schools: University of Oregon Cases: Occidental College: Student Found Guilty of Sexual Assault After Incapacitation Standard Is Misapplied