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Greek Life in Review

Campus | April 10, 2017

Greek Life on campus is in flux, and students want to know more. A series of emails from the administration regarding the status of Greek organizations coupled with the existence of a closed Student Life Review Committee (SLRC) have left many students curious about the specific methodological and strategic tactics being used to address the issue.

On November 8, members of the Tufts community received an email from university administrators in response to an article in the Tufts Observer “alleging profoundly troubling behavior in our fraternity system.” The same email explained that the behaviors described in the article violate the law, as well as university policies and values, and that the university “launched an investigation into those allegations in the article that had not been previously reported and addressed.”

The Panhellenic Council released a statement on November 9 acknowledging “the current state of toxic hyper-masculinity in our country and in particular within Greek Life at our university.” The letter also issued a series of demands addressed to fraternities including transparent new member processes, the instatement of a Diversity Inclusion Chair for fraternities, the attendance of a member of each fraternity at every Inter-Greek Council Sexual Assault Task Force meeting, accountability, responsibility, an apology, and more. That same month, the Inter-Greek Council (IGC), the student-run governing body for both fraternities and sororities, voluntarily imposed a suspension of all social activities among Greek organizations. This hold did not affect multicultural Greek organizations (MGCs).

On December 22, university community members received a message from the Office of the President announcing President Monaco’s inception of the SLRC “to undertake a holistic assessment of the culture of undergraduate student life at Tufts, with attention to the roles of residential strategy, student organizations, athletics and clubs as well as the Greek system.” The Committee met for the first time on January 23.

Currently, all Greek organizations except for MGCs, Alpha Omicron Pi, ATO of Massachusetts, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Zeta Beta Tau are on Cease and Desist, according to Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon. Zeta Beta Tau was initially under a cease and desist order, but it has since been lifted. A Cease and Desist Order, according to the Tufts University Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life General Policies handbook, “includes but is not limited to a ban on individual initiated member/new member gatherings, recruitment events, social events or all or new member meetings in the chapter house or at an off campus location” and “any necessary fraternity business meetings must be pre-approved through the chapter officers to the OFSL.” Also, “organizations on Cease and Desist may participate in departmental and council led educational opportunities and business.” Cease and Desist orders are issued by the Dean of Student Affairs Office, which, along with the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, functions as the oversight body for fraternities and sororities.

“There are active investigations through police. Our police work closely with local police and any relevant police organizations,” McMahon said. She could not offer the Observer details regarding these investigations.

A February 2 email to the Tufts community reported that two chapters were “believed to have violated the terms of their Cease and Desist orders.” The same email also reported that “one Greek Organization has elected to dissolve after being presented with the results of an investigation conducted by TUPD,” though Pi Delta, the fraternity in question, was not explicitly named in the message. McMahon explained that it is part of her office’s best practices not to release peoples’ or organizations’ names with respect to an investigation or disciplinary action. Pi Delta did not release a statement announcing its dissolution, nor have any other Greek organizations publicly responded to their disbanding.

The SLRC has been initiated to take a big-picture, large-scale look at student life on campus, which includes Greek Life, first-year experiences, athletics, and student organizations. Keeling & Associates, a consulting group, is assisting the Committee in collecting data and information from students, researching the state of student life at other colleges and universities, and summarizing topics covered during meetings, and consolidating feedback from exercises like the “Idea Wall” in the Campus Center. Keeling reports that it has been in contact with about 800 students over the course of the semester, according to McMahon.

Aside from the SLRC, McMahon said that there is a group of police, senior administrative staff, general counsel, and members of the Dean of Students Affairs Office who meet on a monthly basis to assess the state of investigations, Cease and Desist orders, and general communications with Greek organizations.

This group seeks to tackle questions like: “What’s the state of different investigations, what’s new, what has come up?” said McMahon.

Dr. Susan Murphy, Vice President Emerita of Student and Academic Services at Cornell University, is the chair of the Committee. Daniel Doherty III (H03) serves as the Vice Chair—he is an alumnus of Delta Upsilon fraternity. His status as an alumnus of Delta Upsilon fraternity was only recently added to his biography on the SLRC web page and is not mentioned in his biography on the Board of Trustees web page. Deborah Jospin (J80, A14P) also serves as Vice Chair; Deborah is also a member of the Board of Trustees. A second Delta Upsilon alumnus, Kevin Cloherty (A86), also serves as a member of the Committee.

All but one of the current students on the Committee were at one time or are currently members of a Greek organization at Tufts. One of those students is in an MGC.

When asked if members’ ties to Greek organizations will influence the Committee’s doings and ultimate recommendation, Murphy said that there are “many members without such ties” and that “even among members with current or former ties to Greek organizations, there is a broad range of perspectives as well as relationships with many types of Greek organizations, including multicultural as well as Panhellenic and IFC organizations.”

According to Murphy, two of the student members of the Committee were chosen for their positions as President and Vice President of the TCU Senate.

“President Monaco solicited recommendations for the other student positions on the Committee from faculty, administrators, and student leaders,” Murphy said.

Senior Shai Slotky, Vice President of TCU Senate and member of the SLRC, said there was little transparency about which students would be selected to sit on the Committee.

“This was a big issue and the students selected didn’t actually know what other students were going to be selected,” Slotky said. “We didn’t know how many other students or members of the Committee [there would be].”

Slotky said that his request to add more students to the Committee was denied.

“That was tough and other students were upset about that, as was I, but hopefully if the effort continues there will be far more student voices than are currently on the Committee,” he said.

Committee meetings are closed and confidential “to facilitate the open exchange of ideas and information,” according to Murphy, but any student can submit a message to the Committee on its web page. Student focus groups and presentations from faculty, administration, and staff help the Committee assess the state of student life at Tufts.

Murphy said the Committee’s goal is to “develop recommendations that support holistic, inclusive engagement in undergraduate student life, including student organizations and clubs, athletics, the undergraduate social and residential experience, and the Greek system, and to do so in a way that aligns with the university’s values.”

The Committee has been involved with a variety of ways of collecting information about Tufts student life and assessing its health.

“With the assistance of outside experts, we have consulted broadly with members of the Tufts community including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents. We have been using a variety of approaches ranging from one-on-one interviews and small group discussions on campus to open forums for alumni and parents. We have received hundreds of individual email messages from students, alumni, and parents sharing their experiences and perspectives. At the same time, we have also been reviewing Tufts internal data, collecting comparative data, and learning about policies and practices and other institutions,” Murphy said.

The Committee will submit a preliminary recommendation to President Monaco in May. It is possible that the recommendation will be that the Committee needs more time to work.

“I have real hope that it [the Committee] will offer a path forward that will significantly improve the Tufts student experience. I also recognize that, because it’s working as a committee that people can’t sit down and engage with every minute, there are a lot of questions about where that’s going to go, and I recognize that people are wondering and waiting for signs of what that means,” said McMahon.

According to Slotky, the Committee was hesitant to engage with the particular issue of Greek Life at the beginning of the semester, although it is a prominent conflict on campus.

“There was a reluctance to call it [an issue]. We [the students on the Committee] really pushed the Committee to say, ‘Hey, this is a pertinent issue,’ that we need to be focusing on Greek Life a lot more than we are focusing on it, and that worked,” he said.

Slotky said that student pressure from both within and outside of the Committee made it more focused on Greek Life.

Indeed, the meeting just before Spring Break was solely devoted to Greek Life, according to Slotky, and Committee members were asked about the pros and cons of Greek Life on campus.

Student members of the Committee are pleased with some of the progress made over the course of the semester, though it took some time for every member to get on the same page.

“There were massive learning curves with different members because people are just coming in with different relationships to the current student body. I think we’ve been able to push the committee to think of things in different ways or even just to acknowledge how much they don’t know, and kind of direct what each person needs to catch up on,” said junior Benya Kraus, Diversity and Community Affairs Officer of TCU Senate, and member of the Committee.

Slotky said he has mixed feelings about the Committee’s productivity, and he feels there was a lot of time spent playing catch up in terms of knowledge of student experiences and campus culture. He discussed the ways in which some members of the Committee believed social life at Tufts during the 70s and 80s would be comparable to campus today. Slotky said progress was slow because committee members had differing levels of knowledge about student life on campus today.

“Coming in, I think a lot of people assumed there there’s a baseline experience that you can have as a Tufts student…So it took a lot of catch up which I kind of wish we had started earlier,” he said.

Slotky also noted “really productive” conversations, particularly in the pre-Spring Break meeting that focused on Greek Life only.

On Thursday, April 6 and Friday, April 7, the SLRC met to hear presentations from its student members about their experiences with various aspects of campus life, including Greek Life.

The Observer asked McMahon about the level of momentum and vigor tangible on campus as related to the issue of Greek Life and how it might compare to similar efforts in the early 2000s.

“One thing that people who have been here for a long time have said to me—faculty members, staff members—is this level of engagement around the question of student life is new. While there have been comprehensive efforts before, this degree of how we wrestle with these questions is a different and distinct opportunity to think about what we’re doing,” she said.