An academic year of alleged sexual assaults and anonymous reports culminated in a cautionary letter sent to the greek community last week — a symbol of the hands-off relationship between the University of Minnesota and its fraternities and sororities.
The letter, from Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart and Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life Director Chad Ellsworth, condemned the alleged sexual violence and called for stronger support for victims.
Advocating for more accountability within the greek community, the letter announced an April 4 presentation on preventing sexual violence and requested a strong fraternity and sorority presence.
But Ellsworth said the Office for Student Affairs doesn’t have the power to require attendance. In the past, the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council have been the groups to mandate greeks’ attendance at certain events.
The letter came as a response to the latest in a series of damaging reports of alleged sexual assaults at fraternities since the fall. Ellsworth said that after coverage of one of the events by the Minnesota Daily, it was important to make sure members of the community were aware of what was happening.
The letter had been considered for some time, but as one of the incidents was reported anonymously, Rinehart said it did not seem appropriate to formally address it.
Since the beginning of the semester, two women have allegedly been sexually assaulted at University fraternities, Rinehart said. One was reported to police, and one was reported anonymously by the victim’s mother.
In both cases, he said, the administration was approached by parents who expressed that their daughters felt pressure to keep quiet about the attacks.
“The outcome was pretty unsatisfactory from a lot of perspectives,” Rinehart said of the incident reported to police. Witnesses, for example, did not step forward, and the victim said she’d never report a similar crime again because of “how it all happened,” he said.
A persisting issue
Rinehart said these incidents were caused by individuals and were not a systemwide problem. But he said attempts to cover up what happened are an entirely different issue.
In both recent allegations, Rinehart said people involved pressured the victim not to report, as that would “violate loyalty” to the greek community.
The letter “was trying to express … that [greeks’] higher loyalty is not loyalty to the greek community — it’s the loyalty to the greek values,” Rinehart said.
While the letter did not make any direct references to the incidents, it demanded that in cases of sexual assault, the “consequences must fit the crime,” and that a simple temporary suspension of the offender may not be the proper sanction for a value-based organization.
Rinehart said that in order to reduce the number of sexual assaults, the greek community needs to be open.
While OSA will support the greeks on their work to increase safety, it has no direct power, he said.
Due to liabilities that come along with the parties at greek organizations, the University has a long-standing policy of letting greek organizations govern themselves, as with the majority of other student organizations.
This relationship is common at other large universities across the country.
Trace Camacho, assistant director of student life for greek affairs at Michigan State University, said that the school is “very hands-off” with the greek community, and he hasn’t witnessed any major problems.
The University of Illinois and Purdue University also allow self-governance for greeks.
Kyle Pendleton, dean of students at Purdue University, described the relationship of the greek community and the administration at his school as a partnership.
He said he knows Ellsworth well and has followed the events within the University of Minnesota’s greek community. He said his administration would have taken the “exact same” actions were similar incidents to happen at Purdue.
In all schools, mediation of cases concerning fraternities and sororities goes through the greek community’s judicial systems.
Rinehart said the OSA’s role is not to take charge but rather to ensure that all members of the University community have the resources to prevent sexual violence, as well as to make sure sanctions are put in place for violators.
This, he said, means cutting the support system available through the IFC and taking away rights in participating in social activities for troublesome chapters.
“It’s not a matter of stepping in and taking over, it’s a matter of taking away,” he said.
Working with Aurora
Since November, OSA and the Aurora Center have been working on organizing the April 4 presentation mentioned in the letter.
Keith Edwards, a motivational speaker and director of campus life at Macalester College, will speak at the event. His presentation is titled “She Fears You.”
Jerie Smith, volunteer coordinator at the Aurora Center, said the event was planned as part of the annual National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But given the recent allegations at fraternities, organizers began to hone in on the greek community.
Smith said the event will be mandatory to all first-year athletes, but the center hopes for a broad attendance.
Rinehart’s letter expressed a similar expectation, saying attendance by fraternity and sorority members would demonstrate the “community’s commitment to standing up against sexual violence.”
In response, the IFC and the Panhellenic Council are requiring all chapters to attend the presentation. But to account for possible previous engagements, the obligation extends to 75 percent of members of each individual fraternity or sorority.
“We are thankful that [Rinehart] sent out a letter that pinpoints some of the current issues in our community and is calling all individuals and chapters to stand up against sexual violence,” Megan McMurray, president of the Panhellenic Council, said.
Also in response to the sexual assaults, sorority members this week will informally visit fraternities to discuss sexual assault prevention to provide a “woman’s perspective.”
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
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