Mar 262015

March on ISU Quad

So I guess it’s time for me to start catching up on the blogging again. There’s been plenty to blog about of late but precious little time to do so.

What spurred me to get back to writing was a terrific event held by our students at Illinois State last night. Given all of the recent bad news that fraternities have been on the receiving end of lately, almost always at their own invitation, it was quite refreshing to see our Greek community stand up last night and say they don’t want to live in an environment where racism is acceptable. The conversation began when members of our Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) colony, the same group under fire at the University of Oklahoma, went to our Interfraternity Council and sought to lead a dialogue on creating a safe and inclusive campus environment. Our IFC includes organizations typically housed in a National Panhellenic Council (NPHC, for black Greek organizations), as our NPHC is currently offline as we work on chapter development. The conversation went on for an hour with IFC, and caused IFC to ask their Chapters to look at national policies on diversity and inclusion, and to explore the development of policies within IFC to improve the fraternity system.

But the group didn’t want to stop there. Wanting to have a public conversation among all groups, this past week IFC worked with our sororities, our Multicultural Greek Council, all of our cultural governance groups, and a number of others to lead a march on our Quad, which included two laps on the Quad and a signing of a pledge to create a safe and inclusive campus environment.

The best part of the evening however, was immediately following the march. As white students gathered in their councils on the bridge spanning College Avenue, a group of black students gathered on the Quad to ask questions and air concerns to our IFC leadership. Joe Laskey, our IFC president, did an excellent job of giving students room to speak, air their concerns, and talk about how  important it was to take the next steps together as a community. The two groups then merged on the bridge, and about a hundred students spent the next thirty-five minutes in a large circle sharing perspectives and having an honest dialogue about differences in the ISU experience based on race. It was a difficult conversation for many to have, but all of our students engaged passionately and respectfully, and listened to each other’s points of view. It is a first step of what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue, and it was entirely driven by our students. Our staffs in Fraternity & Sorority Life and Diversity Advocacy did a great job supporting our students, but as an educator it was heart-warming to see our students engage because they believed it was the right thing to do.

I am not affiliated with a fraternity, and my colleagues and friends find delightful irony in the fact that I supervise fraternities and sororities on our campus. And since I get to see all of the conduct side of our Greek system, it would be easy to become jaded about the value of Greek life on campus. But last night was a very welcome reminder that Greek communities on campus can serve as catalysts both for community and for change.

In sharp contrast to what took place on our Quad last night, I noted this week that fraternities have joined at the national level to create FratPAC, and the group is lobbying Congress to make it harder for colleges and universities to investigate sexual assaults in the collegiate environment. From my perspective, this is a rather obvious ploy, under the guise of deferring to the criminal process, to shield national organizations from blame and (more importantly) lawsuits. These “leaders” of fraternities know full well that the criminal burden of “beyond a reasonable doubt” will mean that most accusations will never make their way to a courtroom, so now they are seeking to insulate themselves from administrative legal proceedings without even the most basic understanding of the law. At a time when fraternities are under fire for racism, sexual harassment and assault, and alcohol and drug abuse, this is exactly the wrong response. It is time to CHANGE fraternity culture, not protect it. “Boys will be boys” is no longer an acceptable response for egregious behaviors that harm members of our academic communities and threaten many others. Maybe these “leaders” should be more concerned with the actions of individual Chapters and fraternity members as a whole, rather than with infringing on the legal rights of reporting parties. Apparently however, it’s easier to contest federal law than to make cultural change inside of fraternities from the perspective of the national organizations.

I wish these people could have seen what took place on the ISU Quad last night; I rather suspect our students know more about leadership than they do.

Note: For those interested, here is an article on the march from The Daily Vidette, our student newspaper.