Editorials, Opinions

Editorial: Five-year suspension of Sigma Chi is misguided

By
Editorial Page Board
Tuesday, October 22, 2019

In September, the University suspended the Sigma Chi fraternity for violating hazing and alcohol procedures that endangered students. The five-year suspension came within weeks of a revision to the Code of Student Conduct that targets derecognized group activity. Specifically, the revised code now punishes students who join groups that have had “University recognition suspended or permanently revoked by the University for disciplinary reasons.” In addition, Brown suspended the Buxton International House last semester until Fall 2020 following alcohol-related violations of the Code of Student Conduct.

The similar timing of these events points to heightened supervision of Greek life and program housing. Groups that have been suspended in the past, most notably Phi Psi, have been operating underground in off-campus houses for several years — Phi Psi now calls itself Lantern. It is likely that University officials revised the Code of Student Conduct not only in response to the present existence of underground groups but also in fear of the potential for Buxton or Sigma Chi to move underground as well. The code now recognizes participation in derecognized student groups as a prohibited behavior.

Given the continued thriving of derecognized groups off campus, the five year suspension of Sigma Chi is misguided and will likely push even more students into underground organizations. It will be harder for the University to maintain oversight, punish inappropriate behavior and ensure the health and safety of Brown community members. The University should instead implement alternative measures to reign in fraternities and other organizations that have violated the Code of Student Conduct, based upon a review of social life on campus and an analysis of how peer institutions have solved similar problems.

Though the revision to the Code of Conduct is theoretically an increased deterrent from joining a derecognized group, there is virtually no enforcement mechanism in place. As Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio, senior associate dean of students and director of student conduct and community standards, admitted in The Herald’s Oct. 10 article “University policy targets derecognized group activity,” “We know about the Lantern. We’ve known since the beginning, but we haven’t been able to address it since we don’t know who’s in it.” The new policy does not overcome the difficulty identifying involved students, and there is little reason to believe that this will change as more groups potentially go underground.

Clearly, students are seeking a social outlet that enables them to make friends and attend parties. That demand will not go away, and with even fewer outlets on campus to turn to, organizations only stand to grow. Pushing fraternities and other groups off campus is not the solution. “When an organization is derecognized and is continuing to perpetuate some of their behaviors off campus and without any oversight,” there could be a heightened risk to the health and safety of students, Castillo-Appollonio said.

Instead of suspending these groups, the University should place more stringent regulations on fraternities and other organizations, keeping them within sight of the administration on campus. There is no silver bullet approach to stopping hazing and other alcohol-related violations, but the University can implement several measures in conjunction to further address the problem. Among a litany of other options, the University should impose harsher punishments on specific students responsible for violations and make the punishment for these behaviors clearer. While the Student Code of Conduct explicitly prohibits hazing and sexual assault and claims to apply to individual members within a fraternity, the code does not specify what the ramifications would be and how they would be enforced.

In addition, the University ought to expand hazing-related training and mandate non-undergraduate residential advisors within fraternities. More frequent short-term suspensions in response to varying degrees of inappropriate behavior would also be a more constructive mechanism. Any of these options would be more effective than the current five-year ban, as these other options would create incentive to change behavior instead of moving underground.

Brown is not the only school to face this dilemma. Dozens of schools have dealt with hazing and other alcohol-related issues in recent years. At Pennsylvania State University, the death of Tim Piazza during a hazing incident led to the permanent ban of Beta Theta Pi on that campus. At the University of Michigan, a rash of hazing incidents across several organizations led to a temporary ban on all fraternities in 2017. Regardless of whether their solutions were effective in curbing dangerous behavior — and our experience at Brown indicates a permanent ban may not do the trick — these examples illustrate a nationwide trend that Brown needs to consider in crafting its own solutions.

The University should learn from the way that other similar schools have handled hazing and misconduct. In particular, Brown could turn to Tufts University’s overhaul of Greek life on campus as a model. Tufts is similar to Brown in many ways, including its student body size and makeup, academic standards and location. Though a larger percentage of students participate in Greek life at Tufts than at Brown, similar hazing incidents and other violations led to the temporary suspension of multiple Greek life organizations in 2016 and 2017 at Tufts .

During the suspension period, Tufts took a number of steps to work toward a healthier Greek life on campus. The university now publicly publishes the organizational status of each Greek organization on its website, clearly outlining which organizations are under suspension and the specific incidents that led to the suspension. Tufts joined the Hazing Prevention Consortium, a multi-year attempt to stop hazing across eight universities, and also undertook its own study of all social life on campus. These efforts indicate that Tufts, when compared to Brown, has made a public point of investing time and resources in holding these organizations accountable. Since this overhaul, Greek life has restarted on Tufts’ campus with much stricter regulations.

Brown would benefit from a similar process. A deep analysis of Greek life and program housing, conducted by both within the University and an external organization, would allow Brown to learn more about the underlying motivations of students who join these organizations. In addition, a review of other schools would allow Brown to understand and potentially learn from creative regulations in place elsewhere. Publicly naming suspended organizations would provide new members with proper warnings about their organization’s history, and it would create a level of transparency into the disciplinary process that does not currently exist. While Brown could certainly learn from Tufts’ overhaul, the University should adapt mechanisms and review processes that best fit Brown’s administrative capacity and student body.

No single solution will solve the issues around Greek life, and violations are bound to reoccur in the future. But the current five-year ban on Sigma Chi will only serve to make hazing and alcohol-related incidents worse. The University should reconsider its decision and work toward a more productive solution, incorporating successful strategies from other universities and imposing heightened regulations on Greek life and program housing on campus.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Krista Stapleford ’21, and its members, Dylan Tian ’21, Eduard Muñoz-Suñé ’20, Jonathan Douglas ’20 and Riley Pestorius ’21. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

One Comment

  1. Recent Brown Alum says:

    It’s hypocritical of us that we don’t even attempt to converse/connect with our fellow classmates in own community here at Brown who have made mistakes, when we feel previously incarcerated individuals deserve an opportunity to reintegrate to society. We’re so quick to assume the worst in each other. It’s absolutely toxic and solves nothing.

    Bring these organizations back on campus, put them on probation (if we have to), and call-in individuals who violate our code of conduct (if we have to), so we can stop hazing, alcohol abuse, and toxic behaviors.

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