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Letters to the Editor

Letter: Incident warrants long-term frat suspension

Thursday, December 4, 2014

To the Editor:

The Nov. 10 Herald article confirming that a Brown student was given a “date-rape” drug at a fraternity party and the subsequent Janus Forum debate and Professor Lindsay Orchowski presentation on rape culture research create an unprecedented opportunity for the University to act decisively and intelligently to reduce sexual assault.

The University’s initial response to suspend the fraternity should be applauded. But it is an interim action. The University should suspend from campus the fraternity at which the date-rape drug-spiked alcohol was allegedly consumed until each of its current members has graduated — that is, for four years. Only when each member of a community is held responsible for the actions of the whole is there any hope that we will see the change we need on campus.

The University is struggling to implement criminal or quasi-criminal punishments against those students who engage in sexual assaults. But it would be simple for it to implement ethical standards of conduct that enhance the safety of its students. At a faculty and staff meeting with the Task Force on Sexual Assault, we were told that the University holds itself to a “higher standard” than the (mere) criminal law. In that spirit, a fraternity should not be permitted to look the other way when anyone allegedly takes advantage of one of its parties to disable a woman to engage in non-consensual sex. To end such conduct, we should hold each member of this group responsible.

Multi-year suspension of a fraternity is a serious penalty. But rape is serious and endemic on this and other campuses. Until we implement the simple principle of holding everyone to be his brother’s keeper, we cannot expect change. Fraternities know or should know what is happening at their sponsored events. Fraternities and the University should monitor conduct to ensure that minors are not drinking or serving alcohol and that no one is coming to prey on young women with date-rape drugs or alcohol.

Women are told that they should walk in pairs, go together to parties to look after each other. It’s time to impose the same principle on men. When an alleged assault grows out of apparent misconduct at a fraternity party, that fraternity should not remain a specially privileged member of the community. A multi-year suspension is a reasonable first step in ending the assaults on women on our campus.

Pamela Foa
Senior Fellow, Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women

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  1. So in order to crack down on sexual assault, we must take the ham-handed approach of shutting down an entire fraternity for 4 whole years because one heinous individual committed an act at a party they held? May I remind the author that the perpetrator was determined NOT to be a member of that fraternity in the first place. So what is the ultimate goal of shutting down that fraternity? The logical conclusion of this type of disciplinary action leads to a campus with no fraternities and no on-campus parties. Does the author wish for Brown to be a dry campus? Should we go the way of conservative religious universities, complete with hall-passes, curfew, and single-sex dorms? This line of logic is not unreasonable, as the author seems to suggest that if only every environment is as safe as possible, we can remove all campus sexual assault.

    While the goal of removing all underage drinking is laudable, it must be squared with reality. Underage college students will drink. If you remove the fraternities, then students will simply go off-campus, which is arguably a less safe proposition in the first place.

    I also think that the author’s language assumes that members of fraternities “look the other way” in matters this serious. This is not the case. All fraternities must attend mandatory SAPE training. No one that I know thought of the recent case as anything but a disgusting act committed by a terrible person.

    Finally, a few parts of the author’s language trouble me. First off, not all fraternities (despite the name) are all male. There are a few co-ed fraternities, so to suggest that it is the duty of “men” alone is not entirely accurate. In addition, not all victims of sexual assault are women. I imagine the author wants to make this campus a place that is free from all sexual assault, not just sexual assault that targets women. Perhaps the author should amend her article so that it seems more inclusive towards male victims of sexual assault.

    A 4 year suspension of one fraternity does absolutely nothing to prevent sexual assault, which is committed by a small minority of individuals. The author’s article misses the point – people are going to go to parties on the weekend, whether they’re held by fraternities, night clubs, or off-campus houses. Bystander intervention training and safety training for everyone (don’t go alone to parties, watch out for your friends, don’t accept drinks from strangers, etc.,) are sensible, realistic ways to reduce campus sexual assault.

  2. I assume you would support shutting down Brown for 4 years since it is an organization of which the rapist is a member too, correct?

    • Not Brown, but everybody in its leadership positions. Not for 4 years. Forever. Also, get rid of DPS. Providence PD is way sufficient. DPS helps Chris Paxson and Margaret K to obstruct investigation.

    • Someone’s mad his frat’s in the spotlight, yet again.

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