Even before it was the subject of national attention, sexual assault uniquely affected college campuses, and the University of Rhode Island is no exception. Earlier this year, senior Kelsey Santmyer wrote a column titled “Rapists shouldn’t be able to hide behind their letters,” where she pointed out the flawed sexual assault reporting system in Greek Life. Sanetmyer’s article made me wonder what systems and procedures Greek Life has in place to insure the safety of their members at socials.
I began researching this topic with the intent that this story would be different. I wanted to write an article that discussed the measures fraternities were taking to insure that everyone at their socials was safe. If Greek Life wanted a chance to show the measures fraternities do take to keep people safe, this would be their opportunity.
Instead, I was stonewalled.
The meeting I had with Greek officials led to the conclusion that fraternities did nothing outside of their mandated trainings to keep party-goers safe.
I started by looking at sororities, and the answers were not hard to find. The systems put in place vary from sorority to sorority. During socials, some use a buddy system, where they pair sisters together to watch over one another. Some designate sober sisters, members that remain sober, to look over everyone, while some sororities also have general policies that prohibit sisters from going behind closed doors.
With every measure sororities took to prevent their members from being assaulted, I wondered if fraternities had similar policies in place. However, fraternities were not in a rush to provide me with an answer.
I reached out to multiple fraternities. The President of the Panhellenic Association, Hailey Flavin, told me that presidents of individual fraternities were not allowed to respond to my emails. I contacted JT Oldham, the president on the Interfraternity Council, and asked “What do you tell new members about sexual assault?” The only information I received was a copy and pasted statement from the Greek Life page of the URI website, which is their go-to statement on sexual assault prevention. It was clear I would not get the answers I needed from the student affiliates.
After several attempts to reach administrators within Greek Life, URI Communications assisted in organizing a meeting with Assistant Dean of Students Stephen J. Simo, Assistant Director of Greek Affairs Megan Fox, Director of the Women’s Center Penny Rosenthal and Supervisor of the Bystander Intervention Program Keith Labelle.
I was excited at the opportunity of finally having a serious discussion about this issue. But what I got was far from that.
As the meeting started, it was clear that I was not going to be able to speak much. These administrators immediately steered the conversation toward their education programs, including Green Dot, Bystander Intervention Training and I-Stand. These programs, while important, train leaders of both fraternities and sororities.
Labelle said members of Greek Life are more educated on sexual assault, and therefore, victims are more likely to come forward. I have not found statistics supporting Labelle’s statement that Greek Life education programs directly motivate victims to come forward, nor did he provide any.
However, statistics from National Institute of Justice state that approximately a quarter of sexual assault victims are sorority members. The study even goes as far as to say that being a member of a sorority is a “risk factor that increases the risk of sexual assault.” Similarly John D. Foubert, a professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Oklahoma State University, has concluded that fraternity members are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than non-Greek members.
I was not offered a chance to speak much during this meeting, but I did ask the following: Is it fair that sororities are doing more than relying on educational programs to combat sexual assault? Should fraternities be doing more? If they are doing more, what are they doing?
I tried to directly ask if there was a fraternity equivalent to the “sober sisters.” Simo said that “technically” there are “sober brothers” because some of the students are not of legal drinking age, and shouldn’t be drinking anyway.
The tone of the meeting shifted when I was asked why the Cigar places stories about fraternity philanthropy on the seventh page, while stories about sexual assault receive front page attention. Read that sentence again. It gave me the impression that some members of our University’s staff prefer sexual assault to be buried under positive stories that give them good press, rather than address the problem.
I can confidently say that the student body, myself included, has great respect for the philanthropic work fraternities and sororities do. But I can also confidently say that the student body would like to decrease the rate of sexual assaults on campus. Because rates of sexual assault, statistically, are higher in Greek Life, fraternities and sororities are uniquely positioned to make that happen.
From then on, this meeting felt more like an interrogation rather than a professional discussion about the issue at hand. No one was willing to go into any more detail about the steps fraternities are taking to prevent sexual assault. They even went on to ask me if I had any solutions to preventing sexual assault.
I left that meeting with less information than I hoped. Based upon the information that I was given in this meeting, fraternities are doing nothing more than an hour-long, single session training to make sure that their members aren’t assaulting members at their socials or other Greek events.
This column is the summation of my own experiences that led me to this conclusion, and I write this with hopes that others will question the lack of transparency surrounding sexual assault prevention in Greek Life, and perhaps prompt a more viable solution.