The vote was unanimous.
Less than three weeks after a fraternity brother took Jennifer up to his room and locked the door, he was out of Greek life for good.
She didn’t want to report to the police after it happened. She didn’t want to endure weeks and months of legal processes.
And telling the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, which investigates sexual assault at the University of Maryland, would be detrimental to her healing, she thought. Jennifer knew that this university is under federal investigation for its handling of sexual violence cases.
So, she relied on a system she didn’t think would let her down: the Greek one.
Jennifer, a sophomore and member of Greek life at this university, is named using a pseudonym to protect her identity. The Diamondback does not typically identify victims of sexual assault. Jennifer’s and her attacker’s chapters are not identified at Jennifer’s request.
Jennifer told members of her sorority she had been sexually assaulted and approached the president of her attacker’s fraternity. He collected evidence and assembled an incident report. On March 13, an executive committee of the chapter’s leadership presented its findings in a hearing before the chapter. Every member voted to expel the accused man.
“It’s so weird for me to say Greek life helped me even though I was assaulted by someone in Greek life,” she said. This account has been verified with members of both chapters and a document describing the hearing.
Interviews with almost 40 members of Greek life reveal an insular culture where members attempt to protect their reputations while also working to eliminate sexual assault within their own community. This university has 59 registered Greek chapters under the Panhellenic Association, Interfraternity Council, Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council. The accounts in this article reflect the views of members interviewed from 10 PHA, 17 IFC and two MGC chapters. The other chapters from these three groups and all chapters of the NPHC did not respond to or declined multiple requests for comment.
Leaders from 14 other fraternities say they would use a process similar to Jennifer’s case to address allegations of sexual misconduct within their own chapters.
Jennifer’s chapter is one of several making sexual assault a focus of new member education, chapter discussions and Greek community outreach, in lieu of institutions and systems they say are at best, unequipped, and at worst, failing to address the problem. Her attacker’s chapter is one of several fraternities grappling with what to do when a survivor of assault wants justice within the Greek community, but not through legal or university systems.
Typically, chapters use standards boards, internal judicial processes and risk management policies to manage everything from a member breaking something in a chapter house to getting too drunk at a social. This is also the process fraternity leadership said they would use — and in at least two chapters have used — to address allegations of sexual assault in situations where the accuser was uncomfortable seeking university or legal assistance.
Public intoxication and property destruction, which those interviewed said would result in a standards or judicial hearing, could result in misdemeanor charges in the state of Maryland. Sexual assault, or rape, is a university violation punishable up to expulsion and a felony with a maximum punishment of life imprisonment in the state.
While assault survivors should be able to choose how to pursue justice, “a crime has been committed if a person is raped or sexually assaulted,” said Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor who has done research on Greek life and sexual assault.
“And at that point, it’s the responsibility of our judicial system to hold people accountable. It shouldn’t be up to fraternity men to make decisions on how things are litigated. I think that is the fundamental problem.”
Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life Director Matt Supple said he’s aware internal hearings have occurred, but cannot stop them because chapters are subsets of private national organizations with their own governing bodies. Instead, the department encourages brothers and sisters to refer each other to the CARE to Stop Violence office and stresses accountability through educational programs such as Ten Man and Ten Woman Plans, weekly discussion-based training that addresses sexual assault prevention and victim support.
This university’s Title IX Officer Catherine Carroll and the Office of Student Conduct Director Andrea Goodwin said they were not aware that at least two fraternities handle, and others plan to handle, sexual assault this way. Goodwin said all allegations and incidents should be reported to the Title IX office, and the handling of all cases should be done through the university’s policies and procedures to ensure a fair and thorough process.
“I don’t think there should be student bodies adjudicating cases of sexual misconduct,” Goodwin said. “That makes me nervous.”
“We want to make sure that as a community that we’re adjudicating sexual misconduct in a very appropriate way and that we are getting justice for the complainant and we are giving the respondent due process,” Goodwin said. “I think that can only happen through the university’s proceedings.”
Jess Davidson, an assistant managing director of activist group End Rape on Campus, called the practice “potentially extremely harmful and potentially a violation of Title IX.”
Fraternity members are not trained in how to conduct a trauma-informed investigation, which could lead to an incorrect finding and an incorrect adjudication, she said. These attempts to adjudicate sexual assault internally could reflect an institution’s failure to effectively communicate options, Davidson said.
“If the university has not made the process accessible to survivors,” she said, “… there’s probably going to be a feeling among students that the school is not going to be of help and that’s when you might start to see these piecemeal solutions.”
ADJUDICATING THEIR OWN
Both sororities and fraternities typically handle risky behavior internally. Presidents, risk managers and members have become unofficial counselors, educators and in some cases, arbiters of justice, doling out sanctions against or organizing meetings for chapters associated with accused perpetrators of sexual misconduct.
Fourteen fraternity leaders interviewed said they would reach out to the accuser and the accused for their sides of the story, gather additional information from potential witnesses and involve the university or the police at the accuser’s discretion.
In 2012, brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon used their standards and ethics board to try a brother who had been accused of touching another brother’s girlfriend inappropriately, according to emails obtained by The Diamondback. The brother’s actions described in the emails would qualify as Sexual Assault II — unwanted touching of intimate body parts — under this university’s policy.
“I am not sure if we should issue him a real punishment, possibly just a stern warning that if something like this is brought to our attention again, he will receive social moratorium,” wrote a board member in an email before the accused brother’s hearing.
When asked this month if the chapter still handles incidents of sexual misconduct in this manner, chapter president Yuval Elkun wrote: “SAE uses our Standards Board to investigate any impropriety within the chapter. After the investigation is complete, we take the appropriate actions necessary, at the chapter level, fraternity level and/or university level as prudent.”
University Police Chief of Staff David Lloyd, though he declined to comment on Greek life specifically, advised cases be handled by Title IX or the police.
“We’re professional law enforcement officers, we have professional investigators,” he said. “Who would know better? Probably us.”
Most fraternity men said they have not had to use this kind of process in recent years and that they would cooperate with any ongoing legal or university processes.
But their responses on what they would do if faced with a situation like Jennifer’s varied. Only a handful said they would let their national organizations handle serious infractions, like sexual assault. Others were unsure what their formal process would be but guessed they would use a standards or judicial board.
Thirty-four of this university’s 59 fraternities and sororities have house directors, typically older non-members who are required to report any knowledge of sexual assault to the Title IX office.
These house directors are not intimately involved in social aspects of Greek life. Instead, a fraternity or sorority member serves as a risk manager, reminding members not to drink too much, along with giving tips on bystander intervention techniques, before social events.
Risk managers are not required to report code of conduct violations to the university, and there are no university rules prohibiting Greek chapters from adjudicating cases on their own, Supple said.
If DFSL does become aware of an assault within the Greek community, the department forwards the case to the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, Supple said. He added that he has reported to the police in the past, but not to the office since it was established in 2014.
“Our goal is to have that process be handled by the people that know it best,” he said. “And most of the time our chapters are not prepared to handle those situations.”
But if a survivor of sexual assault did not want to report to the police or the university, the chapter leaders say they would adjudicate sexual misconduct internally using a group of brothers tasked with enforcing the values of the organization, involving police, the university or other authorities on a case-by-case basis.
Of 38 Greek men and women contacted from 29 university chapters, 25 had either personally experienced or known another member of Greek life who experienced sexual assault, often in off-campus houses or while attending off-campus parties, while at this university.
Yet, reports of sexual assault at this university are low, mirroring national underreporting statistics. This university’s Title IX office received 33 complaints of an off-campus incident of sexual misconduct, compared to 53 on-campus incidents, in the two academic years after the office was founded in 2014.
Members of 29 chapters across the IFC, PHA and MGC said the onus is on chapters to change a culture that perpetuates sexual assault.
Interviews with members of 10 sororities revealed that some executive boards make decisions to ostracize fraternities unwilling to expel brothers who have been accused of misconduct. Others work outside the rules, excusing women who experienced sexual assault from mandatory events that might be triggering or involve an attacker’s fraternity.
As risk manager in the spring and fall of 2016, Molly Higgins, a junior in Phi Sigma Sigma, personally dealt with several instances of sexual assault within her chapter. At a party, a chapter member recognized the name of a fraternity man who had assaulted her friend and notified the entire chapter, Higgins said. The sisters immediately started making sure everyone was accounted for and stopped scheduling social events with the fraternity.
While she was president in 2015, at least five sisters disclosed that they had been assaulted to Jillian McGrath, now a senior in Zeta Tau Alpha and a member of student group Preventing Sexual Assault, but did not want to report. Some sisters wanted to stop scheduling events with a specific fraternity, which was a “relatively easy fix,” McGrath said. But others came to her for advice on how to move forward, and she had “no idea what to tell [them] which was really hard and scary,” she said.
For now, Zeta keeps a list of fraternities to avoid.
“It’s so hard because … Zeta has a list of three, I’m sure like [others have] a list of a different three, and so on and so on,” McGrath said. “I’m sure they exist in every fraternity and there’s not a lot you can do.
“It’s not like you can take it to [the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life] and be like, ‘I’ve had two girls who aren’t willing to disclose, who don’t want to go to Title IX, who don’t want to go on the record [and] say that such and such a fraternity is sexually assaulting girls.’ There’s nothing they can do about that.”
DFSL tries to infuse “the four horsemen of the Greek apocalypse” — sexual assault, hazing, drugs and alcohol and lack of diversity and inclusion — into all educational programming, Supple said.
Greek chapter presidents receive the same education as the rest of the chapter but do not receive any mandatory training specifically about how to help members who have been sexually assaulted. Chapter presidents take a class where managing sexual misconduct is not a part of the curriculum, though the students discuss it while talking about crisis management and how to support members, Supple said.
“You have to hope that a president has the right mindset and the right ideology,” said former Kappa Sigma President Evan Silverman, who feels the university is failing to provide the proper resources to chapters encountering misconduct from members.
“I haven’t had real training,” said the junior, who calls home for advice so much, he feels “like my mom is running my fraternity at some times.”
To maintain university recognition, a chapter currently must meet certain programming requirements, one of which stipulates that the chapter participate in some type of sexual assault prevention programming. Failure to do so puts its status as an official university chapter in jeopardy said Lola Taiwo, DFSL’s sexual assault prevention and education graduate coordinator.
University President Wallace Loh in April approved Joint President/Senate Sexual Assault Prevention Task Force’s recommendations that will mandate participation in two programs on bystander intervention and consent.
DFSL coordinates two programs — the Ten Man and Ten Woman Plans and a sexual assault prevention liaison program. There are 18 chapters enrolled in the Ten Man and Ten Woman program and 22 chapters enrolled in the liaison program.
The Ten Man and Ten Woman Plans bring together at least 10 chapter members once a week over nine weeks to discuss sexual assault and how to prevent it. The idea behind them is a kind of pay-it-forward model that encourages participants to take what they’ve learned and teach their friends.
The task force recommendations also call for expanded Ten Man and Ten Woman Plans that describe cultural foundations of sexual misconduct, develop strategies for deconstructing myths about rape and foster support for victims of sexual misconduct.
“To create a campus that is free from all forms of sexual misconduct is an ambitious and essential undertaking that is in the interest, and is the responsibility, of every member of our University community,” Loh wrote in a statement regarding the recommendations.
In Kappa Alpha Order, 10 brothers signed up to participate and another volunteered to run the Ten Man program the day President Joseph Piscitelli sent out a message about it over the chapter listserv. The program has been “one of the most enriching” experiences the chapter has ever had, said Piscitelli, a junior.
Zeta Beta Tau President Will Gomolka remembered a joint session with a sorority where someone asked how many in the group knew someone affected by sexual assault.
“You get a lot more hands from a sorority than you would from a fraternity, and that’s really eye-opening,” he said.
But the program has its drawbacks.
Program facilitators, who run the weekly sessions and act as a resource for the chapters, are volunteers, and their numbers are limited. Typically, about 20 of the 58 chapters are able to enroll, Taiwo said. Facilitators are mandatory reporters — required to report any disclosure of assault to this university’s Title IX office — which deters some sororities from seeking the Ten Woman Plan to fulfill their requirement.
Alpha Chi Omega, the first chapter at this university to implement a Ten Woman Plan, made its program independent from the university’s Ten Woman Plan because of the mandatory reporting. The chapter’s version of the program is aimed at fostering a space where members have agency and can control their stories, said program chairwoman and senior Kathleen Godwin.
DFSL this year introduced a new sexual assault liaison program, created in part by Delta Delta Delta sister Fiona Bett and Chi Phi brother Rajan Parikh. Bett, a junior who helped develop the program as part of her internship with DFSL, saw a lack of depth in Greek life’s approach to preventing assault.
Bett and Parikh, a senior, developed a curriculum to train liaisons, who act as a chapter’s go-to for members who might have experienced sexual violence.
Some, like Theta Chi brother James Hackler, have embraced their role as a sort of front-line defense.
“I’m not one of the boys,” the sophomore said. “And that’s how we want to keep it. It’s important for girls to feel safe.”
But the liaisons are “not counselors,” said Taiwo, and are instead armed with a list of contact information for university resources such as the Title IX office, the police and the CARE to Stop Violence office.
Hackler takes his obligation to share resources seriously, though he acknowledged if a victim is adamant about not reporting, “we have to respect their wishes.”
“It’s a sensitive issue,” Hackler said. “We can’t force anyone to do anything.”
The dozens of fraternity and sorority members interviewed in the last four months said chapters combat what they’ve deemed “the culture.” For different people, it meant different things.
McGrath called it a “bizarre microcosm” where sex between blacked-out drunk students is unquestioned and speaking out is uncomfortable.
Silverman described dimly lit parties where unregulated drinking leads to a “dangerous environment.”
Godwin faulted social interactions centered around alcohol and substance abuse that can muddy decision making.
“We’ve so normalized this heavy, heavy drinking culture,” she said. “When something happens we’re not comfortable with, we’re unsure of what we do next.”
“Greek life gives people who are sexual predators the perfect cover,” said Higgins. “If a guy is going to commit a sexual assault, he’s going to do it in a basement with flashing lights where drinks are flowing.”
Across the country, schools struggle with what to do with Greek communities typically associated with increased rates of assault. At Big Ten peer institution University of Michigan, a 2015 climate survey of about 2,000 students revealed sorority and fraternity members were 2.5 times more likely to experience nonconsensual penetration than their peers.
At this university, students in Greek life are considered a high risk population. Membership in Greek life is a risk factor for experiencing and perpetrating sexual assault among sorority and fraternity members respectively, according to the joint task force report on sexual assault.
Parties are central to the culture. Fraternities host socials with sororities, often in group houses far from the well-lit Fraternity Row.
IFC, the local governing body for fraternities, requires chapters to register official chapter house parties, for which national rules might require security or additional precautions. Hard liquor and drinking games are prohibited. A bouncer and a graduate student supervisor must be present. All sororities’ national organizations prohibit alcohol in chapter houses, Supple said.
“When you have a registered party in a frat house, there is a bouncer there, there is a grad student there, there is some kind of surveillance on you versus when you have it in a satellite house, a mile back into the darkness,” McGrath said.
In house parties, bodies pack into low-ceilinged basements and alcohol slicks nearly every surface. The themes can verge on crude — think Tennis Bros and Yoga Hoes — and contribute to the problem, said Phi Delta Theta vice president Byron Kunst, a junior who has banned sexist themes at the chapter’s parties.
There’s little to no accountability at these parties besides sober brothers and sisters, who are members of the participating chapters tasked with surveying the other partygoers and mitigating potential misconduct. The parties have no supervision and no paper trail to track who was there and for how long.
When DFSL revokes chapter recognition after some major infraction, some organizations go underground, further distancing the rules and regulations that attempt to curtail risky behavior. Both the PHA and IFC have passed legislation that makes co-sponsoring an event with an underground group illegal and subject to social moratorium, a punishment banning the offending chapter from participating in any social events.
Even in accepting and supportive chapters, confronting assault can be difficult.
“It’s kind of like, when you report it, it kind of seems like you’re going against Greek life,” said Cristina Johnson, a sister in Alpha Phi and Greek relations chair for PSA, who said the only sisters she knows who have reported their assaults are those also in PSA.
“When you report a sexual assault from Greek life, it seems like you’re saying, ‘Yes, it does happen here,’” she said. “I think a lot of people want to keep up this facade, like, ‘Stop blaming us, it’s not us.’”