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May 27, 2016

Controversies Incite Debate About Role of Greek Life

Greek life is growing at the University of Chicago, and with it, controversy. Instances of racial intolerance and reports of sexual assault have incited debate about the presence of fraternities and sororities on campus and how they can be held accountable.

The Phi Delta Theta (Phi Delt) International Fraternity announced in late February that its UChicago chapter was to be suspended, and would be “re-colonized” with all new members after the current members have graduated. It was unclear exactly why the suspension occurred, beyond that members committed “risk-management policy violations,” according to a letter sent by Phi Delt’s director of chapter services to fraternity alumni.

A BuzzFeed article published on February 3 brought the presence of Greek life to the forefront of University discourse. The article revealed that brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) had circulated racist and misogynistic e-mails via their private listhost between 2011 and 2015. In their apology, published on Facebook, AEPi committed to take a series of actions to discourage hate speech in the fraternity.

A few weeks after the initial e-mails were leaked, a coalition of student groups authored a resolution stating that the University should suspend its relationship to AEPi until the brothers formally apologized to the student groups targeted in the e-mails, such as women, students of color, and Muslim students. Student Government (SG) passed the resolution in February.

“It is our stance that the University has a responsibility to clarify its relationship to its Greek life organizations [...] and to establish and enforce guidelines that will hold groups accountable for the racist, misogynistic, and Islamophobic actions exhibited by its members,” the SG Executive Council wrote in a statement.

The University responded to the incident by condemning the actions of the brothers in question and affirming its dedication to inclusion and diversity, but took no formal action against the fraternity.

Reports of sexual assault at Delta Upsilon (DU) and Psi Upsilon (Psi U) prompted CPD investigations. Two Psi U brothers were found responsible by the Student Disciplinary Committee for sexual misconduct in the spring and summer of 2015, and both were expelled from the fraternity. A Maroon investigation found that the president of Psi U’s alumni board received the phone number of one of the complainants from a Psi U alumnus in the CPD and reached out to her.

“I didn’t go to work for a week after he called, as I didn’t feel safe to be on campus,” the complainant said.

Not long after the news of the Psi U assaults was publicized on Yik Yak and Overheard at UChicago in March, the Center for Leadership and Involvement (CLI) launched the Student Engagement Fund for non-RSO student initiatives and organizations, including fraternities and sororities. Student groups now have to apply to receive support from the fund, which will allow them to reserve University spaces 10 times per quarter for meetings and three times per quarter for events. CLI’s website says that initiatives that are not part of a larger program are more likely to receive funding, and students applying for funding should inform the CLI of their affiliations with external organizations. Some students felt that the policy unfairly punished sororities, which do not have houses on campus and are more reliant than fraternities on access to University spaces.

While some students want the University to take further steps to manage and discipline Greek organizations, others want reform to come from inside fraternities and sororities—resulting in initiatives like Greek Life in Front and proposals for an inter-fraternity governing body.

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