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March 17, 1988 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-03-17

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Fear of retaliation: Hooded women protest incident of sexual abuse at an Illinois frat house

1984, as the minimum age for drinking rose to 21 in most jurisdic-
tions, Greek social life has assumed more importance-you can
often drink there even if you can't get served in a bar. Some
colleges understood that the new order meant they would have to
police student behavior more carefully. And when administrators
began to look closely, they found other things they didn't like.
In fact, the incidents that attract public attention are isolated.
The vast majority of frat members would no more mutter a racial
epithet than crib a term paper. Other caveats must be issued: yes,
sororities, which are also part of the Greek system, seem less likely
than fraternities to commit excesses. And yes, racism has been
increasingly visible in the general college population of late, not
just among Greeks.
But there have been too many unpleasant fraternity episodes
to ignore-and national leadership is at least not assuming
the ostrich position. "I don't think fraternities are getting a
bad rap," says Jonathan Brant, executive director of the National
Interfraternity Conference. "Fraternities are based on rituals in
which usually the person is devoting himself to worthwhile goals.
But you are going to have a variety of behaviors, particularly on
college campuses where people are testing boundaries." To en-
courage an atmosphere of restraint, the NIC created a commission
on "values and ethics" last year. The commission's first report asks
that brothers refrain from haz-
ing and "confront" those mem-
bers who break the rules. The
efficacy of that prescription re-
mains to be seen.
It should be noted that frater-
nity-house mores have kept
pace with the American Zeit-
geist: do-goodism is once again
on the agenda. "We're really
trying to break the party-ani-
mal mold," says Tim Hourigan,
president of USC's Sigma Chi
chapter. "By doing a lot of phi-
lanthropy we not only help out,
the community but get our
names in the headlines with
a positive message." At USC,
Sigma Chis helped restore di-
lapidated churches, Alpha Tau
Omegas led a Christmas-toy
collection and Sigma Alpha Reform on hazing: Seminar at A

trast, in 1983 only 1.8 percent
said that the local houses were completely independent of univer-
sity supervision; by 1986 that figure had grown to 34.8 percent.
The best explanation for that divergence is the legal fallout that
can accompany a college's close oversight of a problem house. With
control comes legal responsibility, and when the lawsuits start
flying a university has nowhere to hide. "Some schools said, 'We
don't want to be held liable for their problems, let's disassociate',"
says center executive secretary Richard McKaig. "Others said
that the solution is to get more involved."
As it happens, it's also harder now for deans to discipline individ-
uals or groups. According to John Ratliff Jr., chairman of a Univer-
sity of Texas faculty task force that studied fraternity problems,
students are fully entitled to due process before they can be
expelled. "The irony," says Ratliff, "is that the [student rights]
precedents were established by leftist and revolutionary groups in
the late '60s and early '70s. Today they make it hard for universi-
ties to control fraternities and sororities."
If angry deans can no longer take control the old-fashioned way,
they have a strong new ally: flinty-eyed insurance agents who have
the power to emasculate unsavory frats. It's a fact of campus life
that houses need insurance to operate; otherwise an acciden-
tal injury could bankrupt the organization. It's also a well-known
fact that the cost of liability insurance is shooting skyward, and
the only way some houses have been able to renew their policies
has been by cleaning up behav-
ior. "A lot of what is being
done comes from selfish moti-
vations," says Eric Webber,
Tulane's assistant dean of
students. "We live in an in-
creasingly litigious society."
The effects of the insurance
problem can be seen clearly
along the Row at USC. Signs
warn partygoers that they
must be 21 to drink booze; only
those with Greek ID's are ad-
mitted. At Sigma Nu, no house
funds can be used to buy liquor
no matter who will ultimately
drink it. On concert or rally
nights, brothers and their dates
travel by buses and limousines,
another step toward minimiz-
ing liability for injuries caused
rth Carolina A&T by drunk driving. "It's not as


APRIL 1988


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