Time’s Up For Greek Life

Time’s Up For Greek Life

By Reiss McInally

An interview with Gillian Campbell, VIP Chair of Alpha Delta Pi, UCLA

GC: It’s an open, welcoming community that has allowed me, in turn, to become a more open and sociable person.  I’ve made most of my friends through Greek Life and everyone I’ve met is in at least one other extracurricular group on campus – it’s inspiring to see so many people do so many different things. I found out about my job and the clubs I’m involved in through my sorority. I’m not sure what my life would be like without it. And, yes, I think that the positive elements outweigh the dangers.

Greek life definitely has its dangers. Very real dangers.

The way it is with the majority of fraternities, and some sororities, is that to become a member of a chapter you have to undergo a period of hazing. We’ve all seen hazing in movies: freshers getting humiliated or abused until they have proven their loyalty to the chapter.[1] It’s a bit of a laugh on-screen but, in real life, things get serious very quickly when hazing goes too far – which it does far too often.

For the past six decades at least one student a year has died from a hazing-related incident: alcohol poisoning, drunken falls, drug overdoses, to give some examples.[2] Three students died last year. One of them was Timothy Piazza, a student at Penn State and a member of Beta Theta Pi. Piazza drunkenly fell down a flight of stairs at a hazing event held by the fraternity. For whatever reason, no one called for help. Piazza bled to death, twenty-six of his ‘brothers’ faced charges for involuntary manslaughter, and this individual chapter of Beta Theta Pi was closed down by the university.

GC: During last quarter we had an alcohol ban at UCLA due to multiple sexual assault allegations. All the fraternity houses were essentially put on probation – they weren’t allowed to host parties or any in-house events.

After this, new rules were put in place: they were forced to have bouncers at the front door of any event and to give out wristbands to people aged 21 and over (those that are legally allowed to drink). We have third-party bartenders working the bar, so you can only get drinks if you have a wristband. But, honestly, while these are steps in the right direction, it is still very easy for underage people to get drinks from their friends with wristbands, or for people to go into someone’s room upstairs and drink up there.

Well, there you go. Greek Life is a community with rules, and those who break the rules are punished… theoretically. Nationwide, colleges have been implementing ineffective measures like these – temporary punishments and half-hearted rules that do nothing to solve the issues plaguing these organisations. That is why some are calling for the abolition of Greek Life. But when I raised the topic of abolition, Campbell stopped me. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Abolition is not an effective strategy, especially when trying to prevent sexual assault. However, I do agree that there needs to be change, big change, and it needs to happen now.’

Gillian Campbell knows a lot about the dangers of on-campus sexual assault. She’s the VIP chair of Alpha Delta Pi at the University of California, Los Angeles – VIP: Violence, Intervention and Prevention. She serves as a trauma-informed contact person for anyone with questions or concerns about sexual assault or sexual assault prevention. It’s a newly created position within Greek Life at UCLA, but it is a very important one. In May 2018, five months into her new role, I interviewed Campbell about her fight for a safer campus, both for herself, her peers, and for future generations.

Well, if abolition would be a mistake, what do you think is the best way to tackle sexual assault in Greek Life?

I think that the better informed our members are about consent and prevention, the closer we will get to solving the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. That’s why it’s necessary that every chapter at every school should have a role like this, because the dialogue about sexual assault needs happen and should not stop until the problem does.

But every chapter at every school doesn’t have a position like yours?

No. At UCLA, this is a relatively new position and I’m not sure of the exact number of houses that have it. I’d say almost every sorority does, and the fraternities are starting to create this position, but this isn’t a common position nationwide – I haven’t heard of any other schools that have a position related to sexual assault prevention.

So how have you been taking advantage of this position?

Well, I would consider my biggest impact so far has been organizing a Live Your Oath event at my chapter’s house. Live Your Oath is a national partnership between Alpha Delta Pi and the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon. Basically, the aim of the partnership is to advance the conversation about sexual assault prevention on college campuses.

At our event we arranged speakers from UCLA’s Title IX and CARE (Campus Assault Resources & Education) offices. They came and spoke about available support resources on campus and to help facilitate the conversation between our chapters’ members. This was the first time we had ever done this at UCLA and I consider it to have been a big success. But, obviously, the conversation about sexual assault does not stop after one event.

You said that this was the first time that this event had been held at your university, so does that mean this isn’t just a one-off event?

No, it’s definitely not. Events like Live Your Oath need to happen at each chapter at least once a year – preferably once a quarter. In general, Greek Life really lacks education and conversation about this subject; the leaders in the Greek Life community talk about the issues with each other, but the members of the chapters don’t.

What about at your university, specifically?

Well, while it is not perfect, UCLA Greek Life does try to educate every single member. At the beginning of the school year, every single person is required to go to a sexual assault workshop – chapters will be fined or put on social probation if they don’t have 100% attendance at these. Also, every new member is required to go to a New Member Forum in which they are informed about all things related to Greek Life, including sexual assault and sexual assault prevention.

In terms of things like victim support… While we do have a load of support at UCLA, students often go unaware of it. I remember presenting resources to my chapter – they were for people to use in the case of a sexual assault or harassment – and most people came up to me telling me that they didn’t know such places existed. This is why education is important.

Education is one of the most important things when it comes to preventing sexual assault. The more people that are educated on the problem, what consent is, and how to prevent the problem, the better. And once people are presented with opportunities to talk and learn more about these issues, they will be able to think more deeply about them and, hopefully, become more conscious of them in everyday life.

The writer John Hechinger produces a lot of work on hazing and sexual abuse at fraternities across the U.S. In his book, ‘True Gentlemen’, he talks about naïve freshers leaving school, arriving at college and looking to join Greek Life, writing, ‘There are no warning labels for newcomers.’[3] Do you think that’s true, and that students need to be educated about any possible dangers before they even enrol?

Unfortunately, I think that his statement is true, at least to some extent. Obviously, Greek Life does not advertise hazing, but it is a publicized issue – now more than ever before. Just look at the news and you’ll see that this is a big problem. So, students are aware of some issues, and they join regardless because… Well, I can’t speak for these men, but I can assure you they don’t join it to get hazed – they join to be a part of something bigger.

Saying that, I completely agree that there needs to be better education on the risks alcohol consumption. We do try to manage that here at UCLA through the ‘new member’ workshops; but, obviously, this can only be so effective. One thing that we need to figure out are other ways of making students informed about the important issues before, so that, by the time they are starting college, they know how to explore their own limits in a safer way.

While we’re talking about this, have you seen much effect from the Obama/Biden ‘It’s On US’ campaign that tried to teach students about sexual harassment?

If I’m being honest, I don’t really follow politics, and I haven’t heard much about the “It’s On Us” campaign. I think it might be a little outdated and less talked about now that we have new people in our government positions. What I do know about this campaign, I support – at least it’s an opportunity for us as an entire country to fight sexual assault. If it’s educating people that otherwise wouldn’t know about these issues, then that’s brilliant. But whether it is effective or not, I can’t answer.

Finally, do you feel like you are making any headway with this subject, considering Greek Life’s really troubled history of on-campus sexual assault?

Unfortunately, this is just us starting to address the issue. And while we are addressing it, it’s something that’s beyond all of us. But we must start the conversation so that those after us can continue it, so that those after them can continue it; and so that, eventually, it becomes a something we talk about in past tense.

 

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N.B.

For the second issue of this year’s GUM, ‘Identity’, I co-wrote an article about education and sexual harassment at the University of Glasgow. We asked the Rector for a comment. We pushed back deadlines, but it never came.

After talking to Gillian Campbell (who is only just finishing her second year at university), I realise that we made a mistake. We should have been asking other students for quotes. Fact is, the power to work out issues on campus comes from us, the students. No one else cares more than us because no one else is affected more than us. And it is exceptional students like Campbell, no matter where they study, that are putting in the work to educate themselves and those around them – to fight their way out of a situation that predates them, a situation that has been ignored and that has resisted change for far too long – for the benefit of everyone.

Here’s a link to the Let’s Talk About Sexual Violence initiative that runs at Glasgow University – it is similar to the Live Your Oath campaign mentioned in the interview above.

[1] NB: A chapter is one of the Greek houses at a university (like Alpha Delta Pi sorority or Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity).

[2] Hank Nuwer in Hazing: Destroying Young Lives (Indiana University Press, 2018).

[3] John Hechinger, True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2017).

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