Wednesday, September 26, 2012

UI Greek Frat Behavior 'Aberrant'?!

September 26, 2012, 9:20 a.m. (now with Sept. 27 and 28 updates); and for one school's alternative to fraternity boys drinking, see "Clean Streets and Creative Consumption; At Last, Less Drinking," Sept. 30.

Alcohol Abuse and Sexual Assault, or "Fine Public Service"?

On September 11 Iowa City Police began investigating an alleged sexual assault at a UI fraternity that occurred September 8. Residents had been charged with alcohol-related offenses earlier this summer. On September 24 the fraternity's national headquarters suspended the group and expelled its current members, citing "hazing and the chapter's failure to comply with our standards . . .." That day the UI mentioned "illegal alcohol consumption" at the fraternity house.

And how has the University responded?

With a defense of the Greek system. As a top administrator put it, “I believe that it is an aberrant incident that does not accurately represent life at the University of Iowa. To the contrary, . . . members of the Greek system . . .provide a great deal of fine public service." Josh O'Leary, "Police investigate sex assault at SAE; Incident was reported earlier this month, before fraternity was closed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 26, 2012, p. A1.

That UI assertion was challenged in the first version of this blog entry, September 26. It concluded with, "The problems are endemic. They are not aberrations. They deserve and require proactive approaches." A couple anonymous fraternity advocates responded strongly to that assertion (which engendered a rejoinder from another anonymous blog reader; all are at the bottom of this blog entry).

This morning's [Sept. 28] Gazette, relying on the University's own data, confirms what was admittedly only an assumption on my part two days ago. Diane Heldt, "UI frat’s members had high arrest, citation rate; Sigma Alpha Epsilon was closed by national headquarters this week," The Gazette, September 28, 2012, p. A2. The arrest records, largely alcohol-related, for fraternity and sorority members are substantially above those for other student groups (details below).

As it happens, the arrest record is held by the very fraternity involved in this week's news, SAE. Arrest records for members of Greek houses generally are nothing to brag about, given averages above those for other student populations. But among them, SAE had the highest percentage of members arrested, at 27 percent.

This raises a number of issues.

(1) When the University's own data shows that with regard to Greek houses "the problems are endemic" and "not aberrations," why would a top UI administrator describe SAE's offenses as "an aberrant incident that does not accurately represent" Greek life?

(2) Given SAE's excessively high arrest record, why was there no intervention from the University -- which professes to monitor, and care about this very problem -- before now?

Diane Heldt's story, linked above, reports, "'the figures [on arrests of Greek house members] have generated numerous conversations, particularly between the university administrators and student representatives in the Greek community,' Tom Baker, associate dean of students, said via email Thursday. . . . 'One of the things we’re working on is trying to reduce the [arrest] rates in our fraternity and sorority chapters,' he said."

Let's take UI's administrators at their word: they are "trying to reduce the rates" of arrests of members of Greek houses. But if that is truly the case, wouldn't you think they would have done something -- whether increased security and monitoring, or merely educational programs -- within the house with the single highest arrest record of any Greek house on campus, a house that has been visited by police 28 times in five years -- something more, that is, than merely "numerous conversations"?

The hard copy Gazette contains the reproduction of much of the University's data. Unfortunately, the paper does not appear to have made this valuable information available online. So here are some excerpts:

For 2010-11 the University's data reveals that the percentage of undergraduate males' with arrests was 6%, whereas the rate for fraternity members was 15.1%. Fraternity members may provide "fine public service," but they also provided that year nearly three times the percentage of arrests of male undergraduates generally.

It was not that much better for females. They had lower rates than males, overall, but the sorority sisters were arrested at roughly two times the arrest record for undergraduate females generally: 7.4% vs. 3.8%.

Yes, the rates go up (from 2009-10 to 2010-11) and down (from 2010-11 to 2011-12). But the contrast between the undergraduate population generally, and the arrest records for members of Greek houses persists.

So much for the "aberration."

With regard to the charges of hazing, and the practice of hazing among Greeks nationally, see Jordyn Reiland, "Experts respond to UI Sigma Alpha Epsilon controversy," Daily Iowan, September 26, 2012 ("In 2008 and 2009, ΣΑΕ . . . faced complaints of hazing, in which sanctions were imposed").

With regard to what triggered the most recent investigation, see Jordyn Reiland, "Sigma Alpha Epsilon frat removed from UI campus following 'hazing and violations,'" Daily Iowan, September 25, 2012 ("A current member of the fraternity . . . said he believes an incident that occurred four weeks ago sparked the investigation, which eventually found hazing and violations. According to the member, the fraternity hosted a party during which attendees consumed alcohol. At the party, members found a female lying unconscious on the ground outside the house. The student said members brought the female to the hospital.") For an update on the allegations of sexual assault, see "SAE headquarters says it decided to close UI chapter before learning of investigation," Iowa City Press-Citizen online, September 26, 2012, 4:44 p.m. [hardcopy: Josh O'Leary, "Report: Alleged Victim Sustained Injuries; SAE: Decision Made Before it Knew of Police Probe," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 27, 2012, p. A1.] And see, Vanessa Miller, "Iowa City police called to now-closed fraternity 28 times in five years," The Gazette, September 27, 2012, p. A5 ("Iowa City police since 2007 have received 28 calls for service to . . . the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house that was closed earlier this week following hazing allegations and is at the center of a sexual assault investigation.").

For the current housing status of the former fraternity members living in the house, see Stacey Murray, "SAE members have chance for appeal," The Daily Iowan, September 27, 2012.

[Photo credit: Benjamin Roberts / Iowa City Press-Citizen /.] Now don't get me wrong. I'm willing to believe that there are a good many members of fraternities who've chosen the Greek life because they wanted a quiet place to study, and a circle of friends who understand the hazards of binge drinking. And there probably are many a sorority sister who could be said to "be an angel who spends all winter, bringin' the homeless blankets and dinner, a regular Nobel peace prize winner." (From Lee Ann Womack's, "I'll Think of a Reason Later.") See Editorial, "Greeks can lead UI to better reputation," Daily Iowan, September 4, 2012.

But as for the characterization of the punished behavior as an "aberration," it's worthwhile to reproduce Josh O'Leary's recitation of prior Greek troubles on this campus.

The closure of the SAE chapter, which was founded in 1905, is the latest in a long line of UI fraternities that have faced periods of imposed dormancy because of violations in recent years:

• In January 2008, Delta Upsilon International Fraternity closed its 82-year-old UI chapter after four of its members were arrested for allegedly dealing drugs. UI had suspended the chapter the previous month during an investigation.

• International leaders of Phi Gamma Delta suspended its UI chapter and closed its Iowa City house in August 2005 following a party involving alcohol. The fraternity had already been on probation for more than three years, originally stemming from hazing and followed by problems with alcohol.

• Alcohol use and hazing at UI’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity prompted school officials to suspend the local chapter in November 2004 for five years. UI said fraternity members provided alcohol to pledges at the chapter house and that some of the eight pledges had performed calisthenics, such as push-ups or jumping jacks, as part of a pledge test, which UI considers hazing.

• UI revoked the Phi Delta Theta fraternity’s recognition in January 2002 after investigating a former fraternity member’s complaint that he and other new members were forced to drink fifths of various hard liquors in a 20-minute stretch. The fraternity admitted alcohol violations but disputed its members engaged in hazing, and UI eventually dropped the hazing charge. In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ordered UI pay the fraternity $73,000 in damages.

• In 2000, Pi Kappa Alpha was suspended for one year for having alcohol at its chapter house. Fraternity members were ordered to vacate at that time, as well, because the house was labeled “unfit and unsafe for human habitation.”

• In April 1999, the Delta Tau Delta fraternity vacated its house after its national headquarters suspended the UI chapter for a minimum of four years for violating alcohol and drug policies. The fraternity had been affiliated with UI for 119 years.

• In September 1995, Lambda Chi Alpha pledge Matthew Garafalo, 19, was found dead at the Clinton Street fraternity house. Doctors later determined his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit when he died from choking on his own vomit. The fraternity was suspended for five years.
SAE an aberration? I think not.

The problems associated with the Greek culture are similar to those surrounding the campus alcohol consumption culture, and the externalities, conflicts of interest, and resulting culture that are created when we embed in the academy what amounts to farm clubs for the NFL and NBA.

The problems are endemic. They are not aberrations. They deserve and require proactive approaches. Otherwise Josh O'Leary's list is destined to merely increase over time, as each hazing revelation, death, sexual assault, and alcohol-related arrest comes to light, receives media attention to the detriment of the University, and is dismissed as just another "aberration."

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Anonymous said...

Not only are you clearly an outsider out to demonize a culture you have obviously never been apart of, you sound like you've received your fair share of swirlies in you day. Bitter much?

Anonymous said...

In my opinion it sounds as if the chapter closed because of peer pressure, not hazing. The other houses listed had severe infractions. The SAEs are being sited for illegal consumption of alcohol. The last SAE hazing incident occurred in 2008 and 2009. The oldest SAE's currently at Iowa graduated from high school in May of 2009, if they were involved in 2009 they would have been the pledges being hazed! Since the chapter is closed there are now 40 young men who have one week to find a new place to live while going to class, studying, writing papers and taking tests. Sally Mason did a nice job throwing SAE under the bus and is not giving a second thought about 40 of her tuition paying, displaced students. It's very unfortunate.

Anonymous said...


Outside observers tend to be the best at objectively judging things. You're obviously a Greek who's a little butt-hurt over the fact that the ugly parts of your "culture" keep showing up despite all their claims to the contrary. Sorry that your privilege is totally being denied, jackass.


Is it completely impossible that the culture maintains itself (which is the real problem) despite the turnover in students? Nah, couldn't be, only individuals are to blame, right? And these individuals would have TOTALLY acted in the same manner if they had been unaffiliated with the Greek system? Sure...

Anonymous said...

I think it would be wise to go a little deeper into the numbers before completely jumping on the anti-greek bandwagon. Based on the chart of arrest-citation rates that is in the Gazette of 9-28, it appears that the undergraduate Residence Hall (RH) males are giving the Greeks (G) a real run for their money on this dubious statistic. When comparing the last three academic years, in general there is little difference (RH/G 2009-11/12.8 2010-11.7/15.1 2011-10.2/9.9) between the two comparable groups. The larger percentage in 2010 may be due to just 1 or 2 extra citations based on the relative group size of G to RH. All in all, does this really point to an issue of 18-20 year old males having their first independent exposure to alcohol in a town that has earned a very well deserved reputation for citing underage drinking rather than an issue of the Greek system?