An alleged rape at a fraternity party in February 2017 forced Arkansas State University to shut down its Greek life for several months. It’s a problem the university and its state counterparts hope to avoid in the future.
ASU, along with the University of Arkansas, hosted a statewide Greek Life Symposium earlier this week at UA Little Rock. The goal was to discuss ways to minimize risks to students while increasing safety at fraternities and sororities, according to organizers. At least 88 people, including students and employees who work with Greek Life, attended. Representatives from Arkansas State University, University of Arkansas, UA Little Rock, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, Arkansas Tech University, and University of Arkansas at Monticello attended.
“Campus CEOs have many concerns, but chief among them is the safety of our students. It’s a commitment that we make to them and their parents when they come to our campus,” ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said. “Starting frank and honest discussions in a statewide forum like this benefits every campus, especially when we continue those discussions back home. My fellow presidents and chancellors start with the premise that there is much to be valued about Greek Life. Joint discussions like this provide important context about the current state of Greek Life nationally and the opportunity to consider ways to improve what we are doing locally.”
The North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) estimates there are about 800,000 students nationwide that are involved in either a fraternity or sorority. An estimated 9 million people are Greek Life alumni, according to estimates. Greek organizations have existed in the U.S. since its founding.
Two national experts spoke at the symposium. Dave Westol is a former trial lawyer and now a national consultant to sororities and fraternities. Walter Kimbrough, the former president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, chaired a commission on hazing awareness and prevention for the North American Interfraternity Conference. Kimbrough, currently president of Dillard University in New Orleans, is also the author of Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities and is frequently called on as an expert in legal cases involving fraternities.
Kimbrough pointed to several high-profile student deaths as proof that more awareness and prevention efforts are needed. The culture of hazing often starts in middle school and high school, he said, citing a report that found that half of college students had experienced some form of hazing before they got to college. Of those, 95% did not report the event.
In Louisiana, lawmakers passed anti-hazing legislation that affects public and private universities.
Kimbrough said organizational change must start with students but that universities must ensure their policies create an environment that encourages students to speak up about problems.
Westol said he sees several trends with sororities and fraternities nationwide, including mostly flat recruitment, higher attrition rates among students who join, and the formation of more multicultural groups, especially among the Asian, Latina/Latino, and Native American populations.
He said some chapters have replaced the practice of pledging with immediate initiation and other Greek organizations have moved to substance-free housing.
Other ways to stop hazing include reducing the power gap between members and initiates, develop anti-chapter hazing policies, be willing to change traditions and giving members time to reflect on their potential actions are other ways to limit dangerous situations during Greek Life events, according to the University of Rochester.
“I hope this will be a model for future discussions,” University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz told the crowd. “We are each other’s best resources. It behooves us to communicate, share, and work together to identify issues, ideally before they happen on our campus.”