Fraternizing With The Maroon

We sat down with fraternity presidents to talk about FCS. These were our takeaways.

By Maroon Editorial Board

A full, unedited transcript of the interview can be found here.

Last week, the Maroon Editorial Board sat down for an hour with all 10 active fraternity presidents to talk about the first-ever fraternity-wide policy on sexual violence prevention, written in October of 2016. We support the mission of the document—and we’re glad fraternity presidents are meeting regularly to address the issue of sexual assault in their community—but there are areas of the document that need revision and a few more steps that could be taken to improve fraternity response to sexual violence.

Fraternities Committed to Safety (FCS), a six-part policy, attempts to outline basic standards for sexual assault prevention, laying out policies for member education, party safety, and fraternity transparency. FCS establishes minimum standards for chapter sexual misconduct policies for all fraternities and adds an element of inter-fraternity accountability. At the end of each quarter, fraternity presidents will meet to decide which members will be invited to re-sign the document.

FCS is not designed to adjudicate accusations of sexual assault, but rather to take steps toward a Greek community that addresses sexual violence seriously. It’s a major signal of inter-fraternity cooperation and communication, a renewed commitment to improving campus safety, and a self-directed recognition of accountability.

We found that, while the document is a clear step forward, FCS is simply not equipped to handle members who have been accused of sexual assault, which they themselves recognize. The presidents were very upfront in the meeting about the fact that they cannot and should not decide the fate of parties involved in sexual assault claims. Instead, their goal is to direct those wishing to report sexual violence to University police, emergency contacts, and administrators. The FCS website has a form for reporting violations of the FCS policy, but not complaints of sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct, without institutional non-compliance with FCS policy, is not actually a violation of the FCS document; even in the event that FCS is aware of sexual assaults or alleged sexual assaults, this knowledge may not lead to any sanctions against a chapter.

But a fraternity learning that a brother is under investigation is never guaranteed. The University of Chicago will not inform chapters when a brother comes under investigation or is found responsible for sexual misconduct. Without any mechanism in place for reporting sexual assault on the FCS website, fraternities can only become aware of an alleged assault if a brother under investigation willingly comes forward. One clause states: “If any member of an undersigning fraternity is formally accused of sexual assault, that member is to be suspended from social events, pending the results of any police or University investigations.” This clause has no promise of enforcement—it relies on brothers to come forward and tell their chapters’ leadership about accusations made against them, a prospect that seems tenuous at best. This clause could potentially be misleading, and students should not assume that there are no fraternity brothers under investigation by the University or other authorities for sexual misconduct, as it is at least possible that a brother under investigation could retain membership in his fraternity if he conceals the allegation against him from his chapter. 

Based on our conversation with the fraternity presidents, the online reporting mechanism is the main link between campus and Greek life; the only way members of FCS could be held accountable is if members of the UChicago community filed a complaint over its website (or e-mailed a specific president). But, the purpose and efficacy of the website’s reporting page is overall unclear. Nothing has yet been reported on the FCS website, and none of the fraternity presidents have received e-mail complaints. The portal also requires users to only select from a list of policy violations—none of which involve sexual assault—and does not provide a space for open reporting. It strikes us as inherently paradoxical that a document that sets up standards for sexual assault prevention does not offer a portal to report incidents of sexual assault. This portal, moreover, is not anonymous: it requires an e-mail address. So, not only can sexual assault survivors not report their experiences to the FCS, but also, even if they could, their identities would not remain anonymous.

One of the biggest problems with FCS stems from the fact that it is entirely self-regulated, with no external pressure for accountability. For now, the only incentive for a fraternity to follow the policies outlined in FCS is the threat of being removed from the FCS community—an apparent PR blow. It seems ironic that the punishment for failing to comply with sexual assault prevention guidelines is to relinquish the fraternity from the obligation to actually prevent sexual assault. If anything, the FCS’s form of sanctioning is actually a greater risk to campus safety, as a fraternity that is excluded from the document would not have the same inter-fraternity oversight and, though it would still have its individual policy, it would not be held to the baseline set of standards put forth in the document. 

The document is not perfect, but it represents a good faith effort and has the potential to grow from quarter to quarter and address new problems as they arise. Recognizing that there is only so much they can do, the presidents should consider making a few changes to the existing document when it is up for re-signing next quarter. At the top of the list of changes should be: making the reporting system anonymous and opening up the form to complaints that extend beyond the line items of the policy. Additionally, fraternities should work to further publicize the currently under-utilized reporting mechanism by including a link to the page as part of the safety procedures that they are required to publicly post before each social event. A final priority should be changing the punishment for failing to adhere to the FCS document, either by making the fraternity in question undergo extra sexual assault training, forcing the fraternity to post that it violated FCS policy on all social event invites, or anything else that can still be considered a punishment without relinquishing the fraternity from its obligation to promote campus safety. 

The Maroon Editorial Board