On January 16, students at the College received an email from Dean of Students Jim Larimore and new Title IX Coordinator Laurie Frankl informing them that in December, for the first time in nearly two decades, a student had been expelled from the College for violating the College’s Sexual Misconduct Policy by committing sexual assault. Not included in the email, however, was the news that after being required to leave campus the expelled student had resided in a house on South Prospect Street (directly across from Hitchcock Dormitory) leased by four members of the off-campus fraternity known as Chi Psi at Amherst, of which he was a member.
In a meeting with the leadership of Chi Psi at Amherst and a female friend of the student who is not affiliated with the fraternity, I learned that after receiving the Hearing Board’s initial decision in early December, the student was required to leave campus immediately, with less than an hour to pack. After consulting with the fraternity members who lease the house, the student’s friend, who was with him when he received notice of the decision, took him to stay at the house, commonly known as “the Lodge,” while he went through the appeals process. Although the student continued to reside in the house after his appeal was denied, the students who allowed him to stay said that the arrangement was always meant to be a temporary “waystation” while he found another place to go permanently. They claimed that because of his particular circumstances, staying with family was not an option, and the student had no other place to go.
“That was the best option at the time; there was nothing else. What else was he going to do? He didn’t have money to stay in a hotel—he couldn’t just stay in his car until his money ran out,” the student’s friend said.
However, they declined to tell me how long the student was in the house, although they assured me that he was not there while classes were in session and has since left the area.
Leaders of Chi Psi at Amherst rejected the idea that this arrangement had anything to do with the fraternity, aside from the fact that it involved fraternity members. A fraternity officer who resides in the house said that the decision to allow the student to stay in the Lodge was solely the purview of the four fraternity members who lived in the house and paid the lease. They also said that most Chi Psi members did not even know about the expulsion. Another fraternity officer, who lives on campus, said that he had expressed concern about the student staying in the Lodge, but added that because he did not pay the lease, he had no say in the final decision.
According to the Chi Psi constitution and bylaws, each Alpha, or local chapter of the fraternity, is affiliated with a Lodge owned by a specially created alumni corporation that holds the title for the property, pays taxes, collects rent, and performs other duties necessary for the proper maintenance of the Lodge. The bylaws state that an “alumnus” — which the student became after his expulsion — may not reside in the Lodge or make social visits to the premises. However, leaders of Chi Psi at Amherst said that because the College does not recognize the fraternity the Amherst chapter of the fraternity is exempt from some of the requirement typically expected of Chi Psi Alphas. No alumni corporation owns the house leased by the Chi Psi members; instead, the lease is handed down each year within the fraternity, and the fraternity members who reside in the house do not receive any compensation for allowing the Amherst Alpha to use the house for fraternity activities.
Although the student has since moved out of the Lodge, several student-activists and advocates for sexual respect say that his proximity to campus undermined the purpose of the expulsion and posed a potential threat to the student he assaulted. Sonum Dixit ’13, one of the founders of It Happens Here, argued that the expulsion was “rendered meaningless,” because the College inability to regulate fraternities.
“While I’m glad the College expelled the student, the issue of expulsion is tricky because if a school expels a rapist, the rapist will find their way elsewhere and the cycle is never broken,” Dixit said.
Dana Bolger ’14E, another founder of It Happens Here who wrote a widely-read article about the fraternities and sexual respect last year, also expressed concern over the student’s proximity to campus and its effects on the victim’s healing process.
“Victims file complaints because they want to be safe at school and they want to protect others from having to go through what they suffered. If the perpetrator remains effectively on campus — including at a frat house 100 feet away — they may end up bumping into him in town or elsewhere. That can actually be really terrifying for a victim of sexual assault, exacerbating PTSD symptoms and stalling the healing process. On top of that, I imagine it’s infuriating to go through a disciplinary process as long, painful, and retraumatizing as Amherst’s, receive a decision, and then not have it honored in the least,” Bolger said.
In response to claims that they were undermining the College’s disciplinary process, the leaders of Chi Psi and the student’s friend all argued that they took every precaution possible to ensure that the student did not interact with anyone from the College while he was staying at the Lodge. According to them, the student remained inside of the house nearly the entire time he was there, leaving only to get food at establishments not typically frequented by students or meet with his advisor while working on his appeal. Additionally, the student only left through the house’s back door, which faces away from campus, and was accompanied by one of the residents of the Lodge or another friend at all times. Leaders of the fraternity also argued that concerns about expelled students staying with students off campus after their expulsion should not be targeted specifically at fraternities, since most students living off campus are not members of fraternities.
Student-body president George Tepe ’14, whose association with Chi Psi was hotly debated during his election campaign, did not wish to publicly discuss this case, but released the following statement on January 17, printed in full:
“It is important to be open with the student body. I resigned from Chi Psi last week because I did not feel supported by the fraternity. In addition, I strongly disagreed with some decisions of the leadership regarding a member who had been found responsible for committing sexual assault and consequently expelled from Amherst. This was a trying personal decision involving those I considered my closest friends. Therefore, I need some time to reflect and figure out the implications for me personally.”
On the College’s part, Dean of Students Jim Larimore would only say that the College has no jurisdiction over non-College properties and added that discussions about the “ambiguous status” of fraternities and fraternity members at the College were “ongoing.” Nonetheless, this case has some activists feeling disillusioned with the College’s claims that fraternities have little direct relevance to discussions about sexual assault and underscored the need to clarify the role of fraternities at the College.
“We spent a lot of time over the past year and a half debating the role of frats and I think this shows that frats play a bigger role than some of us would like to admit. This is scarily reflective of how rapists are able to thrive in our communities because there are always people willing to protect them,” Dixit said.
Update: Please see the statement published by the author regarding the public reaction to this post.