Why I Wrote “Expelled Student Stays In House Associated With Off-Campus Fraternity”

Terras Irradient

In the time since I posted “Expelled Student…” on this website, I have had several conversations about the article and the controversy it provoked. I published the article because the incident it described was a newsworthy story. However, I should have taken a different approach in doing so. Making clear why I thought this story was important and highlighting the issues that it raised would have encouraged a more productive discussion about the issues behind the story instead of the wild speculation about my supposed anti-fraternity agenda that occurred in its place. Ironically, my attempt to leave my personal opinions out of the story probably created more controversy than if I had included them in the article.

I had chosen to write the article in (what I thought was) an “objective and unbiased” tone because I knew that fraternities are a controversial subject at the College. I wanted to separate the story from my personal views on fraternities because I thought doing so would benefit discussion on the real issue behind the story — the regulative vacuum in which fraternities exist — rather than my own beliefs about the fraternity question, especially since I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on the matter. I purposefully included Chi Psi’s side of the story and allowed them to see a partial draft to ensure that they thought I was being accurate and fair, and I refrained from any editorializing in the article (in contrast to previous investigative pieces I have written for this site). Throughout the whole process, I made every effort to produce a balanced narrative that included a range of perspectives on the incident.

This strategy obviously failed. Judging by the comments, a significant number of students and alumni believe that I am either an anti-frat fanatic with a large axe to grind or a sordid trader in salacious gossip. Neither description fits reality, but this ill-founded conjecture ultimately distracted people from my real purpose in writing this story. This was in some ways my fault; as one commenter rightly pointed out, “all reporting reflects a viewpoint,” and “simply deciding what gets coverage is an inherently normative decision.” By not stating explicitly why I wrote this article, I left people guessing about what I really thought instead of debating the issues I hoped to raise.

To be explicit about my “agenda” in writing this article, I think that the lack of oversight of off-campus fraternities creates circumstances — such as the one discussed in the article — in which the College is unable to respond to potentially dangerous scenarios. Additionally, I think there has been an unjustified taboo on discussing the role of fraternities in creating a campus culture in which sexual violence occurs on a far too frequent basis; fraternities obviously aren’t the root of all evil, but the regulative vacuum in which they exist necessarily begets unsafe situations. The response to this doesn’t have to be the outright banning of fraternities, but we have to figure out how to address this problem if we want to make real progress towards a safer and more equal campus community.

I should also note that my purpose in writing this article was never to attack Chi Psi or the students involved. While I think that the decision to allow the expelled student stay in the Lodge failed to account for the potential effects that it could have had, the students involved appear to have taken precautions to ensure that the expelled student respected College policy and kept a low profile. Their actions, however, highlighted the problem I discussed above — what if they hadn’t taken those precautions?

People also reacted strongly to comments by Dana Bolger ’14E and Sonum Dixit ’13 included in the article. While I think a lot of the responses were spiteful and unfair —nothing they said was particularly “eye-popping” or “insane” — I take responsibility for some of the vitriol. I had asked Sonum and Dana for reactions knowing they were passionate and respected opponents of rape culture and sexual violence, and I thought they would do a good job explaining how the expelled student’s proximity to campus could impact the student he assaulted and connecting the incident to the broader problems it raised. However, I made an error by not giving them the full context of the situation in my request for comment, which denied them the opportunity to address their comments to the specifics of the scenario. In hindsight, I should have provided them with more details and allowed them to directly respond to the Chi Psi leadership’s defense of its actions.

To make a long story short, I made one mistake by not being explicit about my reasons for writing the article, and I made another by using Sonum’s and Dana’s reactions in a possibly misleading fashion. For those I apologize (and I have personally apologized to Sonum and Dana for the latter), but I do not in any way regret publishing the article. This incident highlighted a gap in the College’s ability to protect its students and enforce its disciplinary decisions, and it showed that the unregulated nature of off-campus fraternities can create potentially dangerous situations in which the College cannot intervene. Those reasons alone made it worth publishing.