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

Terras Irradient

(Ethan Corey)– 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.

About Ethan Corey

Ethan Corey is a junior at Amherst College. Find him on Twitter at @ethanscorey or share your thoughts in the comments.

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

  1. Pingback: Expelled Student Stays In House Associated With Off-Campus Fraternity | AC VOICE

  2. Alum
    January 26, 2014

    Though I still, ultimately, disagree with your decision to publish the article — or, at least, with the underlying opinion that drove that decision — I appreciate your willingness to explain why you did so.

    The only thing I’d like to point out is that the regulatory gap you identify is not unique to fraternities, except insofar as fraternity members are more likely than non-fraternity members to live off campus. That is, the same potentially problematic situation that resulted here — a student expelled for sexual assault remaining in close proximity to campus and to his alleged victim — would also have resulted, and the College would have been equally powerless to stop it, if the expelled student had stayed with non-fraternity member friends who lived off campus.

  3. Anonymous
    January 27, 2014

    The real issue behind the story isn’t so much the regulatory vacuum but the college handling of the case. The perpetrator should have been arrested, the case should have been investigated by police and a restraining order sought by the victim. This should have been handled as a typical criminal proceeding. But your article failed to even mention any of these concerns moving forward, and for that there will always be doubts about your sincerity in reporting this issue.

    As made clear in your response, it seems this article is less about reorienting the discussion about sexual assault in a novel direction and more about tackling the fraternity question.

    There should be a greater push to encourage victims to report to local law enforcement instead of allowing the College to solely handle disciplinary proceedings.

    What I hope individuals take most from your analysis is the knowledge that if this instance of sexual violence were reported to local law enforcement then the issues that you raised would have probably been resolved.

  4. '12
    January 27, 2014

    You have still failed to address the question that many readers commented on: Should the College have authority to regulate who can reside in off-campus housing that it does not own? Should the College have authority to regulate off-campus activities unaffiliated with the College? If a group of four students who happened to be on a sports team lived in an off-campus house with similar proximity to the College but similarly without direct affiliation to the College and a similar chain of events occurred, would you have written this article? Would the fact that a College has no real legal authority be worthy of such an article if a fraternity was not involved?

    Your failure to even address these very important questions in your article or response, the fact that you potentially compromised the confidentiality of the survivor’s identity to many readers, and the speed at which you dismiss the majority of comments in your previous article by equating them with hyperbole rather than address their concerns do not lend your article any appearance of being “objective and unbiased.” Just because you left what you consider to be “editorializing” out of the article doesn’t mean the reporting itself is unbiased; on the contrary, challenging some of the quotations you solicited (from activists, frat members, and administrators alike) might have actually made your article feel more objective (I mean really, you dismissed an important comment for using the word “eye-popping” without actually addressing the content of the comment).

    Regardless of my belief that the College needs to do away with frats once and for all, your article and this response were poorly written, should not have been published, and, I believe, brought more attention to the identity of the perpetrator and survivor than to the issue that the apparently-surprising fact that the College has no legal authority outside of its own institution — and to the fact that you actually do have an ax to grind with fraternities.

    • Ethan Corey
      January 27, 2014

      The College has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its students. Having an expelled student living across the street from campus poses a potential threat to that safety, and as such the College should take whatever steps it has in its power to address that situation. While the College does not have the ability to completely control who lives in residences near campus, it does have the jurisdiction to regulate student activities insofar as they affect safety on campus (cf. the Honor Code’s statement on jurisdiction). That is, the College cannot regulate the behavior of an expelled student once he or she leaves campus, but it can regulate the students who facilitate his behavior. To answer your question about a group of four student-athletes living off-campus (or any other group of students living off-campus for that matter) I would say that the answer would most likely be yes. Obviously it would depend on the particular circumstances to some extent, but the basic threat to safety posed by such a scenario does not depend on whether the students involved are members of fraternities or not. This incident does however raise the question of fraternities because that unregulated space existed because fraternities have been pushed off campus and into the surrounding area, and, perhaps more importantly, it means that the College loses a valuable regulative tool it would otherwise have in addressing this issue.

      Perhaps I should have included the above in my response, but I don’t think its exclusion detracts from the essential message, which was that this particular case was newsworthy for the reasons described in my response. As for your concern about the confidentiality of the survivor’s identity, the only identifying information that I included beyond what the College had already released was that the expelled student was a member of Chi Psi and stayed in the Lodge after his expulsion. If anyone can figure out who the student he assaulted was based on that information alone, they are the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes. The identity of the expelled student (as in his name, which I consciously excluded from the article) had already been spread by word of mouth to a large segment of the College community before I wrote the article, so I find it difficult to believe that publishing this information jeopardized the identity of the student he assaulted. That’s a concern which I do not take lightly, and that’s why I restricted the identifying information in the article to a bare minimum.

      As my response already noted, I realize I made a mistake in not being explicit about my views to begin with and that I should have put the activist’s comments in more context, but thanks for the suggestions; I’ll take them into account in the future. The article could have been written much better (a fact which my response noted), and the response was intended to be a brief clarification of my purposes in writing the article rather than a comprehensive rebuttal of every complaint people had with it. The “eye-popping” comment wasn’t really a coherent point so much as a petty gripe with Sonum’s choice of words. If the point of the expulsion was to protect the safety of students on campus, the expelled student’s proximity to campus did undermine the expulsion in an important way, and lobbing insults over word-choice doesn’t really do anything to address that point or further discussion.

      I already explained why this article was published–although you never seem to have addressed that argument–and I stand by the piece. Your continued assertion that–despite my explicit statements to the contrary–I’m pursuing some crusade against frats just makes you look silly.

      • Alum
        February 6, 2014

        Belated response here, but: I’m the alum who wrote the original “eye-popping” comment. Perhaps that was hyperbolic word choice. Nonetheless, you have yet to really address the comment’s substance beyond dismissing it for its arguably poor word choice. The comment was perfectly coherent; you just apparently disagree with its substance.

        Distilled and rephrased, the simple point of my comment was this: Sonum’s and Bolger’s quotes evinced a belief that (a) the expulsion was rendered meaningless by the expelled student’s ability to remain in close proximity to campus and (b) the College should have the power to prevent an expelled student from remaining in the town of Amherst; both (a) and (b) are mistaken beliefs given the obvious consequences of expulsion and Amherst College’s appropriately limited power, respectively. That’s more than a mere “petty gripe.” I think my comment provided some necessary perspective regarding the seriousness of expulsion and identified a legitimate point of disagreement over the appropriate bounds of Amherst College’s disciplinary power.

        For what it’s worth, I respect that you’re standing up for your sources. But I also take it as a partial admission that their quotes seemed over-the-top that you went out of your way in this post to explain that Sonum and Bolger gave their quotes without being aware of the situation’s full context. Their ignorance of the full context also explains and mitigates that which I found most “eye-popping” about the quotes themselves.

  5. anon
    January 28, 2014

    I’m asking this out of honest curiosity, so I hope one of the commenters who clearly held strong opinions on the subject can provide some explanation, but why is it important not to divulge the expelled student’s identity? I’m assuming, as Ethan said in his comment, that people on campus are already aware of whoever it is.

  6. Pingback: Why I Wrote “Peter Uvin: Masturbator?” | The Amherst Muck-Rake

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This entry was posted on January 26, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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