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Is an Off-Campus Fraternity Ban Actually Enforceable?

will anyone get the heavy-handed scarlet letter reference?

(James Hildebrand)– The Amherst College Board of Trustees has decided that effective July 1st, 2014, all student participation in fraternities, sororities, or any similar organizations, whether on campus or off, will be considered a violation of the Honor Code. Regardless of whether you support fraternities or not, you should probably be concerned about this new policy.

It’s not hard to imagine the difficulties inherent in enforcing the new policy off-campus. After all, proving group membership in underground social organizations has historically posed a significant and frequently mishandled challenge to administrative organizations. Underground fraternities aren’t necessarily connected to their national networks, and a member roster, assuming one even exists, is not something the administration can simply get its hands on. It’s clear that successful identification of current fraternity members will have to rely largely on speculation and hearsay. It’s not like the administration can bring a group of guys in on suspicion of conspicuously appearing to be friends. I worry that in trying to successfully identify and punish fraternity members, the administration will find itself arguing, “well, we just know.” The kind of evidence needed to prove off-campus fraternity or fraternity-like membership doesn’t seem to be within the administration’s practical (and probably legal) reach.

Similar concerns apply to regulation of off-campus social events: how will the administration decide what makes an off-site gathering too fratty to be acceptable? I’m struggling to imagine clear guidelines that would prohibit fraternity activity without broadly banning all unofficial off-campus social events. Again, I figure that the administration will have no choice but to resort to stereotypes of what fraternity activity looks like, relying too heavily on a “we know it when we see it” model of Honor Code enforcement.

Really, the question of off-campus prohibition of a specific kind of social group raises a range of difficult questions. Most immediately, meaningfully defining the difference between “fraternity-like organizations” and acceptable on and off-campus social groups will undoubtedly be a serious challenge. The policy also has implications for off-campus housing: will students living in groups off-campus be required to undergo some kind of administrative investigation? If a fraternity or fraternity-like organization hosts an off-campus event that is deemed in violation of the Honor Code, will all students in attendance face punishment? What’s stopping a fraternity from setting up a shell group on-campus and quietly running itself the same way it always has?

It goes without saying that fraternity supporters are upset by this most recent development. Many feel that the Board of Trustees’ decision unfairly publicly scapegoats a single kind of social group while saying nothing of on-campus groups, clubs, teams, and organizations that also have the potential to engage in unacceptable behavior. Many of these sanctioned on-campus groups, the argument goes, can and do behave just like fraternities. And while it’s obvious why these people would be concerned with the new policy, it strikes me that people who are anti-fraternity should also be alarmed.

When you consider the serious problems of enforcement that I’ve detailed here, it becomes clear that the more likely result of this new policy will simply be the disappearance of the physical evidence of fraternities on campus – I’m thinking here of things like Tom Jones t-shirts or the “ΔΚΕ” graffiti scratched into tables on 3rd-floor Frost. In other words, underground fraternities will continue to exist, but they’ll simply become even more underground. Hazing, binge drinking, and sexual misconduct – the issues that frequently concern students who are anti-fraternity – will simply become less detectable. As an example, what happens to reporting of violent hazing and sexual assault when we make any connection to fraternities a suspendible offense? Sure, we offer amnesty to reporting individuals, but could the new fear of getting all parties present at an event, fraternity member or otherwise, in serious trouble become yet another barrier to reporting on this campus? In short, if you’re worried about what frats do, you should be even more worried when that stuff becomes invisible. Prohibition only drives the problem further from sight. The assumption that a total ban on fraternities and fraternity-like organizations will be an effective means of solving the problems they bring rests on the assumption that the administration can effectively prevent any further secret activity. Anyone who lives on this campus knows how reckless that assumption is. Turning frats into secret societies isn’t the solution we need.

The Board of Trustees was right in saying that the ambiguous state of fraternities at Amherst is fundamentally untenable. Their proposed solution, however, isn’t going to help.

About jhildebrand15

Thinking about family, Japan, and the homosexual agenda.

34 comments on “Is an Off-Campus Fraternity Ban Actually Enforceable?

  1. Anonymous
    May 6, 2014

    Well clearly the students who are living in off-campus frat houses have some affiliation with fraternities. The administration here may not always be the brightest, but they aren’t that dumb.

    • Duh.
      May 7, 2014

      You’re completely missing James’s point. When these organizations stop going by their official greek names, or do so only in private, how does the administration determine which houses are “frat” houses, and which ones are simply occupied by former frat members? There are multiple reasons someone could choose to live off campus, being in an underground fraternity is only one of them.

      Thanks for an informative and an unbiased perspective, James. Pleasure to read as always.

      • Anonymous
        May 7, 2014

        Again, the administration isn’t that dumb. They know where the current frat houses are now and which students live in them. I’d be shocked if the frats would be able to sell their current frat houses and relocate before the beginning of next school year; no one would want to buy those houses in their current state.

      • Duh.
        May 7, 2014

        None of the fraternities actually own any of the houses they reside in, they just rent them. Given this is a college town, they probably have leases that expire at the end of this school year. So, it really should not be too difficult for them to move somewhere else.

  2. Anonymous
    May 7, 2014

    James, on point as always.

  3. Anonymous
    May 7, 2014

    This is a very interesting perspective and I totally agree. There is just no way the administration can enforce this policy and I begin to doubt that they even intend to.

    Rather, this new policy limits the public perception of responsibility on the college’s part (in the event a fraternity member is accused of sexual assault) by further distancing itself from them.

    As always, the administration is concerned first and foremost with protecting the school’s image rather than its students or social life.

  4. Anonymous
    May 7, 2014

    Finally someone who knows what he’s talking about. Also, how brave of them to announce this right before exams… Awfully convenient if you are trying to minimize student action.

  5. rk
    May 7, 2014

    This seems very similar to the whole alcohol issue that happened last year, granted frats are much more complicated than alcohol policy and drinking. In trying to cut down on partying and drinking, the administration ended up creating more dangerous situations. Seems pretty stupid to me that they’re doing something very similar with the frats now.

  6. Anonymous
    May 7, 2014

    This article does a great job of addressing the logistics of enforcing the ban on frats. Very well articulated and thought out.

    I think we can all agree that the banning frats, or anything resembling them, is unfeasible. But do you think there is legitimacy in trying to do so (in the context of sexual misconduct and the larger social culture of Amherst)? Or is this purely scapegoating? I don’t have an answer, but I’d like to hear what people think.

    • Yoni Rechtman
      May 7, 2014

      I really do think its an issue of scapegoating. The trustees are under a lot of pressure to do something about sexual assault and campus life and its much easier to just ban fraternities than to actually effect positive change. I only hope that the college fixes the real problems before more people suffer on account of administrative negligence and shortsightedness.

      • Anonymous
        May 7, 2014

        I tend to think that the argument about whether or not this is a public relations stunt is irrelevant. I think it is much more fruitful to argue about the policy itself. If you believe that the ban is not the right policy, you should present an argument about the unintended consequence of the ban relative to the current situation or present an alternative policy that would be better rather than conjecturing about the administrations motives (which you obviously do not know). Also, we should avoid the argument that you can either have a ban or deal with other possible sources of rape culture; you can chew and walk at the same time.

        (Full disclosure: I support the ban, but I think there is merit to people’s apprehensions about it.)

  7. Anonymous
    May 7, 2014

    I agree that there clearly practical limitations to being able to enforce fraternity membership, but there do appear to be some activities that particular to fraternities, namely, the initiation process. I doubt the college will engage in some sort of will-formulated witch hunt for fraternity members. Instead, I imagine a situation where, for example, campus police gets a call that people are engaging in initiation activities and they go out to investigate. They could then take down the names of those involved and report this information to the relevant administration officials. This could then be used as evidence that the students involved are members of a fraternity. I think the ban will probably be more cautious and ineffectual than overly zealous. I think it will become apparent over time if the ban will be effective. We should avoid, in my opinion, being too shrill about the ban.

    • Anonymous
      May 7, 2014

      For sure, it might not come out to much but there’s another really big problem and thats the trustees going out and making a decision with effectively no student input or public debate. Maybe we shouldn’t make a stink about frats but i definitely think we should be up in arms about the way it was handled. I mean announcing it during finals? thats just sleazy. I don’t want to let this set a precedent, regardless of what happens to the frats and how effective it is.

      • Anonymous
        May 7, 2014

        I understand the objection that the decision was made in an undemocratic fashion with little transparency. However, I think it is also important to understand that when deciding to uproot an institution with considerable clout and vested interests on its side, sometimes it is necessary to avoid democratic processes. This is probably an important reason why they were not as democratic and transparent as some may have liked. I am not claiming that this reasoning is necessarily right, but we should not be so quick to presume ill intentions on the part of the trustees.

    • Anonymous
      May 7, 2014

      *I agree that there are clearly practical limitations to being able to enforce a ban fraternity membership

  8. Yoni Rechtman
    May 7, 2014

    To whoever commented on my above post, for some reason the website won’t let me reply to you directly,

    You make a fair point. Firstly, I have yet to see any substantiated claim that fraternity members are more likely to commit sexual assault. Painting us all as rapists is unfair and unproductive. Speaking from my experience within the DKE i do not believe that we are a source of rape culture. We have multiple SHEs, we do bystander training. We do our utmost to actively combat rape culture. secondly, claiming that the ban will make campus more open makes no sense. it is the cliquey nature of amherst that makes fraternities necessary. our social scene is completely dominated by teams and clubs and if you’re not in one (especially if you’re a guy) you’re out of luck. fraternities fill a vital role by bridging the gap between athletes and non athletes, providing important social opportunities for both. You’re right that we can chew and walk at the same time but right now we’re making lateral moves, if not walking backwards.

    • Anonymous
      May 7, 2014

      >Firstly, I have yet to see any substantiated claim that fraternity members are more likely to commit sexual assault.

      “Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus.” is a famous book by an anthropologist Peggy Sanday that suggests that fraternities do promote rape culture.

      An academic article “Behavior Differences Seven Months Later: Effects of a Rape Prevention Program” by John D. Foubert, Johnathan T. Newberry, and Jerry L. Tatum find that fraternity members are statistically significantly more likely to commit rape.

      These are two examples of evidence that fraternities do promote rape culture, but I have seen others that I cannot recall at the moment.

      >Painting us all as rapists is unfair and unproductive.

      I do not think this is what sensible people who support the ban are implying. You should not confuse systems with individuals. I think this is a common error when thinking about things like privileged, for example. Saying that fraternities as a system promotes rape culture does mean that you believe that the men in fraternities are necessarily more inclined to commit rape and promote rape culture outside that system. (Similarly, for example, just because someone benefits for white privilege does not mean that the person is activity oppressing non-white people.) Instead, it means that fraternities as systems promote things such as hyper masculinity, excessive consumption of alcohol, excessive group loyalty, etc. that may increase the incidence of rape for various reasons.

      • Alum
        May 7, 2014

        I think any anthropologist worth her salt would tell you that context matters more than labels like “fraternity members”. Sanday’s work was conducted at UPenn, which is about as unlike Amherst as you can get in the Northeastern private higher ed sphere. Foubert et al. seem to have worked at the College of William and Mary, which though perhaps somewhat more similar to Amherst than Penn, is still radically different (Southern-ish, ~25% Greek, grad schools, 6000+ students). What matters is what happens at Amherst, and specifically, as you point out, the work that fraternities do as cultural systems at Amherst.

        I can’t speak for any fraternities besides the one I was in (Chi Psi), but it was decidedly not a space of hypermasculinity, excessive alcohol consumption (compared to Amherst norms), or other explicit elements of rape culture. Hell, we had open discussions about gender and the ethically difficult position of being an all-male group. More importantly I think that *as a system* it does important work for its members in terms of promoting self-reflection, deepened relationships, and a value system that helps to counter the Amherst anomie that Yoni noted above. The difficulty, of course, is that we’re asking you to take our word for it. Unfortunately the administration has not been interested in allowing for increased transparency of the fraternities–they’ve set up every incentive to be as opaque as possible.

  9. Anonymous
    May 7, 2014

    In all honesty, who comes to Amherst with the intention of joinin a frat? And saying that DKE doesn’t promote rape culture because its members are SHEs is very Suzanne Coffey of you (athletes aren’t bad because they become lawyers and doctors!!!). I’m personally indifferent about the frats but honestly if you’re going to complain all over the internet about how your frat must now meet without the designation of DKE, then come up with a better argument.

    • Yoni Rechtman
      May 7, 2014

      I did not come to amherst to join DKE. I came to amherst under the false premise of an open social atmosphere. The fraternities are necessitated by the college’s cliquey nature. The point of bringing up SHEs was to demonstrate ways in which DKE actively fights rape culture. It has nothing to do with the lawyers and doctors argument.

      • Anonymous
        May 7, 2014

        Don’t frats help to perpetuate the college’s cliquey nature?

      • Yoni Rechtman
        May 7, 2014

        Yes and no. Fraternities are at least nominally exclusive but they are not the drivers of the general social atmosphere. There would not be an explicit need for them if our social scene were more open but as it is now, without fraternities a lot of people just wouldn’t have access to the opportunities that make a college social life. On the other hand they make the school less cliquey by pulling from a diverse pool of students.

      • Anonymous
        May 7, 2014

        How exactly do frats bridge the divide between athletes and non-athletes if the majority of varsity teams have very strict anti-frat rules?

        >our social scene is completely dominated by teams and clubs and if you’re not in one (especially if you’re a guy) you’re out of luck

        What if I’m a woman, I’m not on a varsity team, and I have no interest in hooking up? The social scene here has very little for women who have no connections to frat guys or athletes and want to go out with their friends, have fun, and not be groped or otherwise harassed. I’m out of luck, just like many others. How can frats improve the social life for us?

  10. Anonymous
    May 7, 2014

    If not intentionally malicious, the administration’s choice to release this decision at the beginning of finals period was irrefutably both careless and harmful to its students. This is a significant change to campus-life which clearly affects not only those affiliated with Greek life, but any student who wishes to choose where he or she associates and with whom. The decision has already evoked anxiety across campus and forced students to choose between studying for their finals and taking action against something that they perceive as wrong. The administration unfairly denied students a say in the decision-making process and then chose to implement their choice at a time when few students would be able to react. I have lost a lot of respect for the college over the shifty and duplicitous way in which they made this announcement.

  11. Ethan Corey
    May 7, 2014

    I feel like this all assumes that the Board’s goal was to create an enforceable ban, an assumption for which I can find no evidence. The Board’s primary goal was to get rid of the huge liability issue of organizations that are informally affiliated with the College without being under the control of the College, not to kick out every member of off-campus fraternities there ever was. I’m guessing that the Board would prefer that this rule is never actually enforced (imagine the PR crisis that might cause), but that it serves enough of a deterrent effect to keep students from joining frats.

    That’s why I think the ban will likely be successful, at least in terms of its goals. The Board already enacted a similar ban on Psi U., and you didn’t see anybody trying to join them while the ban was in effect. Given Will’s statement in The Student (http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/?q=article/2014/05/07/board-bans-campus-fraternities), I’m guessing that the remaining fraternities will all go the way of Psi U. And, TBH, for all my reputation (earned or otherwise) as being anti-frat, I can empathize with everyone who’s in a frat right now, especially if you just finished the pledging process. It must suck to have the school crack down on something that you really care about. That said, no one is going to stop you from being friends with your brothers,

    In regards to the speculation about whether or not the College is using frats as a scapegoat for the Title IX investigation, my guess would be yes and no. The College has been reviewing the status of fraternities at the College since last spring; I was told in an email this fall that they would be making a decision by the end of the year (see here: http://acvoice.com/2013/10/03/far-from-over-amherst-colleges-persistent-sexual-misconduct-problem/). So this decision has been a long time coming. The kernel of truth to this speculation I think would be that the College was pushed to act by the investigation. Having unregulated off-campus fraternities, especially ones that have had bad press surrounding sexual respect in the past, would definitely be a huge liability for the College when it comes to an investigation. From that perspective, there wasn’t much they could do besides banning fraternities outright; anyone who thought a normalization of fraternities was possible was being naive.

    As for the student input issue, there was never any chance of them listening to us, regardless of whether we were in favor of or against the ban. If people want to protest that, I support them, but don’t try to make it seem like this is any different from most other major decisions about student life.

    • Jay Silbaugh
      May 7, 2014

      As a member of DKE, I will probably catch some flak for agreeing with Ethan on anything, but I think he is absolutely on point with this comment. Biddy Martin was brought to Amherst neither to preserve our traditions and culture nor to bridge the gap between the student body and the trustees. She was hired to be the face of the new 30-year plan, and if that means she has to steamroll student government and social life at Amherst for the next 5 or so years, she’s willing to be the bad guy. That’s why she was hired. Even before the events of yesterday I think most of the fraternity members at the school were aware that our situation at Amherst was untenable from a legal perspective. What concerns me, and what should concern every Amherst student, is that though we spend~$200,000 to attend this school today, our administrators and trustees care more about applicants who haven’t even been born yet. As long as the acceptance rate is low and the endowment is large, why should they care about us?

      • Anonymous
        May 7, 2014

        >As long as the acceptance rate is low and the endowment is large, why should they care about us?

        Because some people are concerned with silly things like creating a community in which students are safe from the threat of rape, which distracts them from the real issues: a low acceptance rate and a large endow.

        I think that may be the worst argument against the ban so far. There are serious concerns about the unintended consequences of a ban that have a lot of merit, but your argument is saddening.

      • Duh.
        May 7, 2014

        To Anon, Biddy has explicitly said this is not an issue of preventing sexual assault, and that there is not an evidence that underground fraternities contribute to such incidents. It should go without saying that creating a community in which students are safe from the threat of rape is an incredibly important goal, but the abolishment of fraternities has no effect on this. If you’re going to make this argument, you need more than anecdotal evidence.

  12. Concerned Citizen
    May 7, 2014

    Can anyone truthfully say that they’d recommend going to this school to a friend/family member? This place has ruined what was supposed to be the best four years of my life and it looks like its only getting worse. God help the underclassmen/incoming classes- between the ridiculous party policy, the socials coming down, blind placation of feminists, and now the no fraternity policy, this school has become a bonafide military state.

    • Anonymous
      May 7, 2014

      All hail Glorious Leader Martin!

      (I am pretty sure that you are just trolling, but thanks for the laugh.)

    • APOCALYPSE
      May 7, 2014

      Oh no! My party-for-four-years dream has been crushed! What will now happen to Amherst?!?! God forbid I will now have nothing to do but learn things and get a world-class education! What will I do without socials and fraternities????????? LIFE WILL BE OVER.

  13. Albert Bard
    May 7, 2014

    Why would any admitted student chose to attend Amherst over any Ivy League institution (assuming he or were admitted to the latter)? Even at Brown, the faculty are more accomplished student-teachers than Amherst has recently hired and tenured, the on-campus fraternities and sororities flourish without dominating residential life, and there is no honor code, since the faculty regards such a regulation as condescending to student autonomy and self-development and inconsistent with its signature open curriculum. The Amherst Trustees’ new regulation does nothing to address the most urgent needs of the College, and it fails to hold accountable the senior administration that has so failed Amherst in its appointment of under-qualified “chiefs” and unprofessional oversight of campus life. Amherst’s leadership has consigned our College to second-tier status and subjected it to ridicule from more selective, and more academically rigorous, institutions that have nothing to fear from untrammeled student freedom of association. On no other Ivy League or NESCAC campus would Amherst’s senior administration be tenable. It is time for concerned faculty, students and alumni to intervene and reassure our higher education peers that the free exercise of civil liberties are in fact an Amherst “core value” and that Amherst, in its leadership and policies, is a serious and not a risible institution.

  14. Pingback: Why the Fraternity Ban is a Red Herring | AC VOICE

  15. Pingback: Amherst’s attack on fraternities is an attack on student rights |

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