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Will expansion of Fraternity and Sorority Life halt?

The news spread quickly: “Greek Life is under attack.”

That’s how senior Andrew Lubash, ASUO senator, Delta Tau Delta member described the reaction in FSL when the community’s growth was threatened in November 2014.

That is when a task force of anti-sexual assault advocates at the University  of Oregon released “20 Students Per Week,” a recommendation to the university on how to fight sexual assault at University of Oregon.

One of the recommendations was that FSL’s growth should be suspended until the university can find out why sexual assaults are three times higher for sorority women.

FSL presidents and leaders moved quickly and uniformly, asking fraternity and sorority members to come before the task force in a student forum and let the task force know their opposition to the recommendation.

“Come stand in solidarity with FSL,” the messages said, according to Lubash. Lubash is a critic of FSL expansion himself. 

The student forum on Nov. 4, 2014 was a sea of formal suits and dresses, a request by leadership to show that they took the issue seriously. When the task force asked how many were from FSL, nearly every hand in the room went up.

FSL members brought their reasons for continuing growth: They have fixed problems on their own before, and they can work together with the university to fight sexual assault. The task force’s responses were reasonable, but unswayed: Suspension of FSL is necessary.

That was three months ago.

Both sides agree that there is a problem, but neither has the power to do anything alone — both are waiting for the university to either suspend FSL or let it grow. But the university has yet to respond to nearly all of the recommendations, and unless it does, FSL will continue to grow.

Students in FSL make up 16.5 percent of the UO’s population. FSL wants to get that to 20 percent in the next few years, and it’s doing that by allowing new fraternities and sororities to come onto campus. Theta Chi fraternity colonized in fall 2014, fraternity Alpha Tau Omega is recruiting its founding members this term and sorority Sigma Kappa is returning fall 2015.

The task force recommendation would stop these efforts by prohibiting new fraternities and sororities from colonizing on Oregon’s campus until sexual assault numbers in the community decrease.

It came after a survey by UO psychology professor Dr. Jennifer Freyd found that women in FSL at UO are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted.

“Obviously we are not in support of the halt of expansion for Fraternity and Sorority Life,” said Max Lehman, the current Interfraternity Council president. “I believe very adamantly that FSL is an amazing opportunity for everybody to be a part of, and simply halting its expansion will not stop or solve this issue.”

But to Freyd and other advocates against sexual assault, halting expansion is an important way to reduce sexual assault.

“It’s going to make fraternities and sororities safer, so students can enjoy them in the way that they were intended,” said Marina Rosenthal, a doctoral candidate who works with Freyd.

But leaders in the FSL community say that they have effectively dealt with problems in their community before, and they are prepared to do so again without the need for outside sanctions.

In spring, FSL changed their social policy to decrease alcohol-related hospital transports in FSL. As of fall, these efforts decreased transports by 50 percent. Lehman and other leaders say they can do the same thing with sexual assault.

Lehman says that creating a sexual assault prevention task force for FSL, and going to other leadership conferences to learn how other schools are dealing with this issue are all proactive steps to decreasing the percentage of FSL members becoming victims of sexual assault.

“We’re not trying to shy away from the truth,” Lehman said. “We want to face the truth head on – we want to know what the problem is.”

Former IFC president Chase Salazar and Lehman want continued research on the subject to prove their ability to decrease it.

“There are extreme benefits to all of our organizations, and I personally do not see the correlation of halting all expansion and solving this issue,” Lehman said. “Everybody is trying to solve this issue, everybody is trying to find solutions for this issue, let’s have Oregon Fraternity and Sorority Life be the leader in that.”

But Freyd and Rosenthal argue that self-policing hasn’t worked.

“There’s research suggesting these really high rates of rape and sexual assaults in FSL going back into the ‘90s – this isn’t news,” Rosenthal said. “It’s information that we’ve had for a really long time and no one has done anything about.”

Both researchers say they don’t have anything against FSL — but when it’s shown that a community is unsafe, expansion of that community needs to stop.

“I don’t care strongly if we have fraternities or not,” Freyd said. “I care that our students are safe.”

Freyd and Rosenthal say that allowing a community where sexual assault is more prevalent is simply reckless to Oregon’s student body as a whole.

The recommendation from the task isn’t supposed to harm FSL, but to protect its current and future members.

“I don’t doubt their good will. I don’t doubt their good intentions,” Freyd said. “But what I implore this university to do is to protect students from being exposed to this risk until we really have a handle on what’s causing it and therefore how to stop it.”

*Story updated to clarify the position of ASUO Senator Andrew Lubash. 

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Scott Greenstone

Scott Greenstone

Rehabilitated ex-homeschooler, former Emerald Senior News Editor, editor-in-chief of The Broadside at Central Oregon Community College, and freelance blogger for Barnes and Noble.

Now I write campus politics. Easy conversation starters include Adventure Time, Terry Pratchett novels and Arcade Fire.