FSL’s sexual assault task force has one year to prove it can change a culture

Members of Fraternity and Sorority Life packed a Feb. 18 ASUO Senate meeting as student government considered a resolution to propose halting expansion of the organization. (Ryan Kang/Emerald)

This story is one part of a series of articles on sexual assault awareness at the University of Oregon. Read Emerald editor Sami Edge’s letter to find out why we’ve dedicated today’s edition of Emerald Monday to the topic.

“We are not trying to hide from the issues that face our community. In fact, we’re trying to hit those head on.”

Those are the words of Max Lehman, Interfraternity Council president, during an ASUO Senate meeting discussing suspending Fraternity and Sorority Life because of high sexual assault rates. A study done by UO psychology professor Jennifer Freyd showed that 48.1 percent of females and 23.6 percent of males in FSL have experienced non-consensual sexual contact.

During that November meeting, ASUO decided that if FSL does not turn its culture around, the ASUO will recommend that the university president suspend its growth.

If the results of a new 2015-2016 campus climate survey show higher disproportionate numbers of sexual assault in the FSL community, then ASUO will recommend that the president suspend growth of FSL for a year.

The FSL community believes that with its sexual assault task force, it can make a significant culture change in a matter of months, but many believe it will take longer.

The survey

Alec Smidt, a graduate student helping with the on-campus sexual assault climate surveys says that this year’s survey will be slightly different than last years in a few aspects.

Smidt says that last year’s survey was a combination of well-validated existing measures that were modified to use in a campus climate survey. This year’s survey instrument is called the Administrator Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative.

This survey method came from 20-25 researchers who were researching the issues around sexual assault not only nationally, but also on college campuses.

This year, 1,000 fewer undergrads are taking the survey because there are more graduate students taking it. Smidt says that they are hoping for about 1,000 undergrads to respond and 500 grad students to respond.

Smidt says that researchers are aware of what’s going on in FSL, but that will not sway their research methods.

“We have sections that assess memberships in multiple aspects of student life organizations, Greek Life happens to be one of them, but we also do ask about athletics or other membership,” Smidt said. “We’re not just asking ‘are you involved in Greek Life or not?’ We’re trying to capture the extent to which students are involved on campus.”

Can they change in time?

Even while FSL is implementing programs to address sexual assault, Smidt believes that it will take more time.

“To see a significant change between last year and this would surprise me,” Smidt said. “It’s not sufficient time to have an entire overhaul of intervention prevention culture, etc.”

ASUO Sen. Andrew Lubash, who headed the resolution, also believes that it won’t be enough time to change a culture.

“I think certain things have definitely been improved recently. They’ve done work on the task force that they’ve started, and started having conversations about it,” Lubash said. “But have wild reforms happened? No.”

In addition, Lubash says that he sees a lack of follow through from the task force.

“The fact that a task force exists is great, but until they start actually doing things and educating Greek Life people and all that stuff, change isn’t going to happen,” Lubash said. “This kind of change takes a lot of time.”

Justin Shukas, director of Fraternity and Sorority Life disagreed. He said that the task force is constantly working to implement programs that will be more effective.

“I think that changing a culture is difficult in general. I think that I personally have been pleased in the steps that the FSL community has taken and I think that the task force has been instrumental in doing that,” Shukas said. “I think it’s unfair to say nothing is being done.”