Yale's Greek dilemma
In January, a Yale student brought a formal Title IX complaint against a Sigma Phi Epsilon sophomore, alleging sexual misconduct. The sophomore was suspended from Yale in early April, according to three people with knowledge of the situation, and withdrew from the fraternity around the same time.
This was not the first time in recent years that a brother left SigEp under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations. Almost exactly one year ago, the fraternity expelled a member because he was facing a Title IX complaint from Yale. Several weeks later, the student was suspended by Yale for sexual misconduct. In the aftermath of his expulsion, SigEp created a new rule: If a member is brought before the University Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, he must notify SigEp’s leadership and recuse himself from the fraternity pending a decision by Yale.
“Within the last year, SigEp has instituted policies that hold our members fully accountable for any actions regarding sexual misconduct, as it is something we take incredibly seriously,” said SigEp in a statement to the News. “Any member that is implicated in a Title IX/UWC investigation is required to withdraw from SigEp until the investigation has concluded. … If a member fails to withdraw from SigEp in the event of a Title IX/UWC investigation, regardless of the result of the investigation, the member is expelled from the fraternity.”
But in the case of the SigEp sophomore who was suspended in April, that did not happen. He waited three months after the Title IX complaint was filed before leaving the fraternity for “personal reasons,” which the SigEp leadership did not know were linked to sexual misconduct. Because the Title IX process is entirely confidential, fraternities have little way of knowing definitively whether one of their members is under scrutiny.
The failure of SigEp’s internal processes demonstrates the difficulty of fraternity self-governance, raising the question of whether Yale should do more to regulate its Greek organizations at a time when other Ivy League universities have been more proactive. In 2016, Harvard announced controversial sanctions on off-campus, single-gender groups in an effort to undermine their gender requirements. The University of Pennsylvania has been similarly aggressive in regulating Greek life by shutting down any parties that are not properly registered with the University.
Now, with a new committee in place to evaluate the University’s social scene, Yale must make a choice. After years of what students, administrators and fraternities themselves agree have been ineffective attempts to discipline fraternities, students and administrators who oversee Greek life are trying to work out whether greater University control over fraternities and sororities at Yale would benefit the community.
DANCING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
Rumblings have already begun. Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar chairs the Yale College Committee on Social Life and Community Values, which was recently tasked with making recommendations on how to improve campus culture and engage with student groups both on and off campus. Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun said the situation at SigEp is exactly the type of issue the new committee should consider as it begins work.
Meanwhile, Yale Deputy Title IX Coordinator Jason Killheffer is currently conducting a review of allegations that the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity has a hostile sexual climate, while also investigating the culture of other student groups.
And three years ago, Yale hired Associate Vice President of Student Life Dean Burgwell Howard in part to provide guidance to the Dean’s Office on Greek life affairs.
Howard believes the Yale administration has dawdled for too long on the question of whether it should work more closely with the Greek life community to better manage it or simply accept that the fraternities and sororities will remain off-campus groups beyond Yale’s control.
“I always use the example of a squirrel running across the road: If the squirrel just runs, there’s a chance he’s going to get hit. But if he runs and he’s focused, he might get to the other side,” Howard said. “But the squirrel that stops in the middle of the road and says, ‘Oh this might be a mistake,’ and heads back is definitely going to get hit. I tell my friends, ‘Don’t be the squirrel. Make a decision. Stay on the sidewalk or go for it, but don’t dance in the middle of the road and definitely get hit.’ And Yale has been dancing in the middle of the road.”
He said that Yale prefers a collaborative approach to solving student life issues as opposed to the more aggressive, top-down plans that universities like Penn and Harvard have adopted. As an undergraduate at Dartmouth in the 1980s, Howard was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. During his career as a college administrator, he has worked at Colgate, Bowdoin and Northwestern. At Bowdoin, he helped the college dismantle Greek life on campus. And at Northwestern, where he worked before coming to Yale, he helped oversee the college’s fraternities — sometimes disciplining them, sometimes offering advice about which students to recruit.
At Yale, some fraternity members describe Howard as a stalwart defender of Greek organizations, while others say he is even-handed and doesn’t play favorites. An internal report issued this year by the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity described Howard as an “ally.” But for his part, Howard describes himself as an ally of all Yale students. Since coming to the University in 2015, he has worked to expand the Greek council — a body comprising the leaders of all Yale’s Greek organizations — and encouraged fraternities and sororities to do more community service.
On March 1 — the first day of a vicious nor’easter that caused the roof of a University storage facility on Sachem Street to collapse — Howard met with a News reporter and editor at his office in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall to raise concerns about what he considered excessive coverage of DKE. Over the course of the semester, DKE had faced criticism from students after stories in the News and Business Insider documented allegations of sexual assault against fraternity members, including the organization’s former president, Luke Persichetti, who was suspended from Yale for “penetration without consent” in 2017.
The News had published a story in late February about DKE’s decision not to release an internal report on the sexual misconduct allegations against the fraternity. At the March 1 meeting, Howard said it would be unfair to expect DKE to release the document: The fraternity had good reason to believe the News would not cover its internal investigation fairly, he said.
Howard then likened the Yale chapter’s handling of the allegations of rape and sexual misconduct against members to an incident he remembered from college, when someone broke a window at the Beta Theta Pi house at Dartmouth. An individual brother had acted poorly, he said, but the rest of the chapter’s members were left scratching their heads over how the window had broken.
“When dealing with groups, I definitely recognize that the actions of an individual can have a negative (or positive) impact on the group as a whole,” Howard wrote in a follow-up email. “However, the choices of that individual cannot always be generalized to the entire membership – even if the membership must accept the collective consequences.”
At one point in the meeting, Howard said he had recently received a suspicious package in the mail — a response, he claimed, to the News’ coverage of Greek life more broadly, which he said had made him a target of some readers’ frustrations. Howard said that the package did not turn out to contain any explosives or toxins, “just lots of hateful language” referencing the News’ coverage of Howard’s advice to fraternities to allow students regardless of gender, which Howard said was “misleading.”
In light of the experience, Howard said he sympathized with Persichetti, the former DKE president who was suspended for “penetration without consent.”
“I don’t want to think about the packages he might be receiving,” Howard said.
“ONE OF THE BOYS”
That sympathy seems to run both ways.
In February, DKE’s national organization sent its internal report on the Yale chapter’s sexual climate to Chun. Its description of Howard as “an ally of DKE” generated ire on social media in the “Overheard at Yale” Facebook group after the News published the report a few weeks later.
In an interview, Howard said the label was fair — but that students who were upset by it missed the larger point.
“The students on Overheard … make an issue of ‘Oh, Dean Howard is an ally of DKE,’” Howard said. “Well, yeah, and I’m an ally of Alpha Phi Alpha, an ally of Kappa Alpha Theta, and I am an ally of all students at Yale”
Students on Yale’s Greek life scene said they view Howard as a friendly enthusiast of fraternity culture. One member of a fraternity, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, remarked that Howard is “one of the boys” when it comes to working with the fraternity because of his easygoing personality. Another person involved in Greek life at Yale, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it is common to hear fraternity members endearingly say that it’s “time to see our boy Howard” whenever they need to meet with him.
In an email to Yale’s ten fraternities on Jan. 20, Howard shared a list of tips for how to recruit “high quality people.”
“Just for grins, I am sharing this useful, but somewhat dated list of tips I came across, because I am cracking myself up with the outdated references… ;-),” he wrote.
Howard declined to comment on how students view him.
As a lacrosse player at Dartmouth in the mid-’80s, Howard was an officer on the executive board of Beta Theta Pi. His Twitter bio still describes him as a “lax junkie.” When he was in college, he said, Beta Theta Pi was known as the “athlete fraternity” and resembled DKE or Zeta Psi at Yale.
Beta Theta Pi’s Dartmouth chapter has a checkered past. Shortly after Howard graduated from Dartmouth, the college suspended Beta for a year after the fraternity hosted a party with the Sigma Kappa sorority during which Beta’s emcee referred to women as “sperm receptacles,” listed “ten uses for women in fraternity basements” and joked that the sorority sisters used crack cocaine, according to The Dartmouth, the school’s student newspaper.
Several other incidents involving violence and hate speech led Dartmouth to kick the fraternity off its campus in 1996. In 2008, the organization returned to campus under a new name, Beta Alpha Omega. It was suspended again in July 2016 for violating Dartmouth’s standards of conduct, but returned to campus in the winter term of the 2016–17 school year.
“In the case of my chapter being sanctioned after my graduation, I think that, while members of the organization were disappointed the fraternity was disciplined, people accepted the discipline because we agreed that the behavior alleged ran counter to the expressed values and expectations of the organization and of the university,” Howard said.
One member of the SigEp executive board told the News he has taken note of Howard’s affiliation with Beta Theta Pi at Dartmouth. “Yeah, Beta, … those fraternities at Dartmouth are insane,” he said with wide eyes.
After DKE referred to him as an ally in the internal report, Howard told the News he also considers himself an ally of Engender, a campus organization that advocates for gender integration in fraternities. But Engender disagrees. In a statement to the News, the group said Howard holds it to a double standard compared to fraternities.
“Dean Howard has very much defended fraternities in the face of dozens of complaints of harassment, discrimination, and violence against them this year alone,” the statement said. “It is noteworthy that while DKE leadership considers Dean Howard an ‘ally’ in the fraternity’s internal report, it takes us multiple follow-ups on our concerns about fraternities before we hear back from him.”
Howard said that this critique is not accurate, as Engender’s messages to the University address themselves to multiple administrators and do not single him out as the recipient meant to respond.
Howard did not respond to an email requesting comment on Engender’s criticism or the “one-of-the-boys” label. Still, not all members of the Greek community share the perception that Howard is overly friendly with the fraternities.
“Dean Howard seems to be well liked by people who interact with him,” said Robert Proner ’19, president of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. “To say that he is showing disproportionate deference to Greek life at the expense of other groups and organizations is a mischaracterization. … I wouldn’t characterize him as ‘one of the boys.’”
In February 2015, Yale banned the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity from on-campus activities — including communication via Yale email systems and the use of campus bulletin boards — after the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct found that fraternity members had made inappropriate sexual comments about a female student during an initiation ceremony. During the ban, SAE also rebranded itself as LEO and said it would dissociate from the SAE national organization.
But the ban had little effect on LEO’s day-to-day operations, then-LEO president Jesse Mander ’18 told the News in Fall 2016, after Yale lifted the ban. Yale’s SAE chapter has since rebranded as LEO.
“We weren’t allowed to use Yale in our name. We weren’t allowed to put up flyers around campus, things like that,” Mander said. “Things that, honestly, because we’re off campus already — and a lot of fraternities are off campus — didn’t affect us that much.”
The only other Yale fraternity besides LEO to have been punished by the University in at least the past 15 years is DKE. Dean of Yale College Mary Miller banned the fraternity from on-campus activities in 2011 after it held a recruitment event in which pledges chanted “no means yes, yes means anal” outside the Women’s Center on Old Campus.
Over the past month, the News has obtained records of email correspondence among members of DKE’s national organization that shed light on the fraternity’s response to the recent scandals. An email sent in 2012 by DKE Executive Director Doug Lanpher to an alumnus of the Yale chapter suggests that, like SAE, DKE suffered little as a result of the campus ban.
“Our five-year suspension had minimal effect on our ability to operate successfully,” Lanpher wrote. “Mary Miller was actually pretty cool during the ‘chant’ controversy, but the fallout is that we’re expecting more and more attempts by Yale at regulating Greek life.”
Miller told the News she was direct, detailed, polite and clear with Lanpher as Yale responded to the “no means yes” controversy. “As for ‘cool,’ I can only say that it was clear communication,” she said.
Lanpher did not respond to request for comment.
In October 2016, DKE returned to campus. Luke Persichetti, who at the time was president of DKE, said after the ban ended that he believed the sanctions against DKE had brought about “a positive impact on the culture of our fraternity.” Five months later, in March 2017, Yale suspended Persichetti until the summer of 2018 for “penetration without consent,” after a female student accused him of rape.
In an interview in mid-April, however, former Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway acknowledged that the terms of DKE’s campus ban would have worked better in a different era: With so much of campus social life coordinated over social media, he said, such punishments have become ineffective.
“Yeah, we used the Yale platform ban, and it’s frustrating as heck when you’re trying to actually do the right thing, and the people who are supposedly in punishment are just, you know, going about business as usual — like, how do you stop it?” Holloway said. “It’s like, how do you grab hold of Jello?”
In a fall 2016 report on Greek life, the Yale College Council criticized Yale for failing to effectively discipline fraternities.
“When the University does attempt to discipline Greek organizations, punishments are more or less toothless,” the report states. “The perception that Yale has no power over its Greek organizations is incredibly harmful and decreases campus trust in Greek organizations as responsible, accountable parts of campus life.”
Still, not everyone at the University thinks the Yale-platform bans are ineffective.
“I believe it has had an effect on their activities,” Chun said. “In future cases, if there does seem to be some need to discipline a group, again we don’t know what forms that would take or whether we could take those, but that is something the committee will discuss.”
Yale’s problems managing fraternities go beyond discipline, though. In the wake of the 2010 DKE controversy, Miller instituted a rule in the undergraduate regulations prohibiting Greek organizations on campus from inducting students during their first semester at Yale or engaging in “rush activities,” defined by the University as events at which individuals are targeted for solicitation of membership.
In spite of the rule, three sources with knowledge of DKE operations said, the fraternity begins its rush events on Halloween each year. Other fraternities that actively recruit members of sports teams — as DKE does with members of Yale’s football and rugby teams — also break the rule and allow first years to rush in the fall, three students involved in Greek life at Yale confirmed.
Chun told the News in fall 2017 that the rush rule was put in place before his time and that he is more interested in policing the final tap process for fraternities — not rush events “that involve getting to know people.”
A DKE spokesman did not return a request for comment in time for publication.
Chun said that Yale does not bar fraternities from holding social events with potential rushes in the fall; the University simply wants to keep Greek organizations from reaching the final stages of the rush process before winter break. Asked specifically about DKE’s apparent violations of the rule, Chun said, “the Executive Committee will investigate whenever a charge is brought before it.”
A LOT OF TALKING
Members of SigEp’s executive board acknowledged that the rule requiring members who face Title IX complaints to voluntarily withdraw is difficult to enforce. Other social groups operate in similarly murky territory when it comes to vetting members. Yale’s secret societies, for example, maintain a master Google spreadsheet containing the names of juniors who are blacklisted for alleged sexual misconduct. But truly verifying the existence of Title IX complaints kept confidential by the University is difficult.
“Anyone can put things on the [secret society] spreadsheet,” remarked one member of the executive board.
Despite the complexities of fraternity self-governance, the University has yet to follow in the footsteps of universities like Penn or Harvard to take a more hands-on approach to organized social life on campus or even have University staff dedicated to managing Greek life.
“Helping students have that self governance where they can look at their own activity and make decisions and really base it on campus norms and campus experiences for students, … to provide that from a University standpoint [through a Greek life adviser], when it works well, is the ideal liaison between the campus and the students directly,” said Lynda Wiley, executive director of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors.
Six years ago, in an email, Lanpher, the DKE director, told a Yale DKE alumnus that “the days of Yale allowing the fraternities to operate independently seem to be over,” predicting that the University would attempt to take charge of its fraternities following the Women’s Center incident.
But for the most part, Yale fraternities are subject to the same rules that governed them in the mid-2000s, before DKE and SAE were suspended from campus. Even so, Howard said, Yale’s fraternities are different now — they want “the University’s help.”
“They’re like, ‘Bring us together with a council,’ ‘We want sexual assault prevention training,’ ‘We want alcohol training,’” he said.
Chun has said he is relying on recommendations from the new social life committee to inform how his office should manage and discipline off-campus groups like fraternities in the future.
For now, however, the committee is still just getting started. Chun said he hopes to receive some preliminary results by the end of 2018 — but the process could take even longer.
“It is too early to get into any specific recommendations from the committee,” Lizzaribar told the News. “There is a lot of information to gather, and we are focusing on that as a first and crucial step.”
Faced with a similar dilemma about how to manage off-campus groups, Harvard President Drew Faust signed off in May 2016 on a plan to sanction “unrecognized single-gender social organizations.”
Yale administrators are wary of mimicking Harvard’s aggressive approach. Chun and Howard both told the News they do not think Harvard’s sanctions stand on sound legal ground. And two years after the sanctions were first announced, fraternities, sororities and Harvard final clubs are gearing up to sue the university over the new regulations, the News reported earlier this month.
The University of Pennsylvania in February in 2017 set up its Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community, similar to the committee that Yale has just established.
The committee’s recommendations led Penn crack down on all unregistered parties. But in the wake of that move, 2,000 students signed a petition, titled “The Ability to Have a Social Life at Penn,” that accused the university of hurting students’ mental health with its aggressive policies.
Two former administrators at Yale — Holloway and former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57 — said that when it comes to getting student groups to fall in line with the University, extensive dialogue is better than force.
“The only time that is sort of similar, was during the late ’60s and early ’70s, when we had the radical movements at Yale. People were doing a lot of things, like sitting in buildings, that sort of thing,” Chauncey said. “We found that there’s nothing that takes the place of a lot of talk, long conversations, negotiations, convincing.”
Holloway agreed. Still, he said, no university in America has found a perfect solution to managing Greek life.
“The best thing to do is be as proactive as possible, before the school year starts, and you have to do it every year because these groups constantly turn over, and try to appeal to their best selves,” Holloway said. “And it’s a lot of talk. It’s a lot of sweeping water back into the ocean. But you have to do it.”
Britton O’Daly | email@example.com