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Frat Reform: UVA Greek Life Moves Forward

It’s a new year at the University of Virginia and a new era for the school’s fraternities.  After Rolling Stone Magazine reported, then hedged on a story of gang rape at a frat house, UVA administrators announced new rules for parties. 

Fraternities have endured their share of bad press – stories of hazing incidents that ended with injuries or death, and popular media have rarely been kind to the Greek scene. 

“Because you clowns have been on double-secret probation since the beginning of the semester, one more slip up, and this fraternity of yours has had it.”

Thirty-six years after it premiered, people still watch the classic – Animal House.

“Well that was pleasant. Nice of him to stop by, don’t you think?  We’ve gotta’ do something!  Y’know what we’ve got to do?  Toga Party.  Toga, toga, toga.”

That, of course, was comedy, but what’s been going on at the University of Virginia is serious.  Last semester, Rolling Stone magazine put UVA at the epicenter of national concerns about sexual assault on campus.  It offered a graphic description of how a young woman was plied with alcoholic punch and raped by seven men at Phi Kappa Psi.  The magazine later admitted discrepancies in its story, and police cleared Phi Psi of wrong-doing, but UVA pressed ahead with reforming fraternity rules.

“None of this was ever about one case.” 

Speaking before registration for rush week, student Council President Jalen Ross said sexual assault on campus is still a concern.

“This is a problem everywhere, but it hadn’t really gotten I think the sort of  attention that it deserved as the big part of our communities that it is.”

So over the winter break, he and other student leaders came up with a series of recommendations.  The Inter-Fraternity Council, which represents 30 frats with about 17-hundred members, argued against banning alcohol.  Here’s IFC president, Tommy Reid

“If it’s not at a fraternity house, it’s going to be in the parking lot behind Taco Bell.  It it’s not there, it’s going to be in the woods behind first year dorms. Acceptance and management is a much more practical strategy and a much safer strategy than denial and shooting to eliminate.”

Instead, fraternities agreed to serve beer in cans or bottles, to have wine poured in plain sight, to require mixed drinks be served by a licensed bartender and to ban trash can punch – a mix of hard liquor with sweet, fruit-flavored drinks.  Fraternity member Jack Carlin approves. 

“You never know how much you’re drinking with something like that if it doesn’t taste like it has alcohol in it.  I do think it’s a good move.”

The Inter-Fraternity Council also promised to have at least three brothers who are sober and lucid at its member parties, placing one at each spot where alcohol is served and another, armed with a master key to every room, at the stairs leading up to the sleeping areas. 

The university accepted those suggestions, and in an editorial the New York Times praised them, but Julian Jackson, who heads the Pan-Hellenic Council, doesn’t think they go far enough.  His group represents eight small African-American fraternities and sororities who have written to the university’s president asking for tough punishments in the event of a sexual assault or hazing incident.

“Unfortunately you have to make an example of somebody. That’s the route that you need to go when you have a history of fraternities and sororities operating with really impunity.” 

Mark Mann, a senior who dropped out of his fraternity before last year’s scandal, doubts that houses where drinking has been a problem can effectively police themselves.

“It was very hard for students within the fraternity to speak up against a lot of misogyny, a lot of destructive behavior, mostly revolved around drinking.”

Two fraternities at first refused to accept the new rules but faced with the prospect of missing out on rush, they relented.  So will freshmen take part or did last year’s scandal turn them off to Greek life?  We’ll answer those questions in our next report.  

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief
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