A few weeks ago, I read Duncan Cock Foster’s piece, “Emory’s War on Greek Life.” It was an interesting look at Beta Theta Pi’s experience with the Emory administration’s judicial system. The op-ed also contained a series of critiques on how the administration handled that investigation. While inherently biased, as Cock Foster was a member of Beta, the article is largely factual and relies on primary quotations from individuals directly involved in the process.
Earlier this week, I stumbled upon Daniel Park’s response to Cock Foster’s op-ed, “University Greek Life Investigations Justified.” Having read Park’s response, I take issue with the multitude of logical fallacies therein and Park’s troublingly flippant dismissal of the importance of evidence in administering justice.
First, a disclaimer. I am an active member of Kappa Sigma, a Greek organization. While that undeniably biases my opinion, to say that this disqualifies me from writing about Greek life on campus is ridiculous. Everyone’s perspective is colored by their experiences, and both Greek and non-Greek students will exhibit some sort of bias when commenting on this aspect of Emory life.
Park starts his article by stating that the investigations against Beta were justified; I will not contest him here. Any reasonable student would agree that an allegation of sexual assault or involuntary administering of drugs at a party is troubling, and definitely something the University should take seriously. The severity of such an allegation, however, does not detract from the University’s obligation to prove its veracity before administering a punishment. Park invalidates his argument by implying that if an investigation is justified, then a punishment must be justified as well.
He begins by stating that in these investigations, the administration was “looking for what they could fix in order to prevent something like this from ever becoming a reality.” Doesn’t Park’s statement here assert that the allegations against Beta were not grounded in reality? If Park means to imply that the severity of the allegations would justify a scapegoating of Beta for ostensibly preventative reasons despite a lack of wrongdoing, he is wrong. The viewpoint that it is justified to punish an innocent party without evidence in order to dissuade people from committing crimes is dangerously Machiavellian and has no place in a discussion conducted with the aim of establishing an equitable justice system.
Park then states that “the existence of multiple allegations against a particular fraternity instead demonstrates that Beta is incapable of reform and of making itself safer for its fellow students on its own.” This is where Park’s argument transcends Emory politics and becomes outright authoritarian and draconian. Here, he states the fallacious argument he had been flirting with for the entirety of his argument; Park asserts that the existence of accusations constitutes evidence wrongdoing.
A series of unproven allegations cannot be taken as proof of guilt; to suggest so flies in the face of the values of due process that this country’s entire judicial system was founded on. Park’s assertion that Beta should have welcomed sanctions “whether or not [they] did something wrong” is ridiculous; what other type of organization or individual would reasonably be expected to joyfully accept punishment if they had not been proven to have committed wrongdoing?
Park’s argument repeats the same fallacious and dangerous viewpoint: proof and evidence are not important in University investigations of fraternities as long as the allegations being investigated are severe enough. If that does not constitute persecution in the form of an unfair justice system, what does? The removal of the right to due process for select groups has been one of the first steps taken by many of the most oppressive regimes throughout history. Although I have no intention of comparing the University administration to such a government, I will allege that tilting the scales of justice is a historically slippery slope.
Any allegation of sexual assault must be taken as seriously as possible, and investigated to the fullest extent of the University’s capability. Park is correct in saying that Emory’s first priority is protecting its students, not protecting the existence of Greek organizations. If those investigations turn up no evidence, however, administering punishments without evidence cannot be allowed to become the norm.
The right to due process has provided some of the greatest strides forward in progressivism in American history; this ideal cannot be abandoned at any level in American society. While a private university is free to administer justice in any way it so chooses, any institution that prides itself on exhibiting liberal values must ensure a fair justice system. This is especially important as Emory continues to increase the intensity with which it polices fraternities. Housing “walk-throughs,” or bidaily house-wide investigations conducted by Residence Life officials, are becoming more frequent and punitive and insistent on enforcing increasingly complex event registration procedures. Minimum housing requirements have continued to increase, increasing the number of chapter members who are forced to pay the university to live on campus despite the fact that a significantly higher quality of living is available at similar prices off campus. Simply put, it is becoming more difficult for fraternities and sororities to exist at Emory.
In the face of this changing environment, Greek students need to know now more than ever that they have the right to due process and a fair conduct hearing should they find themselves accused of a violation. The evidentiary standards applied to other students and organizations under investigation must be applied to Greek students and organizations as well; any lack of equity in the University judicial system represents a disparity between the way in which the school views Greek and non-Greek students, and indeed, represents a form of institutional persecution.
Tyler Zelinger is a College senior from Commack, N.Y.