Last week, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) lifted its month-long, self-imposed suspension on social activities in fraternity houses and released its working action plan to combat sexual assault on Emory’s campus. According to a Nov. 3 statement by the IFC, the organization wanted to “produce tangible and proactive steps mending the flaws in our social culture at Emory” and to “reevaluate how we address the intolerable issues of sexual violence, substance abuse and discrimination” before lifting the ban.
IFC delivered, and the result, after a month of deliberation, is a “living document” that offers short- and long-term solutions within three categories: sexual violence prevention, social event management and communication within and without the Greek community. Although the plan is now being offered up for public feedback online, implementation of short-term goals, such as a test of the new “Safe Walks” program – which will offer escorts and medical assistance to those who need it – are required to be completed by January 15. Long-term projects, including a revised IFC mission statement, are required to be completed by fall 2015. The much of the language in the action plan is clear and unambiguous, and we at the Wheel appreciate that the IFC established a concrete timeline for the completion of its goals.
With respect to the issue of sexual violence prevention, much of the IFC’s plan consists of education and outreach to the Greek community, such as a requirement for each chapter to host a semesterly seminar on either substance abuse or sexual assault prevention, where the chapter will be subject to social probation if less than 75 percent of its members attend. Under the plan, executive chapter members are also required to participate “The Talk,” a program on sexual health education, and a bystander intervention training program will be added to Greek new member training.
When organizing social events, fraternities will be required to hire a licensed bartender or have trained members on hand to tend the already required “beer check.” The action plan provides concise definitions of different types of parties and mandates that, when fraternities co-sponsor an event with other organizations, the partner organization will be required to provide sober risk managers in addition to those provided by the fraternity. In the long term, the plan also asks the University to develop further alcohol education programming for first-year students that will be more engaging than AlcoholEdu, which is currently the only mandatory alcohol education program for incoming students.
We feel that the tasks outlined in the IFC’s plan are important first steps towards solving the problems of substance abuse and sexual violence on Emory’s campus, and IFC deserves recognition for the work it has done in compiling these steps. However, this plan needs to do more to solve problems of sexual violence on our campus. IFC’s plan focuses on issues often related to sexual violence, such as event management and substance abuse, but as this action plan moves into its public feedback phase, we urge IFC and the community to amend the plan to focus more on sexual violence itself. Raising awareness of substance abuse is important in promoting public health and safety, but sexual violence is a multi-faceted issue. Instead of allowing chapters to choose a semesterly seminar on sexual violence or substance abuse, IFC should ask that the seminar solely focus on sexual violence, or have two seminars to focus on each issue. We fear that the root causes of sexual assault, which we do not attach to substance abuse, will be looked over, and instead many events will opt to discuss substance abuse and not engage the Greek community on the issue of sexual violence. We also fear that through these discussions substance abuse will be directly tied to sexual assault – a notion we must try to combat. Additionally, “The Talk” focuses on the importance of sexual health and communication, but we hope that its meetings will discuss sexual violence specifically, and succeed in raising awareness and education on sexual assault on campus.
Furthermore, the plan does not address the male-dominated nature of the space in which fraternity parties are held, an element that can create an unbalanced power dynamic or pressure to engage in sexual activity. The plan rightfully and thoughtfully recommends more collaboration with other student organizations and the creation of the Safe Walks program, which could help students who have lost their friends return to their dorms safely. However, we again recommend the creation of a neutral social event space on campus – without accessible bedrooms upstairs – in order to help combat this uneven power dynamic.
Finally, while the action plan has created positive first steps, IFC should not have lifted its social ban before its action plan was properly communicated or before its short-term goals had been implemented. IFC put this ban into place in response to a sexual assault reported on Nov. 2 and in response to other reported sexual assaults in fraternity houses. While it has already worked to change some procedures in chapters, IFC should not have lifted its ban until fraternity houses were made tangibly safer spaces. In a campus-wide email that was mistakenly sent to many junk email inboxes, IFC President Brian Diener explained that “the prohibition on social life is no longer necessary, as these problems were never going to be solved over the course of a few weeks.” While IFC has certainly worked to create tangible steps, the ban should not have ended for one last weekend of social events. Instead, IFC and the Emory community should have continued to reflect on these problems and returned to school in the spring with thoughts of how to make our school safer for everyone. IFC should have allowed for student responses to its proposal to ensure satisfaction prior to doing so.
As the plan moves into its feedback phase, we hope the Emory community will speak its mind and help IFC work towards improving the state of safety on Eagle Row. IFC should make more effort to promote both awareness of the ban’s end, its action plan and its feedback form and process over social media and other methods. We urge campus organizations that deal in the areas of gender equality and sexual violence – including Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA), Feminists in Action (FIA), the Respect Program and others – to offer their guidance, and we call on IFC to work enthusiastically with them.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.