Earlier this fall, massive student protests at colleges across the country were making headlines. Protesters called on their administrations to kick certain fraternities off their campus permanently, often in response to allegations of sexual assault.
That hasn’t happened.
The Chronicle tracked more than two dozen institutional sanctions against fraternities and sororities this semester. Here’s what we found.
Fraternity expulsions were vanishingly rare.
While more than two dozen fraternities and sororities were suspended by their institutions this semester, The Chronicle found none have been expelled (at least one, Kappa Sigma at Marquette University, was expelled by its headquarters, though). The spring saw several high-profile fraternity expulsions, including Virginia Commonwealth University’s chapter of Delta Chi, where a pledge died from alcohol poisoning after a party, and Bowling Green State University’s chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha, where a student died after drinking at a fraternity event. Both expulsions were related to hazing and alcohol-policy violations.
This semester, there have been several alcohol- and hazing-related deaths related to fraternities, including at the University of Kentucky, which has suspended its FarmHouse fraternity as an investigation plays out, and Michigan State University, where Pi Alpha Phi is no longer a registered student organization.
Among the most-severe punishments colleges handed down this semester was the University of Missouri’s withdrawal of recognition of its chapter of Phi Gamma Delta in October after a student was found unresponsive after a party. Christian Basi, a spokesperson for the university, told The Chronicle the withdrawal is the highest sanction Missouri can give and prohibits the chapter from participating in anything as a recognized student organization. This came after the university paused all fraternity activity for a week after the incident.
Most fraternity suspensions are in limbo.
The lengths of suspension ranged widely, from a matter of days to years. But for most, the timeline is unknown, as colleges and universities work to complete investigations. The Chronicle contacted 11 campuses that listed fraternity suspensions as “temporary” or “interim,” or didn’t provide a timeline at all. Of the six who responded, three said their fraternities’ statuses had not changed. Two said the suspensions had ended, meaning the punishment lasted a matter of days or weeks, and one said the suspension had been turned into a longer punishment.
Activists have called these responses insufficient, arguing that suspensions won’t deter sexual violence or other common problems in Greek life.
Jim Barber, a student-affairs expert, senior associate dean, and associate professor of education at the College of William & Mary, said temporary suspensions can eventually lead to permanent chapter closures.
“My read of that term of ‘interim suspension’ is: ‘We’re going to stop any activities while we’re investigating and determining what action will come next,’” Barber said.
Sometimes, action by national or international umbrella groups forced colleges to take action. At the University of Oklahoma, officials are conducting “two separate and unrelated investigations” into a fraternity and sorority that are facing disciplinary action by their international offices for alleged policy violations. The sorority, Delta Gamma, is on limited status, and the fraternity, Delta Upsilon, is suspended, a spokesperson for the university told The Chronicle. According to the OU Daily, neither chapter can hold meetings or events for the time being, but house residents may stay.
“The responsibility for holding chapters accountable isn’t limited to the institution,” Barber said.
Most suspensions resulted from alcohol-related incidents or hazing — not sexual violence.
In October, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln handed down a five-year-long suspension to its chapter of Phi Gamma Delta, known as Fiji, for repeated alcohol violations — not in direct response to an alleged sexual assault at the fraternity house on the first day of fall classes, which spurred hundreds of students to protest in front of the fraternity house for several consecutive nights.
Of the 28 institution-led suspensions identified by The Chronicle, more than half involved accusations of hazing or alcohol-policy violations, or medical emergencies involving suspected hazing or alcohol poisoning. Four suspensions were tied to sexual-misconduct allegations.
Barber — who previously worked in student affairs, directly overseeing fraternity and sorority life — said he’s seen institutions become more willing to hold organizations accountable over time. And technology and social media — which have also been critical in expanding the reach of anti-fraternity protesters this fall — may be helping with that.
“We have more evidence of hazing, of alcohol abuse, of these kinds of infractions, because of social media and because of cellphone video,” Barber said. “Thirty years ago, when I was in college, people didn’t have cellphones, and so you could report that something had happened or there may be allegations of X, Y and Z, whereas today there may be multiple videos from different perspectives of a particular incident.”