Phi Delta Theta, Sexual Violence Prevention reps look to the future


Tywen Kelly

Photo Tywen Kelly

Ellen Ivens-Duran

The suspension of fraternity Phi Delta Theta’s social functions due to an “abnormally large number of reports concerning sexual misconduct” was announced by women’s fraternity leaders and members of Phi Delta Theta in an e-mail sent to Greek-affiliated students on March 8. In the weeks since that email, confusion and misinformation about the social ban has pervaded campus, concurrent with rising frustration about sexual violence, which culminated with a demonstration at the April 29 Board of Trustees meeting.

Barbara Maxwell, who is both the Greek Advisor and Sexual Assault Victims’ Advocate, is the administrator who has worked most closely with the Greek Sexual Violence Prevention (SVP) representatives. Seven SVP representatives initially brought concerns  about Phi Delta Theta’s culture to Panhellenic and other women’s fraternity leaders. SVP representatives use dialogue, instead of punitive measures, as a preventative method for sexual misconduct. When inappropriate behavior is identified, representatives seek out opportunities for teaching moments, where the instigator is advised that such behavior will not be tolerated.

“Our hope was if we had these one-on-one conversations this behavior would not escalate or would not repeat,” said Maxwell. “We made it really clear that the minute it crossed the line into policy violation it was beyond the capabilities of an SVP rep and it had to be referred out.”

Although this semester has seen a jump in reported policy violations, administrators were concerned that SVP representatives were receiving reports of sexual misconduct that they were incapable of handling alone, but were unable to bring to the administration due to privacy concerns. SVP representatives are not mandatory reporters, nor do they have the same First Responder training that Resident Assistants receive. Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland has suspended the internal SVP reporting systems until new representatives are trained next fall.

“I don’t think what’s being said confidentially [in reports to SVP representatives] is being kept confidential and … we’re all just trying to keep each other safe and that’s where you start to get breaches in confidentiality,” said senior Jini Valence, who works as a Sexual Violence Intern (separate from Greek SVP) for Maxwell. “I think that is where I started to see issues, is burdening a group of eight to ten people with the information that there are people committing sexual violence amongst us and then just being like, ‘And you just have to sort of sit on that information,’ that’s where we got into a sticky situation.”

SVP representatives have no formal decision-making power when it comes to Greek membership or activities. When students created the structure with the support of Maxwell, the representatives were intended mainly to aid students in making reports to the administration. When the reports that SVP representatives received caused concern among women’s fraternity leaders about continuing to have functions with members of Phi Delta Theta, Panhellenic leaders and women’s fraternity presidents decided to end social functions with the fraternity indefinitely.

“Panhellenic leadership and female SVP representatives had separately decided to temporarily suspend social functions with Phi Delta Theta. This decision was made concurrently with Phi’s own internal decision to suspend their functions indefinitely,” said sophomore Molly Unsworth, the Vice President Judicial of Panhellenic and Greek SVP intern.

This decision was motivated by concerns about an unsafe culture, not just by isolated incidents.

“They decided to make across-the-board sanctions for their whole fraternity to deal with cultural issues and to help them realize that everyone plays a role in it, based on the ways that they talk to each other about hookups and they talk to each other about women generally, which I consider to be a really positive thing because I think every single person plays a role in rape culture regardless of if you’re in a Greek [organization] or not,” said senior Katy Wills, a member of Delta Gamma who organized the demonstration at the Board of Trustees meeting last Friday.

The indefinite social ban on Phi Delta Theta has underscored larger campus conversations about sexual violence prevention.

“I think the fraternities are seen as being one-dimensional organizations by most people on campus … when people think about fraternities they think about parties and that’s unfortunate, because they’re so much more complex than that. So for example, I think this year the Greek system has had some really tough conversations about sexual violence prevention,” said Maxwell, “And I don’t think any other organizations on campus have had that kind of ongoing … conversation.”

Both Wills and Valence identified the fraternities generally as a source of toxic attitudes. However, neither believe that the Greek system is entirely to blame for sexual violence on campus.

“The CLERY [campus crime disclosure] reports show that there are as many reports placed against independent students as there are against Greek [though only about 30 percent of male students are Greek],” said Valence. “It’s not something that simply getting rid of fraternities would solve–while I do think we need to get rid of fraternities for an onslaught of other reasons…It’s more just an issue of how do we reach independent students. and how do we insert them in a conversation that is about an organization they’re not a part of?”

For Unsworth, the issue is about more than just one fraternity.

“The focus now is on how we can continue these conversations in every house on campus, Greek and non-Greek. The dialogue now needs to focus on having people sit down and have hard conversations about how they themselves are actively perpetuating a culture that leads to these behaviors.”

Independent students were not directly informed about the social ban on Phi Delta Theta, nor have they received updates on ongoing efforts to improve safety in fraternities. Conversations have begun about the advisability of year- or semester-end fraternity trips, conversations that have, on the whole, been closed to independent students despite the likelihood that such students will be exposed to fraternity or fraternity-trip environments. These concerns, along with accusations of administrative apathy and an inappropriate merging of the Greek Advisor and Victims Advocate positions, brought Greek and independent student activists to the Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, April 29.

For now, the focal point of the conversation remains Phi Delta Theta, who has been conducting education and outreach programs in an effort to reframe their culture. Not all are satisfied with their approach.

“I’ve had some conversations with a couple of specific Phi members that have made me think that they are starting to understand this but … the seniors seemed to think that ‘this wasn’t a thing when we were first years, there’s been a culture shift in Phi’ … But what that ignored is that rape culture has been happening forever, and rape in that house has been happening forever and just because they didn’t necessarily hear about it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. And I know that it happened,” said Wills.

The Pioneer reached out to several members of Phi Delta Theta, all of whom declined to speak about the fraternity in response to this issue.