VERBUM ULTIMUM: Panhellenic Progress
By The Dartmouth Editorial Board
Published on Friday, May 13, 2011
The eight Panhellenic presidents sent shock waves throughout campus on Wednesday when they announced that their sororities will begin canceling all social events with fraternities that fail to hastily initiate an internal adjudication hearing when one of their members assaults a female student (“Sororities announce new policy,” May 12). The announcement has sparked a passionate debate about whether the policy is a wise course of action. Not surprisingly, much of the rhetoric has centered on the violent incident that occurred in a fraternity basement Saturday and triggered the new policy.
Ultimately, however, the policy was not born out of a single incident — it was inspired by acts of violence that have gone unaddressed over the course of many years. It has been exciting and empowering to see female leaders finally coming together to take decisive action in hopes of protecting other female students. Sorority leaders have taken the grave matter of assault into their own hands, rather than relegating their complaints to discussion forums and demanding that the administration create and police anti-assault initiatives. Their policy is a much-needed, meaningful attempt to exert female agency over the Greek system and acknowledge that female students can combat the abuses that go on within campus social spaces.
While we applaud the courage and conviction of the women who are finally demanding accountability from fraternity members, we have serious reservations about the policy’s implementation.
Using a specific event as the catalyst for the policy has forced Panhellenic presidents to act hastily, leaving many logistical questions unanswered and many students confused about the decision’s broader implications. Perhaps most troublesome is the lack of clarity about what standard of proof will be used to determine when a house should be sanctioned. So far, no guidelines have been finalized or released to explain how sororities will deal with he-said she-said accusations that often cannot be corroborated by eyewitnesses. We are also concerned that an internal adjudication board composed of fraternity members does not have the resources and training to deal with an assault committed by one of the fraternity’s own. Finally, it is important to establish how internal fraternity disciplinary action will interact with College or police action. Internal adjudication cannot take the place of more official channels of justice when a fraternity member has committed a criminal offense.
If the new policy is to have a meaningful impact beyond this week or this term, these are practical questions that need to be resolved. Without a clear vision of the policy’s future application, there is a risk that assault clauses in fraternity bylaws will become merely words on paper. Explicit guidelines for addressing forthcoming cases will ensure that sororities have an ongoing plan for holding fraternities accountable.
The intentions of the Panhellenic presidents are admirable and deserving of praise. We worry, however, that the many unanswered questions raised by the policy may undermine its success if not addressed quickly and decisively. In order for this policy to have a positive, lasting impact, female Greek leaders must back up their bold decision with thoughtful, substantive guidelines for putting it into practice.
Opinion editor and Inter-Fraternity Council president Kevin Niparko recused himself from participating in the composition of this Verbum Ultimum. The remaining five members of The Dartmouth Editorial Board are members of sororities.