After an altercation between two students in a fraternity basement last weekend, Dartmouth sororities have enacted a stringent new policy requiring frats to discipline members accused of assault or face social isolation. But not everybody thinks it's a good idea.
According to The Dartmouth, a fraternity member and a female student got into an argument at the frat house on Saturday, May 7. The woman threw a drink in the man's face — comments on the article suggest that he had said something "beyond rude" to her. The man then threw a bottle at the woman and pushed her against a wall. Some students apparently felt that the fraternity was turning a blind eye to the incident. In response, the presidents of Dartmouth's eight sororities issued the following new policy:
From now on, if we become aware of an alleged assault or threat committed by an affiliated student, we will notify his or her organization, after which the organization has 24 hours to initiate an investigative response. If the organization fails to do so, all eight Panhellenic sororities will cancel any joint events with that organization until it has taken action and finalized a response. In addition, if an organization becomes aware of an alleged assault or threat and does not communicate with us, we will consider their silence a violation of the transparency needed for Greek officers to ensure the safety of their members. In this event, we will suspend joint programming with that organization until internal procedures are finalized.
Basically, sororities will cease all official social contact with frats that try to sweep assaults under the rug. The policy is reminiscent of the "shunning" solution suggested by a group of philosophers for dealing with professors accused of sexual harassment. Both seem to be motivated in part by a sense that the university's official channels are insufficient, either because they aren't being used or because they don't adequately address all social situations in which students find themselves. Writes Ellie Sandmeyer, president of Dartmouth's Panhellenic Council,
It is not our intention for the policy to replace or interfere with the College's Judicial Affairs proceedings, but rather to act as a complement. We believe that internal adjudication systems allow organizations' members to hold one another accountable and demonstrate a commitment to confronting assault in a way that College proceedings cannot.
But some are worried about how internal adjudication will work. The Dartmouth's editorial board has voiced concerns that fraternity members don't have the proper training to adjudicate assault cases. And Inter-Fraternity Council president Kevin Niparko criticized the sororities for failing to include frats in the process of making the policy, saying, "When sorority presidents are unwilling to start a dialogue and converse with us, that contributes to the problem." A number of commenters on The Dartmouth site are less measured. Says one,
Ok, this is a LOAD of crap. These decisions made by these sorority presidents was based off of mislead and biased information, likely presented by the female who was supposedly attacked. I understand the need for sororities to rise up, unite, and protect the females on this campus, but this incident and these allegations are not an appropriate angle to jump in w/ these initiatives. I LOVE how this [...] girl in question made a fuss about feeling so threatened and disrespected, yet had the nerve to show right back up at said fraternity to hang out w/ her friends (several of which are also brothers at said fraternity). Can't we talk about THAT trend?
Another wrote, "Violence against women is not a special problem that needs special rules and laws to deal with it. Using violence to express anger is the issue to be dealt with. [...] It is more common, in cases of domestic battery, for the woman to initiate violence than the man."
However, the specific circumstances that precipitated the new policy may not be all that important. What is important is that Dartmouth sororities have decided no longer to associate with fraternities unless they take assault seriously. This might necessitate extra training for fraternity officers, or better internal policies for dealing with sexual assault (which Dartmouth frats have already agreed to enact). But both of these would be beneficial changes. Greek organizations are known for enforcing certain codes of conduct among their members, from community service to dress codes to more questionable initiation requirements. It's time they enforce respect for physical safety and sexual consent as well.