On Tuesday, the Amherst College Board of Trustees announced that the school would be banning off-campus fraternities and sororities starting this summer, citing concerns about sexual assault. Students who break this rule will be subject to suspension or expulsion.
Though school college-affiliated Greek life was banned in the mid 1980s, in an email obtained by Katie J.M. Baker of BuzzFeed, the Board said they hoped to squash the several off-campus, unaffiliated Greek organizations that have cropped up since then. The Board said that the conversation about expanding the policy came from discussions about ways to prevent sexual assault:
In 2013, the Sexual Misconduct Oversight Committee—a committee composed of faculty, students, staff, administrators, and members of the Board of Trustees—urged the Board to review the issue of underground fraternities at Amherst. As noted in the committee's report, underground fraternities, despite their lack of any ofﬁcial status, "possess considerable ability to shape the College's social life." At the same time, their "juridical invisibility"—the fact that they "simultaneously exist but do not exist"—prevents the College "from enforcing appropriate expectations for student behavior with respect to them, including accountability under the Honor Code." The committee asked the Board to clarify this ambiguous situation. In accepting the committee's report, the Board resolved that it would address any matters, such as this one, where Board action was needed or sought.
The letter went on to explain that as it stands, "The College has no authority with respect to underground fraternities" and "knows little about their membership or their activities," though it must still be responsible for them.
Curiously, the The Amherst Student reports that Amherst President Biddy Martin said the decision to ban off-campus Greek life wasn't related to sexual assault. But in 2012, Amherst's inadequate response to sexual assault was highlighted by an open letter from a former student, which received nation-wide media attention and other Amherst students rallied behind. Recently, the college has been criticized for their unhelpful suggestions to students about how to avoid getting raped by alumni during Homecoming weekend. Amherst is still being investigated by the DOE for its policies around this issue.