The Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee is a real thing that exists, and this April, they'll lobby Congress to make it harder for colleges to investigate rape and sexual assault. While most universities have indeed made an impressive mess of handling rape cases, the FratPAC doesn't exactly seem to be motivated by altruism or a concern for survivors here.
Bloomberg reports that students will come to Capitol Hill on April 29 to lobby for a new requirement "that the criminal justice system resolve cases before universities look into them or hand down punishments." They also ask that colleges be blocked from suspending all fraternities on campus because of an incident at one fraternity, and for a rule against "any mandate" that would require fraternities or sororities to become co-ed. (The Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Wesleyan University is currently suing the school for sexual discrimination over its requirement that all frats and sororities become co-ed.)
The Huffington Post reports that several Greek organizations discussed their Capitol Hill agenda during a February 2 conference call:
During last month's conference call, leaders of national Greek organizations said lobbying efforts will escalate this year. Buddy Cote, chairman of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, said colleges should defer punishment of a student accused of sexual assault "until the completion of the criminal investigation and any subsequent trial." Victim advocates noted that could take years and may not happen until after the victim and offender graduate, if at all.
Fraternity lobbyists also discussed plans to work toward stopping colleges from imposing campus moratoriums on Greek life, like those put in place at Clemson University and West Virginia University after fraternity pledges died at each school. Kevin O'Neill, executive director of the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee, or FratPAC, complained these sanctions were a "knee-jerk reaction" that punished innocent students' ability to freely associate.
FratPAC also mentioned on the call, HuffPo reports, that they've raised some $2 million in the last ten years. FEC data shows that FratPAC gave about $210,000 to federal candidates and sitting elected officials in 2014, nearly 70 percent of it to Republicans.
HuffPo also spoke to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who's been trying to pass the Campus Safety & Accountability Act, which would increase campus support services for rape survivors and increase federal penalties for schools that underreport their rape stats to the government. Gillibrand sounds pissed, telling the site, "This proposal is completely backwards. We should be making universities more accountable for providing a safe campus, not less. Waiting for long legal process to play itself out for those victims who pursue criminal charges while leaving potential serial rapists on campus in the interim would put public safety at risk."
Other critics of the FratPAC lobbying effort pointed out to both HuffPo and Bloomberg that the group fails to recognize that campus proceedings are frequently about determining whether a student violated the school's code of conduct, not whether they're guilty of a crime. Know Your IX argues that colleges can handle sexual assault cases in ways that criminal proceedings cannot:
A criminal trial is brought against a defendant by the state – not the victim – in defense of the state's interests. That means that what the survivor needs is sidelined. In contrast, schools, unlike criminal courts, are focused on the victim and are required to make sure he or she has everything they need to continue their education. Examples include academic accommodations, dorm and class transfers, and mental health support. While many observers assume victims' first priority is retribution, that may be one (or none at all) of many valid needs – and the police just can't get a survivor an extension on her English paper due the week after he or she was raped.
But with the number of stories we've seen this year about schools badly mishandling college rape cases—not to mention the specter of Rolling Stone's deeply flawed UVA story—lawmakers may be more open than normal to fraternity lobbying efforts.
This isn't FratPAC's first time on Capitol Hill: the organization previously lobbied Congress for their right to haze. That sounds like a joke, but it's not.
Image of a skunk with its head stuck in a beer can via AP