At the University of Colorado Boulder, stories of sexual assault within Greek life are not uncommon.
In April, 20-year-old Shaan Evamn was sentenced to two years in Boulder County Jail after he raped a female CU student whom he met at a fraternity tailgate party. The case of Zachary Roper, the CU student accused of raping a woman, triggered a protest and campaign by multiple students for CU to hold perpetrators of assault more accountable. In the CUI’s series on Title IX policies, two students, one of whom was raped in a fraternity house, told their stories of assault at the hands of fraternity members.
Greek life has been implicated as a major factor in sexual assaults on university campuses. According to a report by the National Institute of Justice, being a member of a sorority and attending fraternity parties put students at higher risk of assault. According to a 2015 CU study, 28% of undergraduate women experienced various types of assaultive behaviors or tactics, 3% more than the 25% national average. Sixty percent of assaults occurred off-campus.
But students wanting to see a change must first contend with a fractured relationship between CU and the Undergraduate Interfraternity Council at the University of Colorado (IFC), the independent governing body for 22 fraternity chapters. The rocky history between the council and the university has made it hard for some students to get ideas about addressing assault off the ground.
Trying to reconcile with the past
Since the alcohol-related death of Gordie Bailey at the Chi Psi fraternity house in 2004, CU looked to distance itself from its fraternities and any liabilities. A year after the 18-year-old pledge’s death, all of CU’s fraternities split from the university, forming their own independent governing body.
Stephanie Baldwin, director for CU’s Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL), said the split happened after fraternities ultimately refused to comply with two major new requirements that CU proposed: having a live-in “house director” who would act as a supervisor in each house, and deferring all rush recruitment to the spring of each semester. FSL makes up the campus’ own affiliated fraternities and sororities.
Baldwin said that Bailey’s death may have been avoided had an in-house director been present. As for delayed recruitment, Baldwin said it allowed for first-semester freshmen who didn’t yet “have their feet on the ground” to further explore their options before joining a fraternity.
Panhellenic, the umbrella organization that comprises CU’s sororities, “reluctantly agreed,” according to Baldwin. But fraternities found new autonomy.
Following the new rules, sororities suffered from a drop in recruitment and eventually, CU reinstated fall rush. In 2015, Baldwin was tasked with bringing fraternities back to the campus community.
“At CU, we force men to choose between their alma mater and their fraternity,” Baldwin said. “But you can’t have fraternity without the alma mater.” She acknowledged that a majority of alumni donations come from former fraternity members.
But after an “open invitation” for all IFC fraternities to rejoin with CU, Baldwin said the invitation fell on deaf ears.
“Rather than listening to what we could provide, (the IFC) said ‘thanks but no thanks,'” Baldwin said.
Greek Advocate Marc D. Stine said that while CU invited the presidents of fraternity chapters to a discussion, many other affiliates such as advisors and donors were not reached out to. Stine serves as an advisor to the IFC and each fraternity house executive board, working alongside chapter presidents.
Baldwin said communication between FSL and the IFC is “non-existent” but that she is “always willing to have conversations” with the independent group. Still, Baldwin said that she has been told by the IFC not to actively recruit any of their members for FSL.
Stine said he is not aware of this but said that IFC policies prohibit chapters from belonging to more than one council.
Stine touted the IFC’s ability to maintain more official relationships with the City of Boulder because of its independence. The IFC is involved with the Boulder Police Department for training and assistance and is a member of the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce.
Baldwin acknowledged the good relationships that the IFC has with other entities but said that FSL fosters the same benefits. She believes that CU can offer a multitude of perks that the IFC cannot and assured that the campus is not out to strip any Greek organization of independence. Instead, Baldwin said she works with associated fraternities and sororities to craft and promote their values. When new fraternities join, she asks, “what do you want to be known for and what don’t you want to be known for?”
This leads to a major focus on the fraternities addressing accountability for alcohol and drug abuse, hazing and sexual assault. Baldwin said CU fraternities focus more on prevention tactics.
“We are not reactionary,” Baldwin said.
In regards to sexual assault, Baldwin stressed that within Greek life, sorority women try “so hard to not be victim blamers.”
“When we did an assessment with our women, we did get some feedback of ‘we hope that the men are getting that same message,'” Baldwin said.
“Rather than listening to what we could provide, (the IFC) said ‘thanks but no thanks.”’
Stephanie Baldwin, FSL director
New ideas to ‘change the discussion’
Having fraternity men “getting the same message” was the motivation behind two CU student government (CUSG) members leading new efforts to better address sexual assault within the IFC. Jessie Bixler, a sophomore and director of student engagement for CUSG, and Julie Frondoni, a junior and CUSG health and safety chair, have both begun conversations with the IFC to prevent issues that many on campus face.
“We’re not here to burn any bridges with the IFC,” Bixler said. “We need to make those strong connections.”
Bixler and Frondoni both said that fraternities are still held more accountable in the IFC than those who are not, referencing the alleged druggings in October that led to an investigation into the Sigma Pi fraternity and others. Sigma Pi has not been associated with the IFC since 2013, when the council removed the chapter for supplying alcohol to new recruits.
Bixler has brought many ideas to the IFC, though she says some were “shot down” before they even had a chance to get off the ground. Bixler had pushed for co-ed training between fraternity members and sororities during what is known as Greek 101, a semesterly event that sees hundreds of men from all 22 IFC chapters gather for a four-hour training. Everything from sexual assault prevention to drugs and alcohol is covered.
Bixler and Frondoni were invited to attend the event and, according to them, were the only two women in the room. Both said the training could be “reformed” and proposed a multi-gender approach which they hoped would better inform men about the circumstances of assault while allowing women’s voices to be heard. They said having women present would “change the way that the discussion would go.”
“The more knowledge students have about safety and what to do in those situations, the better,” Bixler said. “Instead of (fraternity members) saying ‘don’t do this because you’ll get in trouble’, it’d be ‘don’t do this because it’s wrong.'”
According to Greek Advocate Mark Stine, ideas of co-ed training have been “discussed” but the IFC is not considering it at this time.
Stine said that during Greek 101, members receive training through “audio and visual” presentations. The training material is paid for and distributed by the Phi Gamma Delta International Fraternity and was produced by the same independent film company behind “Haze,” a documentary following the death of Gordie Bailey. Stine called these “solid credentials.”
According to Stine, fraternities also saw a presentation by a Boulder assistant district attorney with the sex crimes unit as a form of training.
The IFC formerly brought Deputy Title IX Coordinator Teresa Wroe to educate about sexual health and safety. Wroe said that she has “not received an invitation” to speak at Greek 101 since 2015 but has worked separately alongside IFC presidents in the past.
Wroe said she has worked with around seven fraternities whose executives reached out to her personally. While sororities are required to have training at the beginning of each year, Wroe said that following this, her services are available “upon request.”
Training with new fraternities in FSL has yet to begin, according to Wroe.
Wroe has mixed feelings about co-ed training and said that training between men and women is the “same info” but a “different conversation.” She agrees that it is important for sororities and fraternities to be having conversations, but finds that it takes more time to establish the “ground rules.” In her experience, men will self-censor and avoid questions as not to appear insensitive when in a co-ed environment.
“For men, there is an anxiety that they will be accused of assault,” Wroe said. “They want to ask about those kinds of things and they can draw a lot of reactions. People need to be able to talk openly about some of the more challenging and more complex aspects of these issues.”
“Sometimes I have to bring up issues myself because no else will bring them up,” she added on the topic of co-ed training. “I know that those questions are out there and I shape them so that they’re not volatile, but it’s not something that the group itself will generate.”
In her experience, Wroe said that most assaults happen at or after fraternity events while many women tend to be victimized in the sorority community. As well as the “party culture” of Greek life, Wroe said that sororities can become trusting of certain fraternities which puts their members at a higher risk for assault.
“Instead of (fraternity members) saying ‘don’t do this because you’ll get in trouble’, it’d be ‘don’t do this because it’s wrong.'”
Jessie Bixler, CUSG
Wroe said that ultimately, the traditions of fraternities have allowed assault to continue.
“Individuals might change,” Wroe said. “But the context allows for ‘bad actors’ to operate without anybody paying attention to them. It hurts the entire community.”
Fraternity split the ‘root of all issues’
Will Fagan, Greek life liaison for Panhellenic and a former fraternity president, invited Bixler and Frondoni to Greek 101 to give them a chance to see if the training event was “adequate.” Fagan mentioned the suggestions the two voiced, calling co-ed training an “interesting” idea but that it goes beyond CU’s parameters.
“It is not CU student government’s jurisdiction to have a voice in the IFC,” Fagan said. “(CUSG) can offer them resources but we can’t tell (the IFC) what to do.”
Fagan said he has yet to discuss ideas with the rest of the Panhellenic committee and believes that there are “bigger fish to fry,” namely CU’s treatment of IFC fraternities. For him, the IFC’s split from CU is the “root of all issues.”
Fagan mentioned recent problems such as CU’s banning of Greek 101 on campus last year. The decision came about after an event hosted by the IFC’s Zeta Beta Tau chapter in November of 2018 ended in fights and racial slurs. This forced CU to block the IFC from further renting campus spaces.
Fagan also voiced concerns about communication between Panhellenic and the IFC. Fagan said people he knows in the IFC will tell “one side of a story” while those at Panhellenic will tell another. The absence of routine meetings between the two factions only leads to more conflict. Fagan believes having meetings would help the two “hash out” any disputes.
Stine called CU’s decision to ban the IFC’s campus access a “roadblock.” Ultimately, Stine believes that CU is “unwilling” to recognize the IFC as wholly independent.
But more concern over communication has been raised by members of Panhellenic.
Not held accountable for ‘a very long time’
Caity Oakley, president of Panhellenic, said discussions with the IFC are infrequent.
“We can’t just say ‘everything’s fine’ because clearly, that’s not true,” Oakley said.
She said that both the IFC and Panhellenic “want change” and that she is not “satisfied” with how their situation is currently. For her, it starts with accountability.
“I think IFC on the Hill hasn’t been held accountable for a very long time,” Oakley said. She said that CU’s banning of IFC from renting campus space was the first time that a “higher power” held them accountable, and the IFC “didn’t like that.”
Oakley believes that fraternities deal with less strict rules than sororities do. While she does not want a “double standard” and says she will hold sororities accountable, Oakley is ready to see a change in the IFC. She said that her and her board have constantly reached out to the IFC with little to no response.
“From our perspective, it just seems as if they don’t really respect us,” Oakley said.
“We can’t just say ‘everything’s fine’ because clearly, that’s not true.”
Caity Oakley, Panhellenic president
“No one from IFC on the Hill has ever talked to us about how they hold their members accountable,” Oakley added. “And when we tried to ask them, we didn’t get a very good response.”
She believes that being associated with the university produces more accountability for sorority members. She said that “unfortunately,” there are some “serious risks” that come with being associated with Greek life.
Oakley acknowledges that sexual assault is a major problem in Greek life and is in favor of co-ed training for both fraternity and sorority members.
“Women need to be present in the room,” Oakley said. While she knows that there is no “perfect” form of prevention, she believes having more women present will give “multiple perspectives.”
“I would love an honest conversation with the IFC,” Oakley said. “It hasn’t happened in a really long time.”
Contact CU Independent Editor-in-Chief Robert Tann at firstname.lastname@example.org