Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
March 30, 2023

Administration's Greek life actions discard student trust

By JAMES CAMERON | March 26, 2015

I’m not the first person to use these pages to talk about Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), and I’m just as confident I won’t be the last either. But I wanted to put my thoughts down on paper so there can be some kind of record to reflect how screwed up the University has become in the three years I have been a student here. Rather than establish a coherent policy that actually reflects how the Hopkins Greek/social scene actually works, the University has consistently followed an approach that puts short-term damage control above long-term stable policy. In order to change, the University needs to recognize the frustration of students and establish a body that will aggressively seek to reform policy, not pander to parents and donors.

Now I don’t want to turn back the clock to what happened to Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE), but we can at least start with how the actions of that fraternity and the media attention it received set the ground for the punishment SAE received. Following the events of last spring/fall, it was unsurprising that PIKE closed its doors; there was simply too much pressure put on the University by the media and parents to allow PIKE to remain open. But what came next, the draconian punishment SAE received, was nothing more than the University seeking to make an example of a fraternity, to show the city of Baltimore, donors and parents, that Hopkins had changed.

You will notice the previous sentence made no mention of students, which might be surprising if you didn’t actually go to Hopkins. However, if you do go to Hopkins, then you know exactly what I am talking about. Following the events of last year and this fall, the University pledged to make serious changes. They initiated councils and committees, notably with the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), whose advice they promptly rejected. And the result of all this bureaucracy? A raft of new recommendations from a joint student/faculty committee!

After months of work they have managed to produce suggestions: bystander training, new policies on registering parties or, my personal favorite, “beginning the process of establishing an amnesty policy for those who call emergency services [HERO].” This committee has managed to suggest plenty of things, but none of them are coherently being put into action. This is one year after a stabbing inside a fraternity, months after a rape inside a fraternity. It begs the question of what exactly does it take to get the University to act?

All we have seen are short-term measures, which the University can clearly point to when parents ask, “Is my child safe at Hopkins?” And that bothers me, because if the University can’t be relied upon to take these issues seriously, where exactly is my tuition going? Does it go to the hiring of administrators who convene committees and working groups or to people who actually care about this University and wish to see it emerge from these trials a stronger and safer place? Right now the former is the answer, and that is why you see and hear the anger of students.

Let’s face it — Hopkins students are pretty tough to excite about this kind of stuff. After all, we are all too busy juggling 18-credit semesters to do a whole lot else. But we aren’t stupid. We can tell the difference between people who are serious and passionate about what they do and those who would rather pass the buck. Right now, we all feel as if we have been passed around, as if the University would rather sweep its issues under the rug than have the guts to really face the issue.

I don’t want to be the one who spits criticism without suggesting a solution. However, I honestly don’t know what the answers are. I won’t say this is an easy problem with a simple solution. But the least the University could do is act as if the safety of its student is an urgent consideration. Let’s see something more substantial than committees. Let’s see the emergence of an organization that pairs faculty and students together with some actual power, not just a group that makes suggestions. Let’s see an IFC that is given an opportunity to organize and self-enforce, not one that is brushed aside. If the University wants change, it needs to embrace its students, not isolate them. To do that, we need to see that the University sees students as more than a dollar sign, and that might be the toughest change to make of all.

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