Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 29, 2020

We need to shift the culture of Greek life at Hopkins

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | November 12, 2020

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On Tuesday, The News-Letter published an article in which seven students alleged that they had been drugged at parties held by Delta Phi (St. Elmo’s). While the fraternity denied the allegations, witnesses corroborated five of the students’ stories. 

The St. Elmo’s president suggested that freshmen came to the house without knowing their tolerance, when this was not the case for many. The symptoms they describe make it clear that it was not just alcohol in their systems. The fraternity proposed serving mixed drinks with plastic lids, deflecting responsibility to their victims.

In two cases, the students filed reports with the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). One has not heard back from OIE, despite filing her report over a year ago. The other was transferred to the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) after being told that OIE did not have enough information to pursue a Title IX investigation. 

While fraternity parties should not be the first thing on our minds amid a pandemic, Hopkins plans to partially reopen campus in the spring. It is possible that, despite social distancing guidelines, fraternities will throw parties. (Some in fact already are.)

We urge the University to take proactive measures against fraternity misconduct before students return to campus — before freshmen arrive at Hopkins for the first time. All seven students reported that they were drugged when they were freshmen.

Unfortunately, many students are uncertain about whether they should trust the University to properly handle these types of incidents. Despite improvements, OIE has a reputation for taking excessive amounts of time to resolve cases. Less than 30% of students who responded to the 2017 Campus Climate Survey felt “very/extremely knowledgeable” about how to reach out for help or file a report with the University on sexual misconduct.

Because of the University’s record of mishandling allegations of misconduct, many students choose not to report their experiences. Hopkins has a responsibility to investigate and respond to reports made by students, and also to regularly update students on the status of their report. When a student or organization is not disciplined for their bad behavior, the University shows its community that it doesn’t value accountability. 

This message has stuck. One student told The News-Letter that she was unsure of how to report drugging without a subsequent sexual assault. Avoiding significant harm doesn’t make an incident less concerning. To serve someone a substance that impairs or incapacitates them without their knowledge or consent is a huge violation of their autonomy, and represents a refusal to respect them as an individual. If the University truly valued the health and safety of its community, it would discipline any individual or group that continuously puts students in danger. 

When the University doesn’t support victims in such cases, it hands the burden of accountability back to the students. No victim should have to publicly take to social media for action to occur. 

Greek life, specifically the Interfraternity Council fraternities, is also at the core of this long-standing issue. Many students seem to believe that because Greek life at Hopkins is different from Greek life at other universities, it isn’t as problematic. This narrative is false. 

It is not only at other schools’ chapters in which unacceptable incidents happen, and it is not only at St. Elmo’s in which they happen at Hopkins. Many Greek chapters at Hopkins have stains on their histories, from sexual harassment to hazing to racism — and these allegations are only the ones we know about. These incidents are just as unacceptable at Hopkins as they are at any other school.

By settling for “not as bad,” we are complicit in perpetuating the harm that Greek life inflicts on our community. It is time for us as students to stop tolerating this behavior.

The University must also stop tolerating it. In response to conduct violations, Hopkins sometimes puts chapters on probation or under cease and desist orders. But once the punishments are up, the same actions can occur once again. And so repeats a toxic cycle.

The University gave St. Elmo’s a cease and desist order last fall, but it was related to a different incident; there have been no consequences related to the drugging allegations that were reported to OIE last year. It took two years of repeated incidents before the University suspended Alpha Delta Phi (Wawa) in the spring of 2018. Hopkins never even expelled the group from campus; Wawa chose to rescind its chapter charter. The University must be more aggressive in its disciplinary measures when chapters violate the Student Code of Conduct.

It’s clear that the current system isn’t working. Everyone involved in Greek life at Hopkins is required to complete trainings on sexual harassment and assault, drinking and Bystander Intervention Training. Unfortunately, these seem just to be hoops to jump through. 

Now could be a turning point for Greek life. One fundamental function of fraternities is to host parties, something they will be unable to do this spring. This pause should cause students to rethink the norms of these parties, which generally involve men providing and serving alcohol to women in fraternity houses. Once the pandemic subsides, members of fraternities must ensure that they are actively fighting — and not enabling or exploiting — harmful gender norms and power dynamics

Regardless of how Greek life may change when we return to campus, we must work to shift the culture. There’s no equation for how to fix these complicated issues, but Hopkins can start by building trust with its students. 

The University needs to better inform students of the resources available in cases of harassment and assault. Students should be educated on these resources and preventive strategies before they arrive on campus — Orientation programming has been expanded to begin in the summer — and throughout their time at Hopkins.

The new students who arrive on campus in the spring have an opportunity to shift the culture, but it will take all of us in the Hopkins community to make meaningful change. 

Katy Wilner, who wrote the piece about the alleged druggings at St. Elmo’s, was not involved in the writing or editing of this editorial.

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