The XX Factor

Political Lobby for Frats Wants to Make It Harder to Enforce Title IX 

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma has invigorated a debate over whether fraternities are an outdated institution.

Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The political arm of the national fraternity system—known as the Fraternity & Sorority Political Action Committee (FratPAC)—is getting involved in the campus rape debate. Sadly, it seems it wants to make it as hard as possible for schools to discipline students who sexually abuse or harass each other. Bloomberg reports:

The groups’ political arm plans to bring scores of students to Capitol Hill on April 29 to lobby for a requirement that the criminal justice system resolve cases before universities look into them or hand down punishments, according to an agenda reviewed by Bloomberg News.

“If people commit criminal acts, they should be prosecuted and they should go to jail,” said Michael Greenberg, leader of 241-chapter Sigma Chi, one of many fraternities participating in the legislative push.

The sentiment may sound fair-minded; it’s anything but. FratPAC is singling out sexual assault as the only crime it wants universities to handle in this way. Underage drinking, drug dealing, burglary, assault—all of these actions break both school rules and the law, but FratPAC is not asking universities to wait for the criminal courts to adjudicate these crimes before punishing the students for breaking their corresponding school rules. In the situation it’s proposing, a school could punish a student for stealing from another student without waiting for the courts to adjudicate the matter; but if a student rapes another student, the school couldn’t act.

There’s a good reason schools should be able to enforce their own codes of conduct independent of what the courts decide. In many cases, such as with underage drinking or petty theft, it’s reasonable to think that the crime should be punished, but taking the case to court is too drastic. Many sexual assault victims feel this way, in fact—they don’t think that the rapists should go to jail, but they also don’t want them to get off scot-free. 

Title IX, which is the federal law that FratPAC is addressing, doesn’t just require schools to protect students from sexual assault. It also covers plenty of noncriminal abuses that can interfere with a student’s right to a safe and peaceful education. From the White House fact sheet explaining Title IX:

If a school knows or reasonably should know about sexual harassment or sexual violence that creates a hostile environment, the school must take immediate action to eliminate the sexual harassment or sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. 

Emphasis mine. A lot of sexual harassment, for good reason, doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal complaint. That said, if one student targets another with a sexual harassment campaign by doing things such as stalking her and sending threatening emails, the school should be able to step in. 

A lot of attention and criticism is being paid to the ugly underbelly of racism and sexism that flourishes in the fraternity system, in light of Kappa Delta Rho at Penn State sharing nonconsensual nude photos of women and Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Oklahoma singing a racist song on video. A lot of critics, such as Lindy West at the Guardian and even Will Ferrell, are arguing that the system needs to be shut down entirely, as it exists to preserve the very race, gender, and class hierarchies that are supposed to be anathemas to 21st-century values. FratPAC taking actions to shield college men from facing consequences for mistreating women sure isn’t going to help it defend against the accusation that fraternities are a relic of an uglier era.