The nation’s representatives made one thing certain this fall: Politics has no place in sexual violence prevention efforts.
Tell that to UCLA’s undergraduate student government.
The Undergraduate Students Association Council has decided to take a stand against sexual violence in Greek life, following sexual assault allegations against a former Zeta Beta Tau fraternity member and a lawsuit against the Interfraternity Council. Student leaders issued a resolution condemning sexual violence by fraternity members and queued up a special presentation by Emily Lewis, the UCLA Panhellenic Association president, for Tuesday’s meeting.
The oracle’s bones aren’t telling a good a story, though.
Lewis sent a disapproving email to council members, arguing their resolution excludes the experiences of those who face sexual violence outside of Greek life – a ludicrous non sequitur that shows where Tuesday’s council meeting is headed.
USAC might have good intentions with its special presentation, but the council isn’t remotely capable of finding a solution to combating sexual assault and harassment in Greek life. In fact, USAC is the worst venue to stage any discussion about addressing Greek life’s institutional malpractices.
You can thank campus politics for that.
The council has been dominated for more than a half-century by infighting between minority students and the Greek life community. Moreover, it has no ability to hold deficient fraternities responsible for confronting sexual violence happening in their houses – meaning any discussion about it is, quite literally, a political exercise.
Kerckhoff 417 isn’t the place for debate on how to best address sexual violence in UCLA fraternities; Murphy Hall is. And so long as the administration lets student politics sit in the driver’s seat, sexual assault and sexual harassment in Greek life will continue to be disregarded by fraternities as a political bogeyman.
That blitheness, as it turns out, is the foundation of USAC’s politics.
In 1968 – the same year the Olympics were hosted in Mexico – members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity held a “Viva Zapata” party, at which they displayed a caricature of the Mexican flag featuring a huge middle finger instead of the customary eagle and serpent on a cactus. Even worse, Greek life houses coalesced and marched on campus, after members of the Latino student community called for the fraternity’s suspension – a sign of Greek life’s resistance to change.
A decade later, the campus was torn into two camps: minority students seeking representation and equity via student government, and Greek life members seeking to maintain control over the council.
The two sides have been trading blows since. And nearly every time the council has taken a stand against fraternity members, Greek life has defensively shot back.
Fraternity and sorority members came together in 2004 to found the Bruins United campus political slate when USAC was restricted from allocating student fees to overtly political or religious groups. The slate swept the council table the first year it ran.
Bruins United council members blocked a motion in 2016 to discuss discrimination in Greek life, following revelations of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members making racist and misogynistic statements during chapter meetings. Slate members cited council bylaws in their decision, despite being all too willing to suspend them on numerous occasions that year.
Greek life-backed council members voted down a motion in 2017 to extend the public comment period of a council meeting when student demonstrators sought to condemn the USAC president for his callous use of a gang sign in a photo. Those same members reversed their votes when a fellow council member reminded them who their constituents were.
And last year, USAC erupted into a back-and-forth between Bruins United and minority student council members following reports – which were later proven true – of student voter coercion in Greek life.
Council members now want to productively question the president of the Panhellenic Association about how to address sexual violence in fraternities.
That’s not to say council members shouldn’t be passionate about preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment from taking place in fraternities. But USAC isn’t the answer to the problem. UCLA is.
The administration can serve as the neutral party that not only converses about but also demands accountability from fraternity houses. UCLA has been all too silent in the ongoing discussions of how best to curb the shortcomings of Greek life’s Title IX training, and student governance – be that from USAC or the IFC – has only resulted in empty alcohol bans, generalized condemnations of sexual violence and a noble, yet toothless, opinion of 14 student leaders that earned an angry email from a sorority member.
Tuesday’s meeting and any such future meeting would at best be an exchange of pleasantries. At worst, they would only serve to rile up campus political divides. Student elections would only become more rancorous, Greek life communities would become more adamant about ignoring student criticisms and sexual violence would rage on.
Students don’t need that. And sexual violence victims most certainly don’t.
What this campus needs is for politics to be removed from the conversation.
That’s not going to happen in Kerckhoff 417 anytime soon.