Each year, UCLA goes through the same cycle: Fraternities come under fire for sexual assault allegations. There is a renewed cry for action. And then, after a slap on the wrist, everything goes back to normal.
And UCLA Greek life’s wrists are pretty bruised. But that isn’t crashing the party.
The past year has featured everything from former fraternity presidents allegedly committing sexual assault to former UCLA students in Greek life committing statutory rape and threatening victims. The only repercussions fraternities have seen include a temporary alcohol ban, a requirement to offer Breathalyzers at parties and a mandate that there should be third-party bartenders.
Fraternities have reacted in a predictable way to these lax attempts at policing change: doing nothing.
The latest fraternity under public scrutiny is Phi Kappa Psi, which was investigated during winter quarter following allegations of sexual assault. This incident sparked a letter-writing campaign in which students demanded the fraternity amend and enforce its sexual assault prevention policies.
But it’s unlikely we’ll see meaningful change. Students are not informed about whether fraternities are implementing required safety policies, and there is no way for them to feel comfortable knowing that significant action is being taken to protect them. Moreover, students are rarely kept in the loop about whether instances of sexual assault take place within UCLA’s fraternities.
The university needs to do a better job of prioritizing transparency and accountability in Greek life. UCLA and the Interfraternity Council must provide public information each quarter that summarizes incidents that have occurred at fraternities and violations of policies intended to protect students. This is a necessary step to ensure Bruins have adequate information to help them stay safe when they attend Greek life events.
The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life said in a statement it is committed to supporting survivors and ensuring all chapters know that sexual violence and sexual harassment violate university policy and the law.
Yet each time news breaks of a sexual assault incident in a fraternity, UCLA turns to the IFC to craft policies – none of which have achieved anything substantial.
And it’s absurd to think that they would. Students are not told about fraternity policies, making it hard to hold fraternities accountable for breaking them. Policies are directed from the IFC to fraternities without a word to students.
The IFC didn’t respond to several requests for comment, and Greek life community members were unwilling to comment.
But sexual assault shouldn’t be something students have to worry about when partaking in Greek life events, said Maria Trujillo, a second-year psychobiology student.
“I just think it shouldn’t be happening,” Trujillo said. “This school should just be a place where you have fun and focus on academics.”
UCLA can’t seem to hold fraternities fully accountable for their actions and change the conversation about these incidents. But fraternity culture might be where these conversations most need to be changed. Studies have shown that cultural expectations and societal attitudes about women and power that permeate the young male community, including fraternities, are one of the main causes of sexual assault.
Amanda Quezada, a first-year biological anthropology student, said she would appreciate UCLA enacting a policy that would provide students with greater information about Greek life safety.
“I think it would give students an opportunity to know where to go and where not to go, and it would (encourage) the frats into acting better,” Quezada said.
Quezada is right. Public access to fraternities’ records may cause them to take more serious measures to prevent sexual violence, even if it’s only to save their reputations.
And this isn’t the first time a university has used this tactic to increase accountability. Pennsylvania State University enacted stricter policies after a hazing incident in 2017 that resulted in the death of a student. One of the policy changes required frequent posting of a Greek Chapter Scorecard online with comprehensive information about fraternities, such as violations committed by fraternities and past incidents of misconduct.
Penn State’s actions are an example of the right way to handle situations like these. It puts information in students’ hands and gives them agency to determine whether fraternities are safe enough – something UCLA’s Greek life institutions aren’t willing to do.
Of course, sexual assault doesn’t just occur on fraternity row. According to the Clery Act crime statistics in 2017, there were 58 reported sexual assaults with 41 of those occurring on campus. But this statistic doesn’t factor in the many sexual assault incidents that go unreported here at UCLA, considering many students don’t feel comfortable reporting experiences of sexual assault. And it doesn’t account for a shady fraternity culture that encourages silence in the face of toxic behavior.
Dunking on fraternities for a couple of months and forgetting about them for the rest of the year has become a facet of student culture.
But Bruins shouldn’t have to gamble when it comes to their safety, even if fraternities do.