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Editorial: UCLA must ban Greek life houses that perpetuate sexual assault and harassment

By Editorial Board

August 24, 2018 2:47 pm

Alcohol maketh the abuser.

That’s the scapegoat UCLA and its Interfraternity Council have been blaming for years.

Here’s a more accurate explanation: A system of oppression keepeth the abusers.

Greek life has been near synonymous with sexual assault and sexual harassment for years on end. And the campus community was only reminded of that when a student filed a lawsuit Aug. 10 against two fraternities, the IFC and Blake Lobato, a former UCLA student.

The lawsuit alleges the victim was sexually assaulted by Lobato, a then-Zeta Beta Tau fraternity member, after leaving a Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity party while visibly intoxicated. Perhaps even more reprehensible are the events that allegedly followed: A court document states the then-ZBT president ignored the victim’s report and didn’t investigate or reprimand Lobato. In fact, the document states Irving Chase, a ZBT board member and lawyer, allegedly tried to dissuade the student from filing a Title IX complaint with UCLA.

The victim reported the incident to ZBT again in 2017 after she found out another female student had been assaulted by Lobato. The incident was reported to the university’s Title IX Office, and Lobato was removed from ZBT – after which he allegedly threatened to kill the student, and was later expelled for violating the student conduct code.

The ensuing lawsuit is a stark indication of how UCLA and the IFC have failed woefully in tackling the systemic issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment within the Greek life system. The university has shown it is all too willing to embrace the IFC’s self-imposed, Band-Aid solutions – all because they promise quick fixes to complex and pervasive issues.

The result: a toxic system that brews a culture of sexual assault and harassment and perpetuates it by trying to cover it up.

The time for administrative complacency is over. UCLA needs to take its students’ well-being seriously and do what it should have done long ago: ban Greek life houses that repeatedly violate Title IX policies.

And it should start with ZBT.

The IFC’s – and consequently UCLA’s – approach has, to date, focused on the supposedly material causes of the rape and harassment culture associated with Greek life. Earlier this year, the IFC imposed a ban on in-house activities with alcohol following a sexual assault allegedly committed by Benjamin Orr, the 2016-2017 president of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. The council lifted the ban a month later, after passing new rules requiring fraternity parties have third-party security guards and bartenders at every registered event, and are only held in approved areas of fraternity houses.

[Editorial: Ban on in-house fraternity events with alcohol must be made permanent]

Though the incidents described in the lawsuit took place a few years ago, they demonstrate the breadth of the system that enables fraternity members to sexually assault or harass their peers – and almost, if not entirely, get away with it.

Lobato himself was left unscathed for two years after he allegedly raped a fellow student, and his fraternity attempted to hide that fact from the university. And Orr – a former fraternity president and one of the many Greek life members required to undergo UCLA’s updated Title IX training – also allegedly assaulted a fellow student.

These issues do not start and stop with current fraternity members. They go all the way up the food chain. And the current lawsuit only shines a light on how complicit university administrators and members who run fraternities have been to the corrosive culture in Greek life.

[Related: “It Stops Here” – an in-depth analysis of sexual harassment in higher education]

Sure, banning houses like ZBT could be seen as an attack on Greek life or even students’ freedom to affiliate with student groups of their choice. But the First Amendment right to congregate isn’t a green light to partake in a system of oppression, assault, misogyny and racism. Certainly, not every fraternity is guilty of these actions – but the ones that are and try to hide it don’t deserve a place on or near our campus.

The time for lip service is over. UCLA can either take a firm stance against a brutish culture of sexual assault and sexual harassment – or sit on its hands as it has done before.

Only one of those actions will do justice to the many past and future victims of Greek life.

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