Staff editorial: New Greek life website encourages transparency, accountability

In February 2018, almost one year ago, Washington University’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity chapter was permanently suspended from campus following a series of violations of their temporary suspension by the University, a punishment initially resulting from incidents of hazing. Two months after that, Alpha Epsilon Pi was placed on social probation for a year following an investigation into alcohol-related incidents.

These events, coupled with the Title Mine rally last April, brought increased scrutiny on the Greek life community and the administrators tasked with overseeing it. As students began to confront the culture pervasive throughout the Greek life system that allows abuse to occur, they demanded better conduct from their peers, leaders and school officials. As a way to establish the guidelines for good behavior, many called for increased transparency from the University, and it seems as if that time has finally come.

Following a redesign at the end of last semester, whenever a current student, parent or prospective first-year browses Washington University’s website for information about Greek life, they will encounter a newly-refurbished list of fraternity and sorority chapters. In addition to listing the chapter names of national pan-hellenic organizations, co-ed groups, fraternities and sororities, each chapter’s standing with the University and recent infractions are also listed.

Last April, the Student Life Editorial Board requested that the Office of Campus Life publicize the status of each Greek life organization, and commends them for doing so. We believe that open access to information about past violations allows event-goers to better inform their choices, increases transparency and could act as a motivating factor for organizations to improve their standing in the future.

Among students, it is well-known that there exists an even more impenetrable circle within the stereotypical “Wash. U. Bubble.” By increasing transparency, the Office of Campus Life broadens the circle of knowledge beyond chapter-specific GroupMe chats and gossip, allowing non-Greek students to be equally informed. Because Greek life events can be attended by non-Greek students, this development is significant. However, because of the list’s use as a reference tool for students, the information can only be of help if it is regularly updated. While there is a date citing how current the information is at the top of the page, there is no way to tell how recent each infraction was, or at what point infractions will be removed from the site.

In the past, when a group was suspended, the cause of the investigation and resulting punishment was often left unknown. By shrouding offenses in secrecy, there was little way for other groups to learn from the mistakes of others. We believe one of the most important ramifications of social probation, suspension or more drastic measures is the effect each punishment has on other organizations: The stench of punishment lingers, and pushes others to do better.

While publicizing the information is a step in the right direction, real change can only occur if violations are followed by appropriate steps to correct bad behavior. Despite the “definition of terms” section at the bottom of the page, the descriptions of each warning use indefinite phrasing, such as “Chapter may be required to fulfill obligations or sanctions.” Based on the current list, five fraternity chapters have at least one “formal conduct warning” but remain in “good standing” with the University, making the tangible consequences of such warnings, if any, unclear.

Moving forward, we urge the Office of Campus Life to continue making changes to improve the behavior of the Greek life organizations that it oversees, and the recent revision of social policies and the website modifications described here represent progress toward this goal. As a result, the burden of initiating positive action does not fall solely on administrators: every member of each Greek life organization on campus bears responsibility to urge their co-members and leaders to do better, too.

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