After ‘Yale Sluts,’ fraternities consider forming council

Facing charges of misogyny and insensitivity leveled against them by the Women’s Center, among others, following the circulation last month of the “We Love Yale Sluts” photo, several leaders of Yale’s fraternities have begun discussion of an “inter-fraternity council” — a student-led body of representatives from Yale’s fraternities that would serve as a liaison between Greeks and University administrators.

Although talk of the body’s creation remains informal for the time being, ideas on the table call for a tool that will facilitate communication among Greeks and between Greeks and administrators. Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Edgar Letriz, who lobbied for the formation of such a body a decade ago, said he would support its founding today as well.

No consensus on the proposal exists among Yale’s fraternities, but leaders interviewed concerned with fraternities’ image on campus said they are open to the idea as a means of dispelling what they call a long-standing “misperception” regarding the role of fraternities on campus.

And Alpha Delta Phi President Kevin Discepolo ’09 said he is on board with the idea of an IFC, adding that the body could serve to repair relations between Greek organizations on campus and the University.

On the night of Jan. 20, members of the Yale Women’s Center discovered on Facebook and circulated by e-mail a photograph of Zeta Psi pledges in front of the Center, holding a sign reading “We Love Yale Sluts.” The e-mail subject line read “This Time We Sue,” and the body of the message claimed that the supposed act of sexual harassment called for legal action.

An attempt to create a similar group led by Letriz in 1998 — the last time such the University seriously considered such a proposal — sputtered to a halt after proposals put forward by administrators and fraternity leaders received a tepid response from campus Greek organizations.

This time, final say on the details of any IFC — or even whether to create one at all — will belong to fraternity members, without whose participation an IFC could not succeed. It appears unlikely at this point that any body created out of the current conversations would have the power to discipline its members for violations of a hypothetical University-wide risk management policy that IFCs at other schools have been known to draw up, fraternity leaders and Letriz said.

Letriz — an alumnus of the Union College chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and the member of the administration who is most experienced with fraternity relations — said the University’s approach to an IFC has always been “softer” than at other schools.

“At most institutions, an IFC is often a self-governing disciplinary body — we did not want that kind of IFC,” Letriz said, referring to the discussions in 1998. “We wanted a collective of representatives from fraternities who could come together to discuss collaboration on programming, ways to increase visibility on campus and how to create a more welcoming campus environment.”

At other schools IFCs wield more power — Cornell University’s IFC can fine chapters for violating IFC-drafted risk management policies and at Dartmouth College, the IFC sets a rush schedule which must be followed by Greek organizations.

But Letriz said that at Yale, the University’s extant disciplinary system — in the form of the Executive Committee — already holds the authority to discipline students who violate any rules of conduct an IFC could suggest or codify. Forcing fraternities to register with the Yale College Dean’s Office would not change that, he said.

“A fraternity’s registration [as an undergraduate organization] does not allow us to enact disciplinary action any more so than we can to begin with,” Letriz explained. “This notion that, if groups were to register, the University would have greater control, is a gross misconception.”

Although only five University fraternities — Alpha Epsilon Pi, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Gamma Phi Delta, Lambda Upsilon Lambda and Sigma Chi — are registered as undergraduate organizations, fraternity members interviewed said they would be unlikely to make University registration a prerequisite for membership in the IFC.

Sigma Chi President Brian Goldsmith ’09 said that given the goals of the body — facilitating communication and providing a forum for discussion about Greek Life issues — simply having a representative from each fraternity show up to IFCS meetings and voice an opinion would be sufficient.

For the Women’s Center — which accused fraternities of propagating misogyny on campus in a 26-page report it submitted to administrators on Feb. 9 — the proposal is a welcome step toward improving dialogue between fraternities and other groups on campus, Political Action Coordinator Isabel Polon ’11 said, but more should be done.

“I think we at the Women’s Center all feel that any steps taken toward some sort of mediation focused on fraternities is positive,” Polon said. “But we don’t think it should be the only action taken.”

Among other conditions, the Center’s report calls for a reform of sexual-harassment and sexual-assault education provided to students, the formation of an “official institutional relationship” between the University and Yale’s fraternities, and the calling of the Zeta Psi members involved in the photograph, as well as the fraternity’s leaders, before the Executive Committee.

Sigma Phi Epsilon President Michael Schwartzman ’09 voiced support for an IFC, saying it could potentially foster “an atmosphere of mutual recognition and respect in interactions” between fraternities and the University. But he said fraternity leaders should not allow emotion, running high after last month’s incident, to push them toward creating a body that lacks the support of a broad swath of Yale’s fraternity population.

“I’m hesitant to believe that a sufficiently balanced IFC could be created as a response to recent events,” Schwartzman said. “Given the Women’s Center’s recommendations, I fear the principal expectation for the IFC would be to put fraternities on a tighter leash.”

Yet the allure of working with the University remains dim for other fraternities, including Delta Kappa Epsilon, where newly-minted president James Pilkerton ’09 said an IFC would be unnecessary at Yale and that the fraternity plans to stay independent.

“As far as remaining independent goes,” Pilkerton said. “The way I see it, as long as we’re off campus, and as long as we’re not receiving University funding, there’s no reason for us not to stay as independent as we can.”

The Women’s Center asked that the University respond to their report’s stipulations by March 7, but administrators have said that a thoughtful discussion process will likely take longer.

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