The Alpha Phi sorority’s international executive board announced last week that it has withdrawn its endorsement of the Safe Campus Act — a piece of legislation that would bar university authorities from investigating cases of sexual assault unless the victim also reported the incident to the police — making it the first sorority to separate from a coalition of Greek organizations lobbying for the bill on Capitol Hill.
Alpha Phi’s opposition to the Safe Campus Act, announced Nov. 12, soon drew support from seven other sororities, none of which have chapters on Yale’s campus. All eight officially declared their stance against the legislation by Friday, Nov. 13, prompting the North American Interfraternity Conference and National Panhellenic Conference, two umbrella organizations for fraternities and sororities across the country, to cease their lobbying efforts that Friday evening. Members of Yale’s chapter of Alpha Phi reaffirmed the board’s decision, emphasizing that victims of sexual assault should have full access to the University’s resources. Representatives of the other three sororities on campus, all of which are also part of the NPC, were not available for comment.
“By essentially paralyzing a university’s ability to respond quickly and effectively in any capacity, victims will be further silenced and ironically discouraged from using university resources to create a ‘Safe Campus’ for themselves,” said Susannah Krapf ’17, a copy staffer for the News and Yale Alpha Phi’s vice president of Watchcare, the sorority’s term for the responsibility of sisters to look after one another’s safety and wellbeing.
The Safe Campus Act was introduced by Republican Reps. Matt Salmon, Pete Sessions and Kay Granger in late July as a bill that would check universities’ legal authority in investigating claims of sexual assault. This curtailing of university powers does not apply to other behaviors that could warrant disciplinary responses, such as theft and even other types of physical assault. A coalition that consists of the NIC, NPC as well as three other national fraternities — Kappa Alpha Order, Alpha Tau Omega and Sigma Nu, which has a chapter on Yale’s campus — supported the legislation. In Washington D.C., the coalition hired several lobbyists, including former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, to promote the bill on behalf of the group. By the time the bill was dropped, the coalition had already spent more than $200,000 in lobbying for the bill.
“We believe our sisters who are survivors should have choices in how, when and to whom they go to for support or to report the crime,” read a statement that the Alpha Phi International Executive Board and Executive Office staff issued to all Alpha Phi chapters nationwide. “They should have their own voice and the support and encouragement they need to move forward including reporting as they choose to.” The statement also emphasized that universities should be held accountable for student safety, and that administrators’ abilities to report and respond to crimes such as sexual assault should be enhanced, not diminished.
Representatives from Yale’s chapter of Sigma Nu did not return requests for comment. Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd, who oversees Yale’s Communication and Consent Educators — a group of students who work to foster a positive sexual climate on campus — also could not be reached for comment.
Alpha Phi’s withdrawal of support is not the first expression of opposition to the bill. On Oct. 29, 220 organizations from across the country that work with victims of sexual assault penned a letter to Congress opposing the legislation. The letter highlighted that the Safe Campus Act, if passed, would impose barriers to effective investigations of sexual assault on college campuses. In addition, Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill, both of whom were members of sororities during their time in college, have been vocal in their opposition to the bill.
At Yale, of the 56 reports of sexual misconduct that were brought to the University’s attention between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year, 20 were addressed by the Yale Police Department and 36 by University mechanisms such as the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct or the Title IX Coordinators, according to the Semi-Annual Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct published Aug. 4.
Yale Alpha Phi President and staff reporter for the News Skyler Inman ’17 explained that if the Safe Campus Act is put in place, individuals who are sexually assaulted will be able to use resources within the university framework only if they first go through “a potentially lengthy and emotionally draining criminal investigation.”
Inman added that Alpha Phi’s unique principle of Watchcare has played an important role in the sorority’s concern about the bill and ultimate decision to oppose it. Inman added that Krapf, as vice president of Watchcare, works closely with her in handling risk management, looking after the mental health of Alpha Phi sisters and running different systems of support. Krapf is in charge of upholding Alpha Phi’s Watchcare philosophy at Yale, Inman said.
“Universities should remain responsible for maintaining safe campuses,” Inman said. “While there is certainly a major problem that needs to be addressed in regards to sexual assault on college campuses — as evidenced by the [Association of American Universities] Sexual Climate Survey — we should be reinforcing, not diminishing, universities’ ability to address the issue.”
Alpha Phi, which was chosen as the fourth sorority to join Greek life on campus this spring, welcomed its first class at Yale on Sept. 12.