A thoughtful pause of fraternity life

March 2, 2017 Opinion

Overnight, Rollins College made national news over a decision that we made to temporarily suspend the programming and activities of fraternity life. Since then, we have also received a broad range of feedback, ranging from enthusiastic support of this decision to complete outrage of this decision. The outpour of encouragement and compassion from colleagues and communities nationally has been heartwarming-and yet we pause.

We pause because while we are grateful for the national outpour of compassion and condolence, both seem misplaced, however well-intentioned.  This is not unfolding as a crisis on our campus, but an opportunity.  And an opportunity, we hasten to add, endorsed by a unanimous vote of our Interfraternity Council (IFC) and the Presidents and at least one delegate of all six of our Fraternities.

For context, over the past semester we received reports about students engaging in behavior that elevated our concern for the overall well-being of fraternity life, and it caused us to question how we were delivering on our institutional mission. These concerning behaviors are not new or different, but they caused us to pause. At the same time, our IFC leaders and presidents also began to share concerns for the well-being of their peers. During the past week, we made a decision to act proactively. We made a decision to pause. We temporarily suspended our fraternities so that we could co-create the thoughtful space and time for the courageous and vulnerable conversations to align our fraternities not only with their missions, but also the Rollins mission of preparing students to be global citizens and responsible leaders.

We engaged the leadership of IFC in this courageous conversation. They unanimously voted in favor of the suspension. Our men are leading with courage, with the goal of developing a fraternity system that truly elevates the thriving of our men who choose fraternity life. They are choosing to lead in alignment with their organizational values and our mission as an educational community. Ultimately, we chose to make this decision in partnership with IFC for two reasons. First , we do not want to wait for something extreme to happen as our wake-up call. Second, we believe fully that the fraternity life experience can and should support the delivery of the academic mission of our institution. We believe, and our students have shared with us, that their experiences in these spaces can and do help them unfold as leaders and citizens. It is their connection to each other and their community experience that can help guide their understanding of a meaningful and productive life.

So, instead of business as usual, our community will come together collectively to have vulnerable conversations about what systemic change and re-centering our community looks like. In place of a Greek Week with tug-of-wars and competitive games, we will work with one another to build a culture of mutual support and collaboration. Each fraternity will examine how it leads to its mission by the individual actions of their members and as a group. It is important to us to note that we are not dictating next steps in this process. We honestly do not know what this could look like. We are partnering with our IFC and our chapter presidents to engage in conversations at large, and we are engaging with every Chapter executive board to focus what their individual chapters need to be successful on our campus.

We are not pausing and partnering as a precursor for punishment. We are engaging in our educational work to elevate the core values of 21st century, mission-driven, fraternity life. We are staying in it with each other for the dialogue and action that matters.

We have both worked at institutions with expansive fraternity and sorority systems nationally. We have never seen leadership like this- and we are inspired. We are inspired because we get to work with students in all of the dimensions of their well-being. Our philosophy as educators is to lead in alignment with our mission within every process and practice we have. When our IFC leaders graduate, we look forward to how they tell the story about how they noticed a problem, and worked proactively to be part of the solution. This is a value that is so deeply needed in our country right now, and we have every duty of care to partner with students to cultivate this kind of courageous leadership. To us, this is the very core of democratic and civic engagement.

At Rollins, we will continue to fulfill our duty to support and deepen the educational journey of all of our students. Our community is not in crisis- in fact it is quite the opposite. We are embracing the most expansive and critical dimensions of our mission.

Mamta Accapadi, Vice President for Student Affairs

Meghan Harte Weyant, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students

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