USC’s breakaway fraternities set their own rules and challenge the university

On a hot Friday afternoon, a large crowd of young men marched along 28th Street near USC wearing sneakers, colorful shorts and lanyards printed with their names as they visited a fraternity house after another.

They were greeted by other young men dressed in colorful t-shirts with their fraternity names and graphic designs – one showed a hand wrapped around a glass bottle, another was playing the ‘Kill Bill : Vol. A 2″ movie poster featuring a blonde woman wielding a sword. Another showed a retro image of a woman in evening dress being offered a bottle of soda – “Rush Kappa Alpha 2022,” the shirt read.

Rap and house music played through loudspeakers. The guys shot hoops and threw a volleyball into a sandpit. And on the sidewalk, potential and current members of the fraternity exchanged notes. “This one had the free burritos,” said one of two young men next to him.

In many ways, such autumnal “rushes” or recruiting activities are a rite of passage of Greek life. But they are limited to USC. In 2017, the university banned the fall rush for freshmen after multiple reports of hazing at fraternity houses and longstanding concerns from faculty about the negative effect of pledge rituals on student grades and health.

However, the eight fraternities that hosted freshmen at their recruiting event on Friday had all disaffiliated from USC as of last week. In a bold move and despite warnings from USC, they decided that, for better or worse, they would rather be free from what they saw as unfair university policies and chart their own course.

On Friday, USC students mingle at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

As USC students, they remain subject to campus rules of conduct and laws against hazing, sexual assault, and other misconduct.

USC strongly criticized the decision to disaffiliate and invite freshmen to rush, saying in a statement that such fall recruitment “has repeatedly proven to be dangerous for incoming students. “. The university, which has denied dissenting fraternities the right to use USC’s campus Greek Life name, logo, or resources, also claimed they “resented the procedures and protocols designed to prevent sexual assault and drug addiction and to treat mental health problems and alcohol consumption among minors.

The university posted an important warning against separatist fraternities on the campus Greek Life portal:

“The following groups are NOT AFFILIATED with USC. They are not subject to the oversight of university staff and have chosen to forgo support resources and other benefits available to recognized student groups. Some groups are recruiting students are STRONGLY RECOMMENDED not to join or affiliate with these organizations.”

But Harrison Murphy of the new University Park Interfraternity Council, an umbrella organization for dissenting chapters, said on Friday that the claim that they were rebelling against strict party rules is fake.

“I want to say unequivocally no, we are not disaffiliating to dodge these social event policies that have been put in place,” said Murphy, a senior majoring in political science and history.

In fact, he said, the 15 chapters that were members of USC’s Interfraternity Council last year first recommended most of the strict rules issued by a university task force after multiple drug allegations. and sexual assault at Sigma Nu and other fall fraternity parties. 2021.

Fraternity leaders have proposed rules for posting security guards in hallways leading to rooms, creating “sober rooms” to provide water and food to drunken revelers, providing toxicity testing kits to those who suspect they have been drugged and require alcohol to be served in sealed containers. Some chapters have even hired emergency medical technicians for parties, he said, and all social events are staffed by third-party security guards and licensed professional bartenders.

The University Park Interfraternity Council abides by all of those rules and will not admit any fraternity facing allegations of misconduct, he said. The breakaway fraternities of the new council are: Beta Theta Pi, Kappa Alpha Order, Lambda Chi Alpha, Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Alpha Mu, Sigma Chi, Tau Kappa Epsilon, and Zeta Beta Tau.

Young men shake hands

USC students at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house during the peak week kickoff.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Murphy said members who parted ways with USC did so because they felt the university’s policies toward Greek organizations were unfair and flawed. For example, he said, USC banned all social events from November 2021 through January 2022, even for fraternities that had done nothing wrong. Most were unable to resume events until March due to new security training requirements, he said.

Despite months of negotiations between USC and the fraternities, the two sides could not reach an agreement on the scope of the sanctions or on a faster timeline to resolve their disputes.

“We have reached an end point where the [breakaway] groups didn’t want to go through another year of this type of system,” said Judson Horras, president of the North American Interfraternity Conference, which represents more than 6,200 member chapters in 57 national and international male fraternities.

Horras, whose national organization supports USC splinter groups, said the university group’s sanctions backfired. “They create a silencing effect for community members to hold individuals accountable and report the behavior to the school lest other members who have done nothing wrong…will be penalized.”

USC declined to answer questions about the fairness of its process or its potential effect on reporting wrongdoing.

The fall rush issue has long been a flashpoint at USC. In 2015, the Academic Senate passed a resolution calling for freshman recruitment to be delayed until the spring, noting that more students were missing classes or attending classes exhausted or intoxicated during their engagements. The USC undergraduate student body has passed its own resolution opposing deferred recruitment.

USC officials banned fall rush for freshmen in 2017, citing a study two years earlier that found two-thirds of sexual assaults on USC’s campus took place in a fraternity or sorority and that 20 peer institutions had some form of deferred recruitment.

Several fraternities and one sorority sued USC in 2018, arguing that the deferred recruitment policy violated their state protections of free association and imposed discriminatory restrictions on them that were not required of other student organizations. The trial court and appeals court upheld USC’s assertions that the actions were based on legitimate academic concerns.

USC students speak outside the fraternity house.

USC students mingle outside the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house on Friday. Several fraternities, including Lambda Chi Alpha, officially severed ties with USC earlier this month.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Some experts have backed USC’s argument that the fall rush for freshmen could be dangerous. John Hechinger, author of “True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities,” a 2017 book on fraternity culture focused on Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said research indicated that hazing incidents decreased when rushing was postponed. for one school term. He added that many fraternities are lobbying against such bans because they drive down membership — and lucrative dues.

But Horras said more than 90% of fraternities across the country are allowed by their campuses to hold a fall rush for freshmen. This includes UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, and most other UC and California State University campuses.

At UC Irvine, the fall rush for new students helps them find a “home away from home” and provides them with an immediate support system to adjust to campus and a network of alumni students for career and leadership opportunities, said campus spokesman Tom Vasich.

“The fraternity and sorority of fraternities and sororities really helps new students adjust whether they are first generation, a transfer student, a suburban student, or just someone trying to figure out college life,” said Vasich said.

The University of the Pacific at Stockton banned the fall rush for freshmen for years, but reinstated it last fall to help students quickly find a community after two years of pandemic isolation. , said Maria Blandizzi, vice-president for student life. She said there has been no increase in student conduct problems or a decline in academic performance.

At USC, it remains unclear how the confrontation between the university and disaffiliated Greek chapters will play out, particularly with sorority members who are popular attendees at fraternity parties.

Sorority leaders were weighing the fraternities’ decision to disaffiliate, said Valeria Hernandez Echegaray, vice president of public relations for the USC Panhellenic Council, which represents nearly a dozen sorority chapters on campus. Earlier this week, she said the council planned to request more information and discuss a response.

The National Panhellenic Council, an umbrella organization of more than two dozen sororities in the United States and Canada, allows sororities to interact with disaffiliated fraternities as long as the fraternities have left college while remaining in good standing.

“Without more information, we cannot speak to the specifics of the situation at USC,” said Dani Weatherford, chief executive of the National Panhellenic Council. “However, we have long understood that organizations choose to disaffiliate from universities for a variety of legitimate reasons, as in some cases Pan-Hellenic organizations have done so as well.”

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