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Series of college controversies focus fresh attention on fraternity misdeeds and risks

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Fraternity misbehavior makes news lately at colleges in New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio. One widely covered situation involves a Syracuse University fraternity house, Theta Tau, that's permanently banished from that upstate New York campus because two videos show pledges performing skits with racist, anti-Jewish and anti-gay language intended to lampoon older members. They were videotaped for members not present – a move that backfired badly. "There is absolutely no place at Syracuse University for behavior or language that degrades any individual or group's race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, disability or religious beliefs," says Chancellor Kent Syverud, head of the university. He spent part of last week on damage control interviews and meetings with students. "I welcome the conversation, I welcome the work that follows," the chancellor said at a town hall-style gathering of students, faculty members and university board members.

For their part, Theta Tau members say in a legal filing that the skits were "satirical portrayals of offensive conduct and attitudes offered for entertainment with no intent to harm or harass anyone. . . . The entire focus of the skits was to create caricatures and exaggerate to be outrageous." At Syracuse, which has more than 50 fraternities and sororities, Theta Tau is the fourth Greek organization punished during the 2017-18 academic year. Three others were suspended for hazing pledges or new members. (Hazing involves strenuous, often humiliating, activities during initiation.)

Across the country at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, all sororities and fraternities are suspended after at least two racially insensitive incidents. At the University of Califoinia-Los Angeles, fratrernities can't serve alcohol at parties under a 2018 policy imposed after the president of one house was arrested and charged with assaulting a female guest there.

Elsewhere, a University of Texas fraternity is under investigation for allegedly alcohol to minors – something that got two other fraternities there suspended this semester. At Temple University in Philadelphia, a fraternity was suspended two weeks ago because of "multiple credible reports from various sources alleging underage drinking, the excessive use of alcohol, possibly drugs and sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, during social activities," campus officials say. In Pennsylvania, In January, UCLA banned fraternities from having parties with alcohol after the former president of Theta Delta Chi was arrested and charged with assault and intent to commit rape. And at Ohio State, three fraternities are on disciplinary probation for hazing and alcohol-related violations.

Syracuse student leader says: "The video wasn't a one-time thing. It just happened to have occurred on video. We know there are things that happen every day that . . . definitely are harmful to a lot of students' experience at Syracuse." – James Franco, Student Association president

Campus editorial say: "Colleges must stress that Greek life is a privilege that comes in exchange for productive, healthy and principled organizations. . . . Universities must properly hold fraternities accountable, even if that means being willing to ax their Greek life organizations when they jeopardize the physical and emotional health of other community members." – The California Aggie, student newspaper at the University of California-Davis

Columnist says: "Stop pretending Greek life is a celebrated college tradition that should be protected. . . . Frats have clearly shown they can't self-regulate and need closer monitoring in order to protect these students from themselves." – Jaclyn Cashman, Boston Herald

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2019
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