Amid clashes between the administration and Greek community, President Mark McCoy and Vice President for Student Academic Life Alan Hill invited affiliated seniors to a forum Monday night to discuss ways to ease the growing tension.
“We want to move to a high-trust environment. And we want to be the best Greek organization in America. And I think we can do it,” McCoy said at the forum. “The solution to our problems are through the Greek system, not around the Greek system. The challenges we have at DePauw we’ll fix together.”
Nearly 80 of the 411 Greek-affiliated seniors attended the forum held in Thompson Recital Hall. The dialogue came in response to a Letter to the Editor written in last week’s issue of The DePauw, in which all Interfraternity Council (IFC) presidents voiced their concerns with the administration’s treatment of the Greek community.
According to the email invitation Hill sent affiliated seniors on Friday, the purpose of the forum was to engage in “clear and open dialogue and communication…to achieve a better relationship for administration and Greek organizations to work together.”
During the hour-and-a-half long talk, McCoy and Hill stood on the floor in front of the stage instead of on the stage itself, putting them at either eye-level or below the students present. The house lights were up, shining equally on everyone in the room. No desks, stands or tables separated the administrators and the students. All they had were notebooks and pens.
The first half of the dialogue consisted solely of students voicing their concerns while McCoy and Hill silently took notes.
“We just wanted people to know that what they were saying was being heard, that we were writing it down, and we were listening,” McCoy said.
Students’ chief concerns included a lack of support from Campus Living and Community Development (CLCD), a shortage of alternative programming, and Public Safety’s influence over the party culture.
Some comments had to do with specific instances of perceived bias against the Greek community. Presidential Ambassador Perrin Duncan voiced her concern that two emails sent by Director of Public Safety Angela Nally regarding reports of bias incidents at fraternity houses over Halloween weekend were worded in a way that vilified the fraternities before any actual investigation was conducted. She also questioned why, when her sorority was given a no-contact directive with its new members, the sorority members were not told why the directive was in place.
“Our executive board knew a little more about what was going on, but were told that they can’t tell us anything,” Duncan said. “It starts rumors… having a little more information about what’s going on would be helpful.”
Former President of Alpha Chi Omega, senior Ellen Tinder brought up the shortage of employees in the CLCD office. She said that, while Panhellenic Council and IFC used to have separate advisors, the staffing cutbacks have resulted in a lack of support for the Greek community.
“Our CLCD office is severely understaffed, and because of that they can’t fully support us to the best of our abilities,” Tinder said. “If we really want to be more effective, self-governing bodies, we need a little more support from our CLCD office because they’re the ones who are going to give us those resources and help us through that.”
Other students said that not enough non-drinking-related programming exists to deter people from the party scene.
“We need non-alcoholic programming for the entire University, be it an 18-and-up bar that doesn’t serve alcohol or something like that… really anything that engages campus on the weekends,” senior Aaron Mahoney said. “Fraternities become a pressure cooker because there is nothing else to do.”
Hill said the University is currently conducting an external search for more CLCD employees.
Duncan asked why fraternities are held responsible when people who attend their parties go to the hospital for alcohol poisoning once they have left that fraternity. She said the individual, or the chapter of which that person is a part, should be held accountable instead.
“As a sorority woman, I have a hard time whenever my guy friends get blamed, and a lot of times it is women that get sent to the hospital,” Duncan said. “I think we should be the ones that have to go through alcohol training… usually they drink too much at our pregame.”
Other concerns included the process of community standards being both too slow and too involved in minor infractions, such as noise complaints, which fraternity members said could be handled internally; admissions staff members discouraging tour guides from discussing Greek life with prospective students; the absence of a Greek Week in recent years; the judgmental treatment students feel they receive from professors because of their affiliation; and the lack of trust students feel when they spot campus police parked outside fraternity houses for extended periods of time.
While McCoy said not every problem can be tackled right away, he presented the seniors with concrete steps he and Hill will take to ease some concerns.
“Agreement one: I’m going to talk to the [campus] police. Agreement two: Alan and I will go to the CLCD staff and talk about these concerns,” McCoy said.
McCoy also said he will work with the admissions office to find a way to talk positively about Greek life on tours. But McCoy said the size and influence of the Greek community often deters prospective students from DePauw.
“The number one reason people don’t come to DePauw… is Greek life,” McCoy later told The DePauw, citing a post-acceptance form that admitted students are asked to fill out. “Does that mean Greek life is terrible? No. that means the perception of Greek life is terrible and so we want to try to change the perception.”
The administration’s chief concern, McCoy said, is the high-risk drinking that tends to accompany fraternity events.
“It’s not just what we drink; it’s the amount that we drink and the BACs [blood alcohol content] we have,” McCoy said. “If your body is conditioned to the point where you can blow a .5, you’re probably not going to live. You might not die tonight, but over the long term… if your body can handle that BAC, you have a problem.”
McCoy said he would like not to have to crack down on fraternity parties–in fact, he said he would make the campus drinking age 18 if he could–but he pointed out that there have only been three hospital visits so far this semester, as opposed to 18 last semester.
“I want you to party,” McCoy said, at which point the students began cheering. “The goal is to cut the hospital visits and still have the parties… when we slowed down the pace of the parties, we slowed down the pace of the hospital visits.”
Students proposed several solutions, including establishing a code of conduct that fraternities would follow when faced with people who show up to their houses too intoxicated. They also suggested providing additional funding for the CATS program which sends sober monitors, pizza and water to registered fraternity parties.
But, Hill reminded seniors, the administration can only do so much. He said students need to do their part to keep parties safe, and only through mutual cooperation will the fraternity party scene be able to run smoothly while hospital visits decrease.
“It’s still going to depend on what behavior happens, right?,” Hill said. “You want me to just not do anything? We can’t not do anything.”
Former President of Kappa Alpha Theta, Kerri Hemmelgarn was skeptical that change would come from the forum because the University president’s main focus is largely on donors and trustees instead of students.
“This is great that you’re saying all these things, but what’s actually going to happen? Because as glad as I am that you’re here, where’s Myrna?” she asked, referring to Dean of Students Myrna Hernandez. Students cheered in response to the question.
“I asked this to be just Alan and I so this could be an honest talk,” McCoy said.
“Myrna was not invited,” McCoy told The DePauw on Tuesday. “I wanted people to speak frankly. When I came in, Myrna was backstage and I said, ‘Myrna, we got this.’ As far as I know, she left.”
However, Hernandez said she stayed for the entire forum.
“I went to check in with Alan and to make myself available for anything he needed after the event was over and we did speak for a few minutes after the event was over,” Hernandez said.
The DePauw reached out to Hill to confirm that Hernandez was present for that reason and if they spoke after the event, but he did not comment by the time of publication.
Amid a forum that aimed to break down trust barriers, senior Kole Brinegar said seeing Hernandez was unsettling.
“[It] shows a lack of trust between the figureheads such as President McCoy and VP Hill and the other members of the administrative staff. As the former Director of the CLCD office and now Dean of Students, shouldn’t she be perfectly qualified to field our questions and concerns?” Brinegar said. “It is well known that many in the student body are not the biggest fans of Myrna, so perhaps [McCoy] felt that the conversation would be less confrontational if she was not a participant.”
Hernandez believes Hill and McCoy held the forum by themselves to foster an open conversation, though she does not think her involvement would have hindered that dialogue.
“I actually think that I could have been [there] as well, but I think that’s more of a question for students. Would they have felt free? I don’t know. I can’t speak to that,” Hernandez said.
Tinder, in line with Hernandez’s thoughts, wishes more CLCD staff members had been in attendance. She also thinks Greek members need to take more initiative to create a real change instead of relying on the administration.
“It seemed that many people just wanted to be able to drink more,” Tinder said. “I think we, as a Greek community, still have to figure out what we really want to be known for and how we are going to work with the administration to achieve that.”
Mahoney does not believe any significant change will occur while the seniors still attend DePauw, nor does he think it should.
“I think an issue that has existed for more than five years now can’t and shouldn’t be solved in 50 days,” Mahoney said. “It’s my hope that the dialogue continues long after I graduate and culminates in the positive changes we all wish for our campus and our Greek system.”
Despite Brinegar’s frustration with Hernandez’s presence, he believes the overall conversation was productive.
“I do think it was a good thing that she was there to hear what was said, regardless of whether or not she was told to be there,” Brinegar said. “The students got a chance to express their concerns to a receptive audience and I think that is something that has been missing in this dialogue up to this point.”
Additional forums will be held in the coming weeks, the next being with the juniors. Ultimately, Hill and McCoy’s hope for the forums are to begin to build a “high-trust environment” between the administration and Greeks.
“There is no them. It’s just us. And we have to look out for each other because it is not going to be possible for you to succeed and the administration fail, or the administration succeed and you fail. It’s just DePauw,” McCoy said. “If you can look back on this in two years and you say ‘it started tonight’… that would be terrific.”