In 1986, it was in response to a series of rape allegations and alcohol abuse occurring at San Diego State fraternities that Vice President of Student Affairs Daniel Nowak wrote an open letter declaring his zero-tolerance for sexual assault in fraternities. Nowak warned them “neither the university nor your fraternity can afford the embarrassment of news-stories and police investigative reports.”
It was also during that same year that 60 students attended a Rape Action Forum, the first of its kind at SDSU, to discuss the necessity to protect women and end sexual assault on SDSU campus.
This was 28 years ago and it’s in the modern context of campus culture today that we see an eerie familiarity with this narrative from the past. The consistency and familiarity of the situation tells us the narrative of Greek Life and sexual assault is by no means a modern issue, but one that has been allowed to continue for far too long.
Greek Life has always been a destructive force on this campus.
Within 2014, Greek Life has been associated with seven sexual assaults, a violent stabbing, at least one premature death and a recent controversy involving “Take Back the Night” protesters, which lead a British publication to label the gentlemen of SDSU’s very own Delta Sigma Phi and Sigma Phi Epsilon as the “world’s worst humans.”
Our administration’s attempt to win a losing public relations battle regarding its out-of-control Greek Life isn’t solving the issue at hand. The issues pertinent to Greek Life, such as sexual assault, substance abuse and violence, can’t simply be solved long-term with short-term suspensions.
These actions suggest students should trust the very administration that has failed to protect its students, to reform an obsolete system that has continuously compromised our safety and security.
Looking back at our past, it’s unreasonable to think suspensions and sexual assault seminars will alleviate the symptoms of Greek Life on campus. Looking ahead toward a new year, it’s time to consider the only viable option.
Abolishing Greek Life is the only method in ending a cyclical culture that has allowed the occurrence of such atrocities without the consequences of stricter punishment.
It’s a culture where sexual assault, violence and substance abuse have become such a commonality that it’s greeted with little surprise when it occurs.
Out of the 17 on-campus sexual assaults reported in 2014, seven were fraternity related. While the simple existence of Greek Life is not the sole cause of sexual assault on campus, it can’t be denied that Greek Life social events perpetuate sexual assaults that would otherwise not occur. Recent studies have shown fraternity men are three times more likely to sexually assault someone than their non-Greek peers and that sorority women are 74 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted. This is no exception at our school.
What’s even more shocking is it’s taken seven sexual assaults and a PR disaster for our fraternities to be held accountable and for there to be initiative for change.
Tyler Dabovich, communications senior and former member of Sigma Chi, said there is an overwhelming lack of administrative check on fraternities.
“I believe 100 percent, fraternities are going unchecked,” he said. “I think definitely our administration needs to take a finer look at the sexual assault issue in fraternities. Sexual assault is the worst thing you can do from a brotherhood standpoint. I know that there are certain secrets that go on amongst fraternities. If there’s a sexual assault happening, I guarantee that that’s not the only thing that’s going on.”
The secrecy of Greek Life has lead for public awareness of crimes involving fraternities and sororities to be stagnant. Last February, when Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother Thomas Reverend died from reasons still unknown, the coverage following was a testament to the lack of transparency within Greek organizations on campus. As former Daily Aztec staff member Luke Henning, said to Fox News, “they had a gag order on the entire Greek system, so they really couldn’t talk to us about it.”
The lack of transparency within the Greek system is the reason why crimes, such as sexual assault, have been allowed to run rampant on this campus. Perpetrated by the elitism and exclusivity that has divided this campus between class, gender and age, this lack of transparency within the Greek system has threatened the safety of students for decades.
In the 1980s, 29 members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity of SDSU were found guilty after a sorority pledge revealed she was raped by several men at a Pike party while brothers stood by and took pictures. It was also in the 1980s when Delta Sigma Phi was under investigation for secret two-way mirrors in its fraternity bathrooms.
Furthermore, throughout the 2000s seven fraternities were expelled or found guilty of hazing their pledges, reports ranging from alcohol abuse to physical abuse.
Delta Sigma Phi, one of the fraternities banned from campus in 2008, was found guilty after three of its pledges kidnapped a fraternity member, bound him with duct tape, force-fed him beer, stole his wallet and dropped him off on Mission Gorge Road. This was one of the two reported acts of secret violence that occurred over initiation week. Gabriel Ruiz, chapter president of Delta Sigma Phi at the time, said in an interview with U-T San Diego the kidnapping should have been “fun, not dangerous.”
Perhaps the most infamous moment in SDSU Greek Life culture came during the 2007-08 academic year, when Alpha Phi sister Jenny Poliakoff and Mira Mesa student Kurt Baker died of fraternity-related drug overdoses. Their deaths instigated the investigation leading to the well-remembered drug bust of 2008 called Operation Sudden Fall, which unveiled seven fraternities guilty of being involved in a mass drug ring.
Despite an investigation that exposed a secret system of $100,000 worth of drugs, including pounds of marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and prescription drugs, the issue of substance abuse within fraternities didn’t fade away.
In 2012, Sigma Alpha Epsilon president, Barzeen Barzanji was found dead from an overdose of Oxycodon and Xanax at a Phi Kappa Theta party.
To continue to keep Greek Life on our campus despite these recurring incidents of sexual violence, physical abuse and substance abuse is to say that we accept these deplorable acts of injustices as a necessary byproduct of the brotherhood and sisterhood of Greek Life on campus. Students are compromising their safety for the sake of the existence of current Greek Life.
No matter how proudly they brag about their brotherhoods, sisterhoods and philanthropies, the good aspects of Greek Life will never compensate for their destructive nature. It is a bigger threat than it is a contribution.
There have been too many victims in the face of a culture that deliberately facilitates this deviant and defiant behavior. They have eaten their cake and taken ours too.
It’s time to put an end to a culture that has clearly lost sight of its true essence, in turn bringing harm to this student body.
Be sure to check out Elpin Keshishzadeh’s opposing argument here.