Correction appended, March 27, 2015
It’s been a rough school year for fraternity bad-boy behavior.
A spate of high-profile incidents—and the swift response from national fraternity organizations and the universities themselves—suggest that the institutions responsible for these young men are becoming less inclined to say “boys will be boys.”
A video of members at the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter singing a racist chant went viral. Not long after, members of Penn State’s Kappa Delta Rho chapter were accused of sharing images of nude unconscious women on a Facebook page. And a notebook filled with racist and sexist slurs allegedly belonging to members of Pi Kappa Phi was found in a restaurant on campus at North Carolina State. The universities and national fraternities in charge of these men acted fast. SAE closed the University of Oklahoma chapter and two students were expelled, Penn State suspended the chapter in question and North Carolina State disbanded it all together.
But how can fraternities and universities prevent these problems in the first place? Here’s what experts told TIME.
Get rid of alcohol
When it comes to “going dry,” it’s easier for the national fraternities to make the change than it is for the host universities. In 1997, Phi Delta Theta announced plans to ban alcohol in every chapter house across the country by 2000. Skeptics said the move would hurt its ability to recruit new members. But the opposite has been true. Since the change, Phi Delta Theta has grown from 8,500 student members to over 12,000, according to Bob Biggs, the frat’s executive vice president. There have been other positive changes, too. The average GPA for members has gone from 2.7 to 3.1 and liability insurance costs have dropped by half, from $160 per person per year before 2000, to $80.
“We wanted to get out of the entertainment business and into the fraternity business,” Biggs said.
While private colleges can mostly make any policy they like, it can be more difficult for public universities to govern fraternities on campus. But it can happen. Colorado State University made changes to its alcohol policy at fraternities after 19-year-old sophomore Samantha Spady died of apparent alcohol-related causes at a fraternity house in 2004. Today, fraternity houses at Colorado State University are dry.
Bring in the adults
In most on-campus residential life, colleges typically have one staff member for every 15-20 students, according to Mark Koepsell, the executive director of the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors. But when it comes to Greek life, the ratio is one staff member to every 750 students.
The reason for this may be that many colleges don’t want to assume the liability that comes with fraternities. “There’s [variation] across the country between campuses that pull fraternal organizations close and those that put them at an arms length distance,” Koepsell said. “Campus attorneys are of the belief that an arms length distance is better for reducing liability. My personal opinion is that’s the environment where problems occur and it blows back on the university anyway and no one wins. The first advice: Pull them in close.”
Koepsell prefers models like the “Greek Village” at the University of South Carolina, where frat and sorority students live in University-sponsored housing, which comes with more supervision.
But it’s also possible for national fraternities to spend more money themselves to ensure better staffing in the houses. In 2000, Sigma Phi Epsilon began creating Residential Learning Communities through some of its chapters, which now exist at 40 of the 227 chapters across the country. As part of this program, some chapters have what is called a resident scholar, a graduate student who gets free room and board and a stipend or a scholarship to live at the fraternity house and provide some structure for the students.
Integrate or eliminate
Eliminating fraternities or allowing women to join is not an option at public universities where students have the First Amendment right to associate. But private schools have more leeway. Last year, Wesleyan ordered its fraternities to admit women. It is now facing a lawsuit from Delta Kappa Epsilon trying to block the move. The case is being closely watched.
Correction: The original version of this story misspelled the first Greek word in the fraternity chapter at North Carolina State. The correct fraternity is Pi Kappa Phi.
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