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Campus frat culture in the spotlight

Wesleyan University orders fraternities to become co-ed; Clemson has suspended them
University Business, November 2014

Fraternities are in flux as institutions struggle to find a balance between maintaining tradition and keeping students safe.

Among recent developments, Wesleyan University in Connecticut ordered fraternities to become co-educational and Clemson University in South Carolina suspended its fraternities after a student’s death during an apparent hazing event.

Wesleyan’s decision was partially spurred by its student government association, which called for the campus’ three remaining all-male frats to become co-ed. A petition was presented to university President Michael Roth.

“There hasn’t been a ton of pushback from fraternity alumni,” says Kate Carlisle, Wesleyan’s manager of media and public relations.

One fraternity, Psi Upsilon, has already presented ideas for making the transition to Wesleyan’s dean of student affairs. There has been negative reaction from Delta Kappa Epsilon, which doesn’t recognize co-ed fraternities, Carlisle adds.

Wesleyan is striving for a truly equal campus with this move, she says. “What we’re hoping is that it brings us one step closer to enhanced inclusion on campus. Frats do some wonderful things, and their members value the associations they make, on campus and after graduation.”

But the loss of national recognition can lead to serious consequences for a fraternity’s structure and members.

“I am concerned that this change will remove the opportunity for both those alumni and international headquarter connections and leave a system connected only to the local university community,” says Mark P. Koepsell, executive director and CEO of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors.

This may unintentionally create an infrastructure lacking the positive influences that headquarters and alumni can be.

Koepsell commends Clemson’s decision to shut down frats for a review of its Greek culture and consequences, and he hopes both the positive and negative aspects of fraternity life are considered.

The need for change is being recognized by the nation’s frats. “Actively encouraging and promoting our students to better understand the dynamics of sexual assault and hazing is ... important,” he says. “Our more progressive organizations are including the topic in new member education programs as well as ongoing training and development for the active members of the organizations.”

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