As the beginning of the semester has seen one fraternity dissolve and several others sanctioned with either social probation, interim suspension, or other unofficial measures, rumors have been swirling around campus that these actions are part of a larger effort by the University to rid the campus of Greek life. The Bucknellian sat down with University President John Bravman in an effort to either confirm or dispel these rumors.
“There’s no extant or anticipated, organized push by this University to attack or diminish Greek life. That is absolutely, categorically untrue,” Bravman said. He pointed out that, barring social probation, only one organization was actually disbanded and that the timing of the other sanctions was purely coincidental.
Bravman lamented the way in which rumors of this nature spread, stating that “rumor-mongering is endemic in the Greek community” and that it “feeds into the notion that ‘they’re out to get us.’ Sometimes gossip is based in truth, but it is almost always at least grossly inflated and often dead wrong.”
“Contrary to those rumors, our team in Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, along with colleagues across Student Affairs and the University, are here to support fraternity and sorority life on campus, with the safety and well-being of our students being our number one priority,” Director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Matt Ferguson added.
Aside from rumor-mongering, Bravman expressed other concerns surrounding Greek life at the University, namely sexual assault, hazing, and death. He affirmed that he has been very public in stating that these issues are not solely attributed to the Greek community, but unfortunately these organizations bear most of the burden. While the President sees the value and importance of the Greek system on campus, he argues that its dominance is actually one of its pitfalls. He believes that a “real uptake of alternative social outlets that are not Greek-related” would benefit everyone, including the Greek system.
Bravman also addressed the issue of balancing individual and group accountability. While he asserted that the administration tries to primarily look for individual accountability, the focus may shift if there is an observable pattern of individual behaviors that points to a larger cultural issue within an organization, particularly issues that involve “danger to life and limb” and “existing policies and agreements that govern such organizations.”
However, Bravman also believes that most problems within an organization stem from a minority of the membership.
“Organizations have to be honest with themselves in identifying and rooting out the source of the trouble, and that will go a long way. And I know that’s hard; that takes guts and leadership,” Bravman said.
Another concern of Bravman’s that has recently increased in intensity is the heightening stratification between Greek organizations based on perceived desirability of membership. Bravman cited the marked increase in women withdrawing from the sorority recruitment process and the decrease in men receiving bids for fraternities as evidence of this disparity between organizations.
Despite his concerns, the President recognizes the value of Greek life at the University. Acknowledging the difficulty in claiming with certainty what each individual faculty member thinks, Bravman stated that the “the vocal fraction of faculty I hear from are typically very anti-Greek.”
In a demonstration of their concerns and angst about Greek life, there was a substantial amount of faculty votes to shut down the Greek system in 1989, but the Board of Trustees would not allow it. The board has no interest in doing away with Greek life, viewing it as both a tradition and an important part of the education of a large portion of the student body. Yet, they remain concerned with how these organizations affect student health and welfare as well as the University’s reputation and liability.
In light of two recent and nearby tragic events, the alcohol-related deaths of Timothy Piazza at Pennsylvania State University and McCrae Williams at Lafayette College, it is natural to assume that the University is feeling pressure from a national perspective to repress the prominence of Greek life on campus. Bravman disputes this assumption.
“I don’t feel any pressure from the increased national attention on these issues because I truly do care about our students, and my number one job is to protect them and therefore to protect the University…Paramount to all that we do here is the safety and security of our students, and I feel the weight of that responsibility regardless of what happens at other institutions. Those situations are tragic, but neither I nor my staff need external influences to remind us of the gravity of the situation,” Bravman said.
Nonetheless, these tragedies have increased Bravman’s cognizance of the five or six students who have nearly died during his tenure.
“It’s shocking to read the minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour tale at Penn State. Lest anyone think that [the University] is immune to such a situation, there are parts of that tragedy that are strikingly similar to situations we’ve experienced here,” Bravman said.
Bravman delivered a welcome address at the University’s Family Weekend on Sept. 22 in which he declared that he would begin to get more personally involved in issues facing the Greek community; however, he holds that the fate of Greek life at the University ultimately falls into the hands of the students. Ferguson echoed this sentiment.
“Whether it’s the University or an internal process, the students in any given organization — Greek or otherwise — bear accountability; this is ultimately in their hands. And our fraternity and sorority leaders have to recognize that important fact,” Ferguson said.