Staff Editorial: Expelling EI members does not end campus misconduct
The culture of hazing, drinking and misogyny reaches far beyond the underground fraternity
Imagine yourself joining a Greek organization. Imagine finding your brothers, your sisters or your closest of friends. Here, you’ve found the type of connection you grew up aching for when you went off to college. For at least one of the 18 students expelled last April, this is exactly what they loved about Epsilon Iota.
Since their 2001 disbandment, EI has existed as an underground fraternity. They moved off campus, purchased a house in the neighborhood and have operated much the same way as many legitimate fraternities do now. Year after year, they recruit new pledge classes, haze those pledges, throw a lot of parties and gain attention in doing it. For EI, however, they do so behind closed doors.
In 2014, the group scandalized the American University community. Leaked e-mails indicated a culture of drinking, partying and a tolerance for sexual assault. Shortly beforehand, members of the group assaulted a fellow student, ran him over and left him severely injured. Each year, the administration urges incoming freshmen not to trust EI. They warn students about the risks of their parties through constant e-mails, announcements, seminars and mandatory workshops.
Finally, the University took concrete action against EI members themselves. The University announced in August it had disciplined 19 students involved in the organization, citing the violation of a recent change to the Conduct Code that banned the presence of unrecognized groups on campus. The school made it known that involvement with the group will no longer be tolerated—an entire 16 years after the fact.
However, even legitimate, recognized and respected fraternities and sororities have long fostered a culture of drinking, partying and hazing. Often, fraternities line up rows of girls, point to the ones they want to take to their parties and caravan them there. Men are often turned away at the door if they arrive without a girl beside them. While The Eagle acknowledges the positive force Greek Life at AU can be for many, these disturbing realities cannot be overlooked.
Ultimately, the only difference is that EI was caught. Misogyny, sexual assault and hazing all hurt the reputation of Greek life at AU. More importantly, they put students at risk. There is currently at least one open Title IX investigation of how the University mishandled a student’s report of sexual assault that involved a Greek organization.
Yet, EI is only one cog in the machine that has pervaded the campus climate. The prevailing issue is not EI, it is not even Greek life at all. The same hinderance to Greek life can be seen in business fraternities, sports teams and even theater. There is a culture of hazing, misogyny and sexual assault at AU that has blistered the community for far too long.
This is not a Greek problem, it’s an American University problem. Epsilon Iota just so happens to have become its poster child. The Eagle staff believes this to be a dangerous oversight, and one that needs to be rectified.
The Eagle understands that it is easy for the administration to make EI the face of its culture of misconduct. After all, there is a history that precedes them— sexual assault, violence, hazing and mystery. But, their reputation as the University’s bad boys’ club distracts administrators from similar issues at play on the rest of the campus. Students are beaten over the head with messages from the administration that warn them specifically of EI, but little is ever talked about the impropriety that occurs elsewhere.
Until administrators definitively put an end to EI, however, they will continue to absorb the blame. Meanwhile, others will remain unscathed by the administration, despite engaging in much of the same unethical behavior that their counterparts are disciplined for. The Eagle staff believes this not only to be irresponsible on the part of the University, but also a proliferation of the culture that has developed on its campus.
When one group commits misconduct there are press releases and expulsions, but when a legitimate group commits the same violation it gets settled behind closed doors. The Eagle implores the University to recognize misconduct as misconduct, no matter where it occurs. Students should feel encouraged to report hazing, whether they are in Greek Life or in the locker room.
How the University will address its lingering culture of misconduct remains to be seen. In issues of student physical, sexual and emotional well-being, The Eagle is resolute in their defense. This is an issue that has long been misunderstood by the community at large, but now it is time for the administration to clear the air. This is not a battle against Epsilon Iota, nor is it against Greek life at all—this is, and always has been, a fight to restore the integrity of American University.
This story was originally published in the Oct. 20 print edition of The Eagle.