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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis Greek life urges members not to discuss alleged sexual assault

Published: February 1, 2013
Section: Front Page, News

With allegations of sexual assault at a Dartmouth Street party under investigation by the Waltham Police Department, leaders of Brandeis University’s unrecognized Greek life organizations urged members to refrain from discussing the incident in order to protect their reputations.

Police confirmed their investigation of allegations at a party during the weekend of Jan. 18-20. “There is an ongoing investigation at this time,” Detective Brian Smith of the Waltham Police Department said Wednesday, declining to comment further.

Officers from the organizations Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) and the Greek Awareness Council (GAC), comprised of Brandeis students, wrote an email to all Greek life members on Jan. 24, explaining the incident and their immediate response. Following the allegations, ZBT suspended the accused member indefinitely, terminated all formal rush events and will organize educational workshops this semester, according to the email obtained by The Hoot.

“If you do not read this entire email, the most important thing to take away from this is that we should not be talking about this. The details do not matter,” the GAC officer wrote. “We must stand by ZBT through this, and that means not discussing the situation … I intend to do everything in my power to preserve the reputation that ZBT has worked so hard to build, and the reputation of Brandeis Greek life as a whole.”

University officials and senior leaders from the Greek organizations declined to comment for this story.

In a message to Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer and Associate Dean Maggie Balch, included in the Jan. 24 email, the GAC officer expressed concern for the reputation of Greek life at Brandeis.

“My top priority is to maintain the reputation of the Greek organizations that Brandeis students have chosen to join, as well as to show that the trust the administration and student body have put in our self-regulation is well-deserved,” the officer wrote.

Nearly 10 percent of undergraduate students belong to unrecognized fraternities or sororities. A 1988 Board of Trustees Resolution prohibits the university from recognizing such organizations, stating, “Exclusive or secret societies are inconsistent with the principles of openness to which the University is committed. Therefore, social fraternities and sororities, in particular, are neither recognized nor permitted to hold activities on campus or use University facilities.”

The GAC officer sent the email to be forwarded to members of all Greek organizations, through a university listserv approved by LTS.

A senior member of ZBT’s leadership voiced serious concern about the charges but also urged students not to discuss them.

“ZBT has always been an organization that has emphasized personal integrity and has always been especially conscious of its image. Given this, allegations of this nature are appalling to every brother of this chapter,” the ZBT officer wrote. “However, despite whatever personal opinions anyone has surrounding the events, I STRONGLY suggest that all members of the Greek community refrain from discussing the situation, particularly in public.”

The email also advised students with further concerns to contact the officers, the Dean’s Office, the campus club, Students Talking About Relationships (STAR) or the Brandeis Counseling and Rape Crisis Hotline.

During the past three years, sexual assault gathered significant attention at colleges and universities, including at Brandeis.

In April 2011, the Department of Education sent a new guidance letter, reminding school administrators of their obligations to comply with Title IX.

One of the most important requirements is the obligation for universities to conduct internal investigations when they hear of sexual assault or harassment, separate from any law enforcement investigation. University policies shifted to a lesser burden of proof for cases of sexual assault heard before the student conduct board. Like many other universities, prior to the 2011 guidance, Brandeis used a “clear and convincing standard” as opposed to a “preponderance of the evidence standard” required by Title IX and currently in use.

At nearly the same time as the evidence standard was changed, the Brandeis student conduct board heard this case—a female undergraduate student alleging she was raped by a Heller School student at their off-campus apartment nearly a dozen times between October 2010 and January 2011. The Hoot reported that story in April 2012, including claims that the university sought to protect its image and remained fearful of lawsuits, rather than prioritizing her safety.

The male student was found responsible for nine of 11 code violations in Rights and Responsibilities, including section 3.1, which prohibits sexual contact without consent and an appeals committee later upheld the board’s ruling, but prosecutors at the District Attorney’s office decided not to charge him.

Last August, following the 2011 guidance, Brandeis adopted a separate grievance process for cases of sexual misconduct. Under the new process, unlike other violations of Rights and Responsibilities that appear before the student conduct board, the special examiner will investigate sexual assault and harassment cases and the dean of student life will render the final decision for the outcome of the case.