A Penn State fraternity will be shut down for at least three years following a months-long university investigation that found significant evidence of sexual misconduct and harassment among its members. According to university officials, the brothers in Kappa Delta Rho have promoted a “persistent climate of humiliation” for women.
Penn State’s chapter of Kappa Delta Rho made national headlines this past March, when police uncovered several private Facebook groups that fraternity brothers were using to collect and publish photos of naked women who appeared to be sleeping, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated.
According to authorities, about 150 current and former members of Kappa Delta Rho had access to the photos, which were posted without the women’s consent. After one of the woman found out her photo had been published to the first Facebook group, the brothers simply started a second one.
When news broke about the Facebook photos, Penn State’s Interfraternity Council (IFC), which oversees Greek organizations on campus, temporarily suspended the chapter. After launching its own investigation into the incident, the IFC ultimately concluded that Kappa Delta Rho shouldn’t be stripped of its official recognition as a student group. IFC officials recommended that the brothers should be required to take steps to “change the culture of the fraternity” through sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention training.
But this week, Penn State’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Damon Sims, overrode that decision. Pointing out that “the sum of the organizational misbehaviors is far more than the University can tolerate from a student organization that seeks its imprimatur,” Sims delivered a much harsher punishment than the IFC recommended and shut down the fraternity for next several years.
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers confirmed that the frat will essentially no longer be allowed to operate on campus. Powers told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they won’t be allowed to participate in any activities as a group, they won’t be allowed to wear their Greek letters, and they may not mingle with other Greek organizations.
The university has not made its investigative report public, but Sims says that Penn State uncovered evidence of hazing and harassment at Kappa Delta Rho, including instances of members forcing pledges to run errands, clean the frat house, and participate in boxing matches. Pledges also were also required to use pornographic images to create stories about the “sex position of the day.” Members, meanwhile, regularly posted embarrassing photos of women to their Facebook pages, used demeaning language to describe women, and persistently harassed two women.
“The investigative report makes clear that some members of the KDR chapter promoted a culture of harassing behavior and degradation of women. These are not acceptable actions within a student organization that is recognized and supported by Penn State,” Sims said in a statement. “We must respond accordingly, and we hope by doing so it is clearly understood that our University will not tolerate such actions.”
In response to Sims’ decision, Penn State President Eric Barron said his university is “making a very strong statement about sexual harassment and sexual assault” and he is “not going to go back on that stance that we’re taking.”
The conflict between Penn State officials and the university’s IFC highlights a larger debate about how to properly spur reform within the Greek system, whose members have increasingly come under fire for bad behavior like hazing pledges, abusing drugs, sexually assaulting women, and displaying casual racism and misogyny.
Fraternities maintain that they should be allowed to work on reforming their culture from the inside. Members of national Greek organizations have recently been making more of an effort to talk to their members about sexual assault and consent, hoping to do their part to address the campus rape crisis by reframing misogynistic attitudes as unacceptable.
However, particularly considering the evidence that fraternity brothers are statistically more likely to perpetrate sexual assault, some critics argue that harsher punishments are in order — suggesting that campus environments perhaps won’t be safe until Greek life is disbanded altogether.
Stripping fraternities of their officials recognition doesn’t always put an end to the controversies in this area. Last year, an unrecognized frat at American University that’s technically not allowed to operate on campus sparked national backlash after some of their email exchanges were published. The emails revealed ongoing discussions about rape, assault, underage drinking, and drug abuse among the underground frat brothers, as well as conversations about how best to conceal this behavior.