When University of Maryland student Deirdre Kelly joined the Delta Gamma sorority, she was excited to be part of a community of women she might not have otherwise met on the campus — but she didn’t foresee some of the tough conversations she’d have with her fellow members about sexual assault.
“You think, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to happen to me,’” said Kelly, a freshman government and politics major. “Then you start talking to people … where something has happened to them, and you’re like, ‘Wait.’”
Kelly said she valued and learned from the discussions she had at sexual assault prevention events. But she was shocked to learn that the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life requires fraternity and sorority chapters to have just 35 percent of their members attend one such event each year.
Lola Taiwo, DFSL’s sexual assault and violence prevention coordinator, said the requirement is set at below half attendance to accommodate members’ schedules and set a bare minimum for one event.
Chapters self-report their attendance data to DFSL. If they don’t reach the threshold, they’re considered not to be in good standing with the department, which could lead to probation or other consequences.
DFSL Director Matthew Supple said the department is trying to set standards for what would warrant closing a chapter.
“[When] are we willing to say, ‘This is a deal-breaker, you can’t be active on our campus’?” he said.
The goal is for all members of the chapter to attend a sexual assault prevention event throughout the year, but DFSL doesn’t require that.
“The onus is on the chapter to really make sure they’re doing what they need to do,” Taiwo said. “Our job isn’t to monitor the individual.”
With most groups, Taiwo added, the 35 percent requirement is “enough to permeate their culture.”
“My new member class was 50 girls, and there are 100-plus girls in our sorority. Thirty-five isn’t a large amount of them, and for some people, it may not really resonate what the message is unless you’re all there,” she said. “You don’t really think about it until you’re there and someone is telling you the facts.”
Some Greek life groups are taking it upon themselves to make sexual assault prevention a focus of their chapter.
Members of the Chi Phi fraternity guide all new members through the “Ten-Man Plan,” a nine-week program created by DFSL and CARE to Stop Violence, where new members meet weekly to discuss issues such as bystander intervention, healthy relationships and sexual assault prevention.
While some chapters are taking these extra steps, students say there are plenty of chapters that are not.
Lizzie Mafrici, vice president of the student group Preventing Sexual Assault, said it can be difficult for DFSL to regulate chapters when there are such varying levels of enthusiasm about attending these events.
“There are some chapters who have been able to pass the expectations and take things seriously … but it’s also sad that some chapters still struggle to get 35 percent of their members there,” said Mafrici, a sophomore women’s studies and public policy major.
This university’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct declined to comment on the requirements.
Taiwo said she worries DFSL micromanaging attendance policies would take leadership opportunities away from the chapters.
And with a stricter attendance requirement, smaller chapters — such as those with 10 or fewer members — might not even try to meet it, Taiwo said.
After going through the Chi Phi training, Brandon Tsou said he noticed a lot more offensive conduct, especially when he was out at bars.
“Going through TMP opens up your eyes a lot,” said Tsou, a junior aerospace engineering major.
Sexual assault prevention programming became mandatory part of chapter expectations in 2015, along with hazing prevention, alcohol and drug education and diversity and inclusion required programs, Supple said.
Since 2008, the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association have required 20 percent of members to attend sexual assault prevention programs during Homecoming and Greek Week matchups, he added.
Fraternity and sorority members are required to engage in additional training, on top of what is required of all incoming students at this university, because they are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of sexual assault, according to a report from the the University of Maryland Sexual Assault Prevention Task Force.
A 2009 study from Jacqueline Chevalier Minow and Christopher Einolf found that women in sororities were four times as likely as non-sorority members to report sexual assaults.
Brandon Ferrell, a Chi Phi member, said mandating attendance at these events would get people involved who may not think they need to be educated on the issue.
He said there’s a prevalent attitude among fraternity members of, “I’m a good person, I don’t need the training,” which can inhibit them from learning valuable lessons about preventing sexual assault.
“A lot of stuff, you just wouldn’t think about without going through [training],” said Ferrell, a junior computer science major.
Rachel Colonomos, president of PSA, has also seen how influential that training can be through coordinating countless sexual assault prevention events in her capacity. She called the attendance requirement “unacceptable.”
“We know firsthand the impact that these prevention events and activities can have on students who may not have even know what sexual assault was before them,” Colonomos, a senior hearing and speech sciences major, wrote in an email. “[W]e sincerely believe that they should be mandatory for all students in Greek Life to attend more than once.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the “Ten-Man Plan” is a 10-week program created by CARE to Stop Violence. It is a nine-week plan that was created by CARE and the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life. This story has been updated.