Fraternity leaders at the University of Kansas say they have developed plans to curb hazing and dangerous drinking practices in the Greek system.
Those plans were announced after the Interfraternity Council last month revoked a university-approved freeze to restrict social activities.
A new strategic initiative on "health, safety and wellness" will require fraternities to reform recruitment and pledging processes at the 24 IFC chapters. It will also require chapters to attend a yearly review meeting with university administrators.
"I'm just very excited," Phi Kappa Psi President Jonathan Shull said. "It feels like the first time that all the chapters are coming together and talking and sharing. I'm really excited for us to continue to share that dialogue for years and years to come."
Shull said fraternity representatives had already started developing the initiative before the week of March 12, when fraternities learned that a small group of fraternity leaders had voted to enact a social events freeze approved by the university.
Dismayed fraternity presidents formed an interim committee, swiftly suspended those leaders and later revoked the freeze under the grounds that it violated IFC bylaws. The four former IFC members who voted on it did not make a quorum, nor was the freeze approved at a General Assembly meeting for all fraternity leaders.
Instead, a statement released by a newly formed IFC board said it would propose new policies to make Greek life a safer and more positive experience. It also criticized the effectiveness a social freeze would have on preventing hazing.
"A temporary social freeze does not help curb hazing practices," Sigma Nu president Kyle Svoboda told The Star this week in an email. "The way to get rid of this hazing tradition is to educate members about ways to step in when hazing is occurring, the risks of hazing, and the benefits of being involved in a chapter that focuses on the values of their chapter — not hazing."
Svoboda, who served on the interim committee that helped finalize the initiative, said that sanctions against multiple houses for hazing and drinking investigations this semester prompted student leaders to re-evaluate.
One of the reasons the nine-member IFC board had dwindled to four is that several representatives were forced to step down as their houses underwent health and safety investigations.
"There were four IFC chapters at KU that at some point had a cease of operations, and it is safe to say that definitely kick-started this initiative," Svoboda said. "We realized that it was time to change this unhealthy lifestyle at KU."
In the initiative, the Interfraternity Council states it will commit to certain steps to "continue the process of removing hazing and its culture from our community while fostering a safe and healthy new member education process to our members."
According to Interfraternity Council documents, chapters will revise their current programs and plans for new members, or pledges, by the fall semester and share those with Sorority and Fraternity and Life staff as well as Interfraternity Council leaders.
Chapters will also undergo a similar review process for recruitment within their fraternity.
Leaders also plan to fill a Director of Leadership and Member Development position on the Interfraternity Council to advise and monitor new member activities in fraternities.
The initiative also requires all Interfraternity Council chapters to participate in substance abuse education, ban hard alcohol in all fraternity houses and limit the number of guests at fraternity parties and events.
"The Interfraternity Council and its member chapters acknowledge that substance and alcohol abuse are problems in our community," the initiative read. "We believe that these initiatives will be a great first step in addressing these issues and continuing to foster a community of health, safety and wellness for our members."
Details surrounding what new programs will look like will be determined by Sept. 1. The document did not provide information on how policies will be enforced.
"That's a tricky area," Shull said. "That's what we're hoping for with this open dialogue...more self-reporting."
In the wake of the IFC's revocation of the social activities freeze, KU Chancellor Doug Girod said the university would respect the IFC decision but called for fraternity leaders to engage in "honest introspection" as they developed their own initiatives.
Suspensions of fraternities, he had said, suggested "systemic" misconduct issues in fraternities.
"We challenge IFC to engage in a broad, multi-stakeholder process to identify measures to improve the fraternity experience and ensure the safety of our students," Girod said in a statement on March 16. "We look forward to being part of this process in the coming days, and we are prepared to convene other key stakeholders as well."
Shull said he thought that efforts to build a more collaborative culture between chapter houses, as well as a relationship with the university, would lead to solutions that could prevent KU's Greek system from making the headlines for negative reasons.
The council said its "next step" is to create a task force made up of university staff, administrators, local and national IFC alumni and advisers, as well as others.
"That's something we're going to work on," Shull said of the IFC's relationship with the university. "I'd be naive to see it's not a little unsteady but I"m hoping within the next few months, the next year, it will get better."