Government & Politics

Amid Mizzou fraternity closings, a new advisory council mulls Greek life changes

In late January, a group of individuals packed into a large board room at the University of Missouri's Student Center to talk about saving Greek life.

Three months before, a Dyad Strategies report had highlighted pervasive risks associated with Mizzou's Greek system — from hazing and the overconsumption of alcohol to a fractured relationship between the university and Greek students that dated back years.

Now, almost 30 people — Greek student leaders, as well as faculty, alumni, parents, university officials, national organization representatives and fraternity and sorority experts — had been assembled by Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Gary Ward to discuss how to make Greek life safer and more equitable, not marked by danger and dysfunction.

In addition to other tasks, Ward's newly formed council will recommend changes that aim to mitigate hazing and drinking practices that have become associated with Greek life at a time of national reckoning for American fraternities, some of which have been shut down by national organizations and subject to scrutiny in the wake of high-profile death of fraternity members across the country.

At the University of Missouri, three fraternities — Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and FarmHouse — have been closed by their national organizations during the 2017-18 school year for hazing and drinking violations, and several others are currently under investigation for similar infractions.

"What Mizzou is doing right now is in step with what everyone else in the country is doing," said Mizzou Dean of Students Jeffrey Zeilenga, whom Ward tapped to chair the council. "We jumped into this at the same time as most other major institutions that have decided, 'We have to do things differently.'"

Just how differently will be determined by the new Fraternity and Sorority Advisory Council, which includes representatives from the university's four Greek organizations, the Interfraternity Council, the Multicultural Greek Council, the National Pan-Hellenic Council the and Panhellenic Association, by the end of the semester.

The Mizzou process is collaborative by design, school officials have said, and an effort to create buy-in around what recommendations made in the Dyad Strategies report should be implemented at Mizzou.

"We have really good people in all of our work groups that will spend a lot of time discussing and vetting the pros, the cons, as well as the alternatives that we should be considering," Zeilenga told The Star earlier this year.

Already, the university has made headway on some recommendations.

Staff at what was once the university's Office of Greek Life, now called the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life, has doubled from two employees to four, Zeilenga said.

A community scorecard will soon make chapter GPAs, as well as violation history, easily accessible to the public.

The scorecard, which is unfinished but posted to the university's website earlier this month, will be completed this semester by Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life staff and shared with the advisory board.

"As a parent or a prospective student you could make a determination on the fraternities or sororities that you want to be a part of as a result of what is reported on the scorecard," Zeilenga said. "It's in your best interests to have no violations and a real outstanding GPA."

But bigger changes are yet to come, and the recommendations with the most potential to be controversial will be made before the end of the semester.

The council's five work groups will ultimately recommend solutions to issues that consultants determined were particularly important in addressing when it comes to reforming Mizzou's Greek system, particularly within the fraternities governed by the Interfraternity Council.

Those issues include hazing, diversity and inclusion, risky social practices, academics and recruitment and the issue of whether freshmen members should be permitted to live in chapter houses.

The issue of freshmen living in houses is likely to be a sticking point for those following discussions about the feasibility of gradually implementing a policy that would require all or some freshmen to live out of chapter housing.

Supporters of such a policy say students are exposed to university programming and freshmen learning communities when living in campus housing, often perform better academically and avoid exposure to hazing and health issues found in some chapter houses.

But opponents of the policy often point to strong GPAs, in-house relationships and chapter resources as reasons to support freshmen living in chapter houses, which are not owned by the university. Some have also decried the economic impact that removing freshmen from chapter houses would have on alumni, students and housing corporation presidents.

"This work group should prepare a report outlining an implementation plan prioritizing the safety and well-being of students and the health of our fraternity/sorority chapters, but should also consider the financial implications and put forward a plan that minimizes the risk of any adverse financial impact on fraternity/sorority chapters or housing corporations," instructions in a university document describing the tasks of the council's work groups said.

Consultant Gentry McCreary, one of two professionals who conducted the Dyad Strategies report and is currently serving as an adviser on the council, said the council will likely convene in April before making recommendations in May.

"The purpose of this council and the work groups are to build some consensus on the plan moving forward and to ensure that we have buy in from the undergraduates and the alumni," McCreary said. "Its an effort to get everyone on the same page moving forward."