College Judicial Consultants

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(Un?)Intentional Bias Against Greek Organizations–Iowa Edition

There was an article in the Des Moines Register that discusses the higher rates of arrest among Greek students than their non-Greek counterparts that was essentially a reprint of an article published in the Iowa Press Citizen.  There are so many things wrong with the articles that I’m just going to choose a few. As a preface I want to remind you that I am not now, nor have I ever, said that Greek organizations are innocent of all wrongdoing and are framed.  I understand that Greeks, on average, tend to have higher rates of binge drinking and other behaviors.  As I said in an earlier post about the systemic bias against Greeks, the problem is that the police, administrators, and people who assess these behaviors go into their interactions with Greeks expecting a particular result.  That being said, here are some problems with these articles:

1.  The assumption that arrest percentages correlate to a proportional increase in illegal behavior.  Let’s look at the Greek men versus non-Greek men.  According to the article in 2010-2011 fraternity men had an arrest rate of 15.1% and non-Greek men had an arrest rate of 8.5%.  (I’m going to make an assumption that most of these “arrests” are alcohol-related for things like underage possession, public intoxication, open containers, and the like.  I can’t believe that Iowa students are committing more serious crimes at the rate of 1 in 10 male student, and these types of arrests are the ones I’m most familiar with on a campus.) On the surface this seems like a lot, but how are these arrests (most likely citations, by the way) made?  When the police appear at a fraternity party do they ID everyone and cite anyone who is over the limit, underage, etc? Or are these singular arrests of students they stumble upon?  I will bet $100 that these arrests/citations are done in masse which means that every time they show up at something they’re making dozens of arrests/citations? This matters because I can guarantee you that the police are not walking the floors of residence halls on Thursday-Saturday nights.  I may be wrong, but I’ll bet the 8.5% of non-Greek arrests are done in small numbers (1-3 students at a time) and the 15.1% are done in larger numbers.  This would mean that the incidents are not dissimilar.  I could be completely wrong, but there is NOTHING in the data that lets me know either way.

2.  The use of the word “frat” makes it clear that the author is not Greek.  This doesn’t really matter, but it does make it more likely than not that comments that seem anti-Greek are at least carelessly so.

3.  Arrests happen where the police are.  This is a version of the argument explaining the arrest rates in urban/minority areas so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it essentially says that there is an underlying bias against minorities and the urban poor that makes police in those areas more likely to arrest the people living there.  I think the same is true for Greeks, especially those with fraternity houses outside the school grounds. If you are part of a city or town where the college is a large part of the population, there is often an “us and them” feeling that develops among the non-college population.  For those people nothing expresses the privilege and difference of college students like fraternity houses with neighbors frequently calling the police on anything that is outside the “norms” of the neighborhood.  If you have 30-60 students living in a house, almost everything they do will be outside those norms.  I would ask how many calls to fraternity and sorority houses the police receive, what their patrol patterns are, what their protocols are when the find something in a fraternity/sorority house (as opposed to when something happens in a residence hall) and other questions to give the arrests some context.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll bet you find at least a corresponding 2:1 rate of normal patrols and dispatched calls.

4.  Shame on the University of Iowa (and other schools) for not protecting their students better.  Again, without knowing the actual reasons for the arrests/citations this is conjecture, but it makes me furious when a school allows arrests/citations to be given for drunk in public and underage drinking without fighting the town on those arrests.  An 8.5% arrest rate is ABSURD.  I am all for arresting all students (or anyone) who drives drunk, vandalizes, or commits other crimes where there is either a victim or it is so reckless that a third party-injury is likely.  I also refuse to believe that most of the arrests fall into that category.  So what you have is a police force targeting students for the sole purpose of raising revenue, and the schools allow it.  In fact, “town/gown” relations (the relationship between the school and the local community) almost always has the school apologizing rather than standing up for the students.  I’ve seen it at other schools, but what this type of police profiling does is increase drunk driving (because it’s easier to get away with than walking home), decrease the number of students returning to the safety of their homes (because if you stay indoors, you are less likely to get caught), and other actions that actually decrease student safety.  The solution is not to demand fewer arrests by the students, but to demand that the police treat students the way they treat the rest of the population.  Have the police stop people leaving restaurants and bars, or leaving dinner parties, and watch how quickly the public outrage changes their behavior.

So what can you, as a student government/organization, do?  There are several things:

1.  Organize a week-long boycott of local business.  Remind the city of the benefit students bring to the community and make it clear that the boycott is due to police profiling.  You need to engage the community and get them in the fight because your school won’t do it alone.

2.  Each student should challenge any judicial action resulting from the arrest/citation.  I do not know what action Iowa takes, but I’m willing to bet that there is a protocol that comes into play every time they get a report.  The school is not equipped to handle 8.5-15% of the population demanding a hearing.  Tax the system and maybe you can highlight the injustice to members of the administration who can do something.

3.  Represent yourselves in court and fight EVERY citation.  This is similar to 2, but the impact will be to the courts and the police force.  Most police either can’t attend court or get overtime for doing so.  Make them come.

We would love to help the students in the Iowa Greek community or The University of Iowa Student government develop a system to fight this on behalf of the students.  We can come train a group of you to be advocates, we can represent every student cited for a very reduced rate, or work together to find ways to bring this to a stop.  Get in touch, whether you are at Iowa, Arkansas, or any other school, and let’s see what we can do. Nobody will fight harder for you than you fight for yourselves.  Let me show you how.

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