Greek Case Study: How to Stop One Member’s Misconduct from Defining Your Fraternity or Sorority
[NOTE: All names and identifying information has been changed to protect the privacy of the students involved. Any relation to a case you may know is purely coincidental.]
Johnny is a junior at a competitive school and a member of a popular fraternity with a physical house. While responding to a noise complaint at the fraternity, the school’s police smelled the strong aroma of marijuana coming from the house. They are allowed in and locate the smell coming from Johnny’s room. They knock, Johnny opens the door, and there are 2 bongs going, scales, baggies, and a half-pound of marijuana. Because the police want to cut Johnny a break they do not arrest him, but they do refer him to judicial affairs for possession, intent to sell, and other charges. Judicial Affairs also refers the case to the Interfraternity Council Judicial Board to address the potential fraternity misconduct.
Johnny is found responsible at the judicial hearing and suspended for a year. At the hearing he reveals that he was dealing, but only to people he knew like his brothers and other friends. Since smoking marijuana is only a citation in the state he figured he could make a little money, smoke for free, and that it wasn’t a big deal. That information is shared with the IFC.
At the IFC hearing, the fraternity says that they “did not know” Johnny was dealing, and that they would never have allowed it in the house if they did. They admit that they knew Johnny smoked, but claim that no other brothers smoke and that they too did not think it was a big deal since “it isn’t against the law or anything.” They admit that they should have stopped Johnny from smoking, but deny responsibility for everything else. They are found responsible for dealing and suspended for 3 years.
So what happened? What could the fraternity have done to prevent the hearing, or failing that, have a much lower sanction? (I’m assuming you know if you deal drugs you risk getting kicked off campus/arrested, and that you’re smart enough not to do it so this is about the fraternity.)
The fraternity did not get in trouble because Johnny was dealing (or even smoking in the house.) The fraternity got in trouble because they did not stop Johnny and thus let Johnny define them. In other words, by allowing Johnny to continue doing whatever he was doing in the house they endorsed the behavior, making that behavior part of the chapter’s culture. Not intervening when a brother/sister does something against the rules or values of the organizations dos not mean you are passively allowing something, it means you are actively embracing that behavior.
When a single member or a small group “go rogue,” you are expected to put a stop to it, and will be held accountable if you don’t. While you can’t stop someone from acting like a donkey, you must stop them from feeling supported or comfortable doing so until the behavior stops OR they leave the fraternity/sorority. When I work with fraternities or sororities I recommend some ways of dealing with this with different levels of severity, but it important that you address it (and move through the options) quickly:
- Have the President, VP, Standards Chair, or Risk Manager (i.e. whomever the chapter agreed should address member misconduct informally) talk to the brother/sister and get them to stop immediately and get it out of your house. This will usually be enough, but if it isn’t;
- Have an active and effective judicial committee in place to give a formal mandate and sanction. Most chapters I know have someone with a title like “Judicial Chair,” but almost none of them have an active and trained judicial body to address misconduct and keep it in house. Not having one is a huge mistake not only because it is a very useful tool to uphold the values of your chapter, but also because demonstrating the ability to and history of dealing with internal issues will help you if your organization ever gets in trouble. If, after getting the sanction the behavior still does not stop;
- Notify your chapter advisor (if that person is unaffiliated with the University) and have him/her speak to the student. This is the “last chance” discussion that should work, but if it doesn’t;
- Notify the Greek life office that you have a brother/sister doing something harmful, that you’ve tried to make them stop, and he/she won’t listen. You may still have some accountability for that person’s actions anyway, but I guarantee it will be much less than if you get caught and haven’t dealt with it effectively.
I know it may seem harsh to “offer up” a brother/sister, but when they stop acting like one you can stop treating them like one, and by this point you have given him/her/them plenty of opportunities to change.
When you do not address and correct the behavior of one of more members of your chapter, you should assume you will become known for that behavior. While the necessary conversations to fix that behavior may be uncomfortable, difficult, and hostile, it is a lot easier than proving that the worst of you do not define you.
Do you have any difficult members putting you at risk? Let me know about them in the comments or at DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com!