Special faculty senate meeting serves as forum for discussion on revisions to Greek Life Task Force report

Josh Hamburger

Student leaders presented a set of revised recommendations about the future of Greek Life to members of the Faculty Senate and administrators this evening, in response to the Greek Life Task Force report released in January.

The Faculty Senate’s Greek Life Task Force released a final report containing recommendations for the future of Vanderbilt Greek Life several months ago. The Task Force had spent two years drafting the report and consulting with Greek leaders and other stakeholders. Its recommendations included setting stricter limits on  the number of hours spent on pledging, installing Area Coordinators, Graduate Resident Advisers and Faculty Fellows for Greek houses, and the elimination of Greek housing altogether upon completion of the College Halls residential education project.

The report caused a stir among members of Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG) and Greek student leaders upon its release. For example, students criticized a perceived lack of student involvement in the creation of the report, and some said parts of the report were inapplicable to National Pan-Hellenic (NPHC) organizations.

While Faculty Senate meetings are usually closed, Faculty Senate chair Richard Willis called a special Senate meeting tonight with Greek and university leaders to discuss the report in detail.

Leaders in VSG and the three Greek Councils — NPHC, Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Panhellenic Council (Panhel) — were asked to formulate questions and concerns to share with faculty senators. Willis called the meeting an “unprecedented step,” aiming to bring together stakeholders in the community to tackle complex questions surrounding the future of Greek life.

Many high-level administrators, including Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, Dean of Students Mark Bandas, Chief Diversity Officer George Hill and Provost Susan Wente, attended the special Senate session. Director of Greek Life Kristin Torrey was also in attendance.

President of NPHC Mwamba Rebecca Mvula provided an overview highlighting the accomplishments of the Greek community on campus. Then, Greek student leaders presented revised recommendations to what was in the report. Many of the revised recommendations focused on enhancing existing initiatives within Greek Life. The revisions proposed at the special meeting were organized according to each of the main areas identified in the report as needing to be improved.

Inclusion

Regarding the priority of inclusion, outgoing IFC president Kevin Groll highlighted the IFC Inclusivity Agreement, passed in 2014, which launched the Greek Allies program. Groll said the Greek Allies program should be expanded to all three Greek councils, along with increased ties between Greek Life and the Office of Intercultural Initiatives and Cultural Competence and the chancellor’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. He also highlighted Panhel’s Inclusivity Task Force.

The final report also recommended measures to increase the affordability of Greek Life. Groll said that current financial assistance offered to members sometimes doesn’t cover the full cost of membership, like t-shirts or trips taken over breaks.

“We are pushing for a comprehensive cost assessment to be shared with prospective members,” Groll said. He said he’s gathering information about what Greek Life actually costs members, on top of dues.

Groll also mentioned Experience Vanderbilt, which will help some students pay for Greek Life (along with other extracurricular activities) starting in fall 2016. He added that Greek organizations should be able to set up fundraising campaigns for Experience Vanderbilt to help members of their chapters — a possibility that the initial report ruled out.

“Greek alumni have been very generous and loyal in giving back to this university,” Groll said. “We think we can open up and make Greek Life more accessible by opening up this fundraising campaign.”

Accountability

Incoming Panhel president Victoria Potter said that student leaders agreed with the Task Force’s recommendation to install more graduate resident assistants on Greek Row. Instead of presidents being trained as resident advisers (RAs) as the Task Force suggests, Potter said it makes more sense for Greek House Managers to go through that training. She also highlighted the existing Greek on-duty Area Coordinator, the Office of Student Accountability, the IFC Judicial Team and standards boards.

Potter also advocated for the hiring of a third program coordinator in the Office of Greek Life so that there is one to serve each council.

Mission for residential life

Outgoing speaker of the VSG Senate Jackson Vaught addressed the Task Force’s suggestion that Greek Life be aligned with the university’s overall mission for residential life. Vaught said that while the Task Force recommended the requirement of only third-years and higher living in Greek housing, that was already the case for the majority of chapters. Vaught asked only that there be flexibility for special circumstances in applying that recommendation, such as for small or new organizations that don’t have any upperclassman members.

Vaught also said that eventually making the Greek houses nonresidential could pose a financial problem for chapters.

“When you’re a student that lives inside a Greek house, you pay housing dues like every other student. That money goes into a funding pool for upkeep of the house, to keep the houses functioning as they should. However, if you don’t have students living in the house, where does that $60,000 come from?” Vaught said. “You’re looking at an almost doubling of the dues for IFC men to keep their houses up and running.”

He added this would inhibit efforts to make Greek Life more accessible, and recommended the alternative of Greek Life to be “a part” of the College Halls program, possibly with Greek houses being their own College Hall. Vaught also advocated for increased Greek engagement with The Commons, such as Greek presidents reading the summer Commons reading.

Purposive programming

Mvula addressed the Task Force’s “purposive programming” goal by demonstrating the results of the Greek Member Experience program, instituted this year, that requires Greek members to fulfill different tracks by participating in various campus events.

“It allows students to explore events that they wouldn’t normally attend. That is one of the greatest benefits I’ve seen from this new program,” she said.

Mvula added that the revised recommendation include increased engagement with faculty, but said that student leaders want to make sure that faculty are accessible resources for all students, not just Greeks.

Regarding New Member Education (NME), Mvula said that NME practices vary widely among  NPHC chapters and are often designated by national organizations, so the Task Force’s recommendation of a maximum of 20 NME hours could be problematic.

Instead, the revised recommendation said that the Office of Greek Life and chapter and national leaders and advisers should work together to balance an appropriate time commitment for NME. She also mentioned an IFC new member reform committee that’s already tasked with finding ways to shorten education time and make it more worthwhile.

Discussion

Questions from faculty and administrators in the audience ranged from specifics on engagement with the Commons to the practical challenges of making Greek housing part of the College Hall system.

When one faculty member asked about the possibility of sophomore rush, Groll already had a prepared slide to field the question.

“I went and looked at the other universities that I would consider our peer institutions,” Groll said. “We do (recruitment) at the same time or later than our peer institutions, with the exceptions of Dartmouth…and they have many problems using that system.” Other students added that sophomore rush could increase anxiety among students, harming their mental health.

Brian Heuser, a professor in Peabody and a member of the Task Force subcommittee that handled the data that informed the report, said that he was impressed by Greek academic achievements, but disappointed in other trends among Greek students.

“The thing that we were not impressed with, and the thing that so many of my colleagues’ concerns centered around, was the incredible and inordinate amount of alcohol compared to your non-Greek peers that you consume,” Heuser said. “And the propensity for victimizing women as a product of drinking too much.

“I need you all to speak to this group of people about how you’re going to change the culture around drinking,” Heuser said.

Groll said that IFC had taken a first step in addressing  the sexual assault problem by requiring new members to be trained in Green Dot bystander intervention.

“Three years ago, we took a stand and said we need to intervene and protect each other, but more so protect the women who are coming into our houses,” Groll said. “Through education and bystander intervention, we can stop these occurrences from happening. The highest concentration of Green Dot trained individuals on this campus is probably in the IFC community.”

When Heuser asked students who had seen bystander intervention at a Greek party to raise their hand, most students did so.

Groll said that starting a conversation about discouraging harmful drinking is the next step.

Regarding whether Greek houses could be part of the College Halls, Zeppos said that could be a conversation for further on down the road in the process.

“That’s just a conversation of really intelligent, thoughtful people to have in a different context, in a different time, in a different physical set of spaces and different looking faces on the campus and different people in the room…I think that’s kind of downstream,” Zeppos said. “I tend to focus on, how do I get the Towers down?”

The Faculty Senate will meet soon to decide whether they want to incorporate the suggestions put forth during the meeting.

“The Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate will meet as soon as possible to outline the plan forward,” Willis said. “We are committed to making the process transparent and collaborative and I hope to have more to share next week.”