At Wesleyan, A Mixed Reaction To Move To Co-Ed Frats

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Wesleyan University is asking its residential fraternities not to pledge freshmen and to turn over the rolls of all their members as the school issued an order to end its all-male fraternities and make residential fraternities co-ed.

It's a decision that has received mixed reaction on campus.

The decision is felt hardest at the three residential fraternities. No one agreed to recorded interviews at any of the fraternities, but men did agree to speak to WBUR on background.

Earlier this September, a student fell from a third-story window at one of the fraternity houses, Beta Theta Pi. The school then ordered students to stop living there and now refuses to recognize the fraternity. The national fraternity has suspended the Wesleyan chapter.

Fraternity Members Worry About Impact Of Co-Ed Order

The three fraternity houses line High Street, in the heart of the school's campus.

At the two houses still inhabited by students, I received very different reactions.

At Delta Kappa Epsilon, I was invited in to roam the house and talk to the brothers. They were told by their national fraternity that they could not talk on the record, but they did express worry that this move by Wesleyan essentially forces them to shut down, as their national fraternity does not recognize co-ed chapters.

At the Psi Upsilon house, I was told by a nervous officer that no one had time to talk to me because of classes, and when I came back at the end of the day, the same officer asked me to leave.

Psi Upsilon’s Wesleyan chapter is also at the center of a suit filed by a student in March, alleging that she was raped in the fraternity house’s common room during a party in 2013, when she was a freshman.

"The fraternity chapter organized a fraternity event designed to get their pledges naked and in front of people who are invited to the fraternity house without any controls whatsoever," said Doug Fierberg, her attorney. "It got out of control. My client was trying to leave the fraternity house when she was grabbed by one of the pledges and raped in front of others."

Psi Upsilon says it does not comment on pending litigation.

For some time now, the brothers at Wesleyan have been discussing admitting women. The national fraternity does allow co-ed chapters.

In front of the house, a brother returning at dinner time said it's unfair of Wesleyan to target the fraternities in its effort to curb sexual assault on campus. Sexual assault, he points out, happens in the dorms, too.

In 2007, a national survey of studies of sexual aggression among college men did find that fraternity members are more likely to report sexual aggression than non-fraternity members.

The two residential fraternities that remain open house fewer than 100 students. To some of the other students, such as Misha Iakovenko, a freshman from Ukraine, the fraternities are irrelevant.

"Fraternities isn't that big a part of the social scene here at Wesleyan," Iakovenko said.

Iakovenko rows, and he says that's pretty much all he does outside academics.

To other students, fraternity parties provide an important part of the university's social life.

Gabbie Jian Gola, a sophomore from New York, said there isn't reason to believe they won't continue to play an important social role as they go co-ed.

"There's a lot of backlash in terms of people going: 'Oh, the party culture is going to die,' and all that, and I just don't really see the logic in that argument because what about a house having girls in it is going to destroy your party culture?" she said.

Co-Ed Fraternities Already Exist At Wesleyan

Wesleyan has two co-ed residential societies already. One is Alpha Delta Phi.

"We are the co-ed frat," said Claudia von Nostitz, a junior from New York, and Alpha Delta Phi's president.

It took decades for the fraternity to make the transition to being co-ed. It started initiating women in 1972. The national fraternity objected — an issue expected to be a problem for two of the remaining fraternities now. For years, Alpha Delta Phi initiated the women in secret, and eventually, the chapter had to secede. Von Nostitz said having women share the responsibility of running a house makes it a safer place to have parties.

"People know not to get too drunk," Von Nostitz said. "They know to look out for people who aren't from here. Look out for each other. It's just kind of that mentality of stay aware, because anything that happens to us reflects on us."

J.T. Falcone, a senior from Madison, Connecticut, also added that the fraternity gives its members certain responsibilities at parties that they uphold in shifts.

"We have a shift called 'Roving Death' for people who are in the crowd, who are paying attention to the crowd members, and we even have shifts for people to man the fire alarms, so they don't get pulled," Falcone said.

"When you enter this house, when you enter this space, it's a different sort of vibe for us because it's not all about partying," Falcone continued. "It's not all about drinking."

As Alpha Delta Phi had many years to make the transition to being co-ed, some students, including Falcone, worry that for the remaining fraternities the three years Wesleyan is giving them won't be enough time for what can be a complicated transition.

This segment aired on September 25, 2014.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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