6 USC fraternities cut ties over school's new safety rules

Six fraternities have cut off official ties with the campus.

August 17, 2022, 11:56 AM

A battle between the University of Southern California and a group of its fraternities over new safety rules is playing out over the California campus this fall.

Advocates who have been calling for schools to do more to curb sexual assaults, violence and underage drinking on college campuses say this could lead to a trend that further hampers student life.

On Friday, the USC chapters of Kappa Alpha Order, Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Alpha Mu, Sigma Chi, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Zeta Beta Tau chose to sever their relationship with the school after it put in place new policies for school-sanctioned activities which include having security guards at parties, mandated ID scanners and a ban on large containers of alcohol such as kegs.

The new rules were implemented following months of internal discussions after sexual assaults were reported during a USC fraternity event last year, which prompted protests and calls for change by students.

PHOTO: A man walks by the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house on W 28th Street, 'Frat Row,' on Aug. 12, 2022, in Los Angeles.
A man walks by the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house on W 28th Street, 'Frat Row,' on Aug. 12, 2022, in Los Angeles.
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In a statement, USC said it was disappointed with the chapters' move to dissociate with the school.

"This decision seems to be driven by the desire to eliminate university oversight of their operations. The members are chafing at procedures and protocols designed to prevent sexual assault and drug abuse and deal with issues of mental health and underage drinking," the school said in the statement.

The six chapters won't be able to use the USC logo or participate in campus-wide events. The school is also urging students not to join any group that is unaffiliated with the school.

The North American Interfraternity Conference issued a statement on Aug. 13, in response, contending that it worked to address concerns from its members over USC's policies that the organization claimed treated its chapters "in a manner that is fundamentally unfair and inconsistent with the Conference's position statements on system-wide actions, organizational conduct adjudication and recruitment."

"As research shows, fraternity members benefit from engagement significantly more than non-members, particularly in first-year students, and report higher levels of positive mental health along with lower rates of depression and anxiety," the NAIC said in a statement.

PHOTO: The Sigma Chi fraternity house is shown on Aug 12, 2022, in Los Angeles.
The Sigma Chi fraternity house is shown on Aug 12, 2022, in Los Angeles.
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The six USC fraternity chapters formed their own council the "University Park Interfraternity Council" to provide the members with "a substantially more focused timely and consistent process for input, discipline and accountability," the group said in a statement posted on its Instagram account.

"Until our organizations are treated fairly by the University we love and remain committed to, we will operate our fraternal community independently with integrity and fairness," the group said in their statement.

Among the other new rule changes that the fraternities opposed was a requirement that students complete 12 units of coursework and maintain a 2.5 GPA before they are allowed to enroll in a chapter, which cuts off eligibility for freshman.

Last fall, the school suspended Sigma Nu after reports of an alleged sexual assault and "possible drug-facilitated sexual assaults" that allegedly took place in its house. The LAPD told ABC News in October that it opened an investigation, but as of August no suspects have been identified and there are no arrests.

Brad Beacham, the executive director for Sigma Nu, told ABC News in a statement that the investigation is ongoing. He added that while the chapter is still affiliated with the school it "shares the concerns expressed by the North American Interfraternity Conference."

"The fraternity will consider its position relative to University affiliation following resolution of a still-pending Title IX matter," Beacham said in a statement.

Tracey Vitchers, the executive director of the nonprofit organization "It's on Us," which works to combat sexual assault on college campuses, told ABC News the situation at USC is one that schools across the country are facing in light of increased reports of assaults involving fraternities and fraternity members.

"They want to create safe environments for all of their students, and they want to reduce incidents of sexual assault ... but these are organizations that operated quasi independently of the school," Vitchers told ABC News. "They only have so much power over what those fraternities do."

PHOTO: The Tau Kappa Epsilon West fraternity house is shown in Los Angeles on Aug. 12, 2022.
The Tau Kappa Epsilon West fraternity house is shown in Los Angeles on Aug. 12, 2022.
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Vitchers said the USC's policy changes was a positive move but added that the school is "walking a fine line" because it runs the risk of creating "underground" fraternities, which legally don't have the oversight as other school sanctioned groups. Under current Title IX rules, schools aren't responsible for sexual assault incidents that take place outside sanctioned programs or activities, she said.

"This is different from other groups, like a sports team, because the team cannot exist if it's not associated with a school," she said.

Vitchers said that the situation could set a precedent on other colleges and their fraternity chapters, and it was imperative that both school administrators and Greek life organizations put out solutions to curb the violent incidents on campuses.

"If this does become a trend it is up to the responsibility of these national organizations to step up and do something about this," she said.

In the meantime, Vitchers said that parents and school administrators need to have strong and serious conversations about sexual assault before they begin their classes.

"If they're going to participate in Greek life, that conversation is certainly needed," she said.

ABC News' Henderson Hewes contributed to this report.

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