USC break-away fraternities make own rules, defy university

On a warm Friday afternoon, a large crowd of young men in sneakers, colored shorts and lanyards printed with their names walked down 28th Street near USC as they visited fraternity house after fraternity house.

They were greeted by other young men wearing brightly colored T-shirts with their affiliation’s name and graphic designs — one showed a hand wrapped around a glass bottle, another performed the song “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” movie poster, showing a blonde showed a woman brandishing a sword Another showed a retro image of a woman in formal wear being offered a bottle of soda – “Rush Kappa Alpha 2022” read the shirt.

Rap and house music blared from the speakers. The boys shot baskets and lobbed a volleyball into a sand pit. And prospective and current fraternity members exchanged notes on the sidewalk. “This one had the free burritos,” one said to two young men next to him.

In many ways, such autumn “rushes” or recruiting activities are a Greek ritual of life. But they are limited at USC. In 2017, the university banned the fall rush for freshmen after reporting multiple reports of harassment at sorority houses and longstanding faculty concerns about the negative impact of pledge rituals on students’ grades and health.

However, the eight fraternities that welcomed freshmen to their recruitment event on Friday had all parted ways with USC last week. In a bold move, and despite USC’s warnings, they decided that, for better or for worse, they would rather rid themselves of what they called unfair university policies and chart their own course.

A group of young men are talking on a balcony

USC students meet Friday at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity home.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

As USC students, they remain subject to the campus rules and laws against bullying, sexual assault, and other misconduct.

USC strongly criticized the move to distance itself and invite first-year students to rush, saying in a statement that such fall recruitment “has repeatedly proven unsafe for new students.” The university, which stripped the renegade fraternities of the right to use the USC name, logo or campus Greek Life Resources, also claimed that they “abrade procedures and protocols designed to prevent sexual assault and substance abuse and.” to address mental health issues and underage alcohol use.”

The university has published a prominent warning about the renegade fraternities on the Greek life portal of the campus:

“The following groups are NOT AFFILIATED with USC. They are not subject to the oversight of university staff and have chosen to forego support resources and other benefits afforded to recognized student groups. Some groups engage in illicit recruitment. Students are STRONGLY RECOMMENDED not to join or join these organizations.”

But Harrison Murphy of the newly formed University Park Interfraternity Council, an umbrella organization for the breakaway chapters, said Friday the allegation they were rebelling against strict party rules was solid untrue.

“I want to be absolutely clear that we’re not breaking the connection to dodge this social events policy that’s been put in place,” said Murphy, a senior with a major in politics and history.

In fact, he said, the 15 chapters, which were members of the USC Interfraternity Council last year, recommended for the first time most of the strict rules issued by a university working group after multiple allegations of drug abuse and sexual assault at Sigma Nu and other house parties in the fall of the Brotherhood in 2021.

Fraternity leaders developed the rules to post security guards in hallways leading to bedrooms, create “sober rooms” to provide drunk partygoers with water and food, provide toxicity test kits for those who suspect they were drugged, and to require alcohol to be served in closed containers. Some chapters even hire paramedics for parties, he said, and all social events are staffed by outside security guards and licensed professional bartenders. The University Park Interfraternity Council abides by all of those rules and will not allow any fraternity facing allegations of misconduct, he said.

Young men shake hands

USC students at the Beta Theta Pi dorm during the kick-off to the busy week.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Murphy said members who have seceded from USC did so because they felt the university’s policies toward Greek organizations were unfair and flawed. For example, he said USC banned all social events from November 2021 through January 2022, even for fraternities that had done nothing wrong. Most were not able to resume events until March due to lengthy new safety training requirements, he said.

Despite months of negotiations between USC and the fraternities, the two sides couldn’t agree on the scope of the sanctions or a faster timeline to resolve their conflicts.

“We have reached an end point where the [breakaway] Groups didn’t want to go through another year of this type of system,” said Judson Horras, president of the North American Interfraternity Conference, which represents more than 6,200 member organizations in 57 national and international men’s fraternities.

Horras, whose national organization supports breakaway USC groups, said the university’s group sanctions backfired. “They create an effect of silence for members of the community to hold individuals accountable and report behavior to the school for fear that other members who have done nothing wrong will be punished.”

USC declined to respond to questions about the fairness of its process or the potential impact on reporting misconduct.

The problem of the fall rush has long been a focus at USC. In 2015, the Academic Senate passed a resolution calling for deferred recruiting of freshmen until spring, noting that more students were missing classes or attending classes exhausted or drunk during their promise engagements. The USC student body passed its own resolution against the deferred recruitment.

USC officials banned the fall rush for freshmen in 2017, citing a study conducted two years earlier that found that two-thirds of on-campus sexual assaults at USC took place in a sorority or sorority house and that 20 peer institutions had some form of delayed recruitment.

Several fraternities and one sorority sued USC in 2018, arguing that the deferred recruitment policy violated their state protections of freedom of association and imposed discriminatory restrictions on them that other student organizations do not require. Both the trial court and the appeals court upheld USC’s claims that the lawsuits were based on legitimate academic concerns.

USC students speak in front of the fraternity house.

USC students mingle outside Lambda Chi Alpha’s fraternity house on Friday. Several fraternities, including Lambda Chi Alpha, formally parted ways with USC earlier this month.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Some experts supported USC’s argument that the fall rush could be unsafe for freshmen. John Hechinger, author of True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities, a 2017 book on fraternity culture that focuses on Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said research has shown that bullying decreased when the rush for a school year increased will be postponed. He added that many fraternities oppose such bans because they reduce membership — and lucrative dues.

But Horras said more than 90% of fraternities across the country get permission from their campus to host a fall rush for freshmen. This includes UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, and most other UC and California State University campuses.

At UC Irvine, the fall rush for new students helps them find a “home from home” and provides them with an immediate support system to adapt to campus and an alumni network for career and leadership opportunities, Campus- Narrator Tom Vasich.

“The fraternity and sorority of fraternities and sororities really helps new students adjust, whether they’re a first-generation student, a transfer student, a commuter student, or just someone trying to understand university life,” Vasich said.

The University of the Pacific at Stockton banned the fall rush for freshmen for years, but reinstated it last fall to help students find community quickly after two years of pandemic isolation, said Maria Blandizzi, vice president of student life. She said there has been no increase in behavior problems among students or a decline in school performance.

At USC, it remains unclear how the showdown between the university and the unaffiliated Greek chapters will play out — particularly with sorority members who are valued attendees at fraternity parties.

Sorority leaders evaluated the fraternities’ decision to disassociate, said Valeria Hernandez Echegaray, vice president of public relations for the USC Panhellenic Council, which represents nearly a dozen on-campus student unions. Earlier this week she said the council planned to gather more information and discuss a response.

The National Panhellenic Council, an umbrella organization for more than two dozen sororities in the United States and Canada, allows sororities to interact with unaffiliated fraternities so long as the fraternities have left the university while they are still in good standing.

“Without more information, we cannot go into the details of the situation at USC,” said Dani Weatherford, executive director of the National Panhellenic Council. “However, we have long known that organizations choose to divest from universities for a variety of legitimate reasons, as in some cases pan-Hellenic organizations have also done so.” USC break-away fraternities make own rules, defy university

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