Two Wittenberg fraternity members were involved in a fatal car accident, getting into a vehicle while intoxicated to get more alcohol for a fraternity party. The year was 1995.
Over the past 20 years, alcohol-related injuries have continued to rattle students, both locally and nationally. Four students have died at four different schools across the country since February.
Although the last alcohol-related death on this campus happened long ago, Wittenberg University is among the long list of institutions continually facing misconduct concerns among Greek Life students.
Drug abuse, hazing, alcohol abuse and unregistered socials are common conduct infractions by Greek organizations investigated by the university, according to Jon Duraj, Dean of Student Success and member of Wittenberg’s Delta Tau Delta fraternity while an undergraduate.
Student deaths, hazing and substance abuse are all conversation topics among Greeks because of the recent national headlines.
“It can be easy to read the headline and see a large school involved and just brush it off because we’re a small, liberal arts school,” Duraj said to a panel of incoming and outgoing representatives of Greek organizations on Nov. 30.
Values, traditions and governing bodies are examples of similarities between Wittenberg chapters and chapters at large schools, such as Ohio State. Duraj noted that Wittenberg is not exempt to similar challenges, despite the difference in school size.
“Thankfully we haven’t been impacted, but we still have to think and talk about what this means for us,” Duraj said.
Wittenberg began conversations among local chapters to get ahead of the growing national concern. Schools, such as Ohio State and the University of Michigan, have decided to react to allegations by suspending Greek life, meaning no chapter meetings or recruitment periods.
“The theme we talk about in IFC is ‘How can we invest in each other?’” Lucas George, outgoing president of Wittenberg’s Interfraternity Council, the governing body of fraternities on campus, said.
While Greek chapters have been suspended at multiple institutions, student representatives at the panel said that fraternities and sororities, especially at Wittenberg, cause more good than harm. Positive remarks mentioned at the recent panel include philanthropy and networking opportunities.
During the 2017 spring semester, fraternities and sororities reported almost 6,000 community service hours and $11,000 given to non-profit organizations.
Two of the four student deaths since February occurred with two national fraternities also represented at Wittenberg: Beta Theta Pi at Penn State and Phi Kappa Psi at Texas State. Both schools experienced the death of a student as a result of hazing and alcohol.
“It is important to recognize that all chapters are different,” George, a member of Delta Tau Delta, said. “I am not going to use that to base assumptions on chapters here, but it is still very disappointing.”
Although fraternities have dominated the headlines, sororities still make their mark. In 2009, Chi Omega sorority’s Wittenberg charter was revoked after they didn’t make initiatives to correct the hazing allegations that put them on probation the semester prior.
Delta Sigma Phi’s fraternity chapter on campus was also shut down because of hazing violations in 2009, but was later re-chartered in 2012.
Currently, only one Greek organization is on probation, according to Duraj. In the past academic year, there have been four.
The root of Greek organizations is to better one’s self, Duraj said. There’s an in-congruence between the oaths sworn when initiated and the actions of members.
“It is important to look at these incidents and talk about them,” George said. “Guys never think this will happen to them. They think that they are invincible.”
Wittenberg educates pledges – potential new members – on hazing, substance abuse and sexual misconduct through sessions known as Greek 101. It is meant to give them a notion of what is right and wrong to do during the pledging process. In addition, IFC and Panhel plan at least two speakers a year to give talks to the entire Greek community on issues such as hazing.
Hazing usually occurs during the pledging process because of the power gap between potential and initiated members. However, hazing can happen any other time of the year as well.
Tradition has led to their countless years being on campus – Beta and Phi Psi have both been on campus for over 150 years, for example. However, traditions can also lead to risky behaviors in terms of rituals performed, pledge education sessions or social pressures.
George has noticed trends in it being the upperclassmen who continue risky behaviors, such as hazing and substance abuse, believing that it’s “always been done this way,” so the tradition is alright to continue.
“There’s a big problem with the word ‘Tradition,’” George said. “Yet, it can be such a beautiful word.”
At Wittenberg, conversations addressing misbehavior concerns between Greek representatives, the director of Greek life and the dean of students are expected to continue in the coming months.