Internal Greek Investigations

Greek Life. College and university fraternities and sororities, otherwise known as the Greek system, play significant roles in the personal lives and educational careers of many students. By drawing students into formal communities whose voluntary student members share values, commitments, and affinities, Greek life can contribute substantially to student studies, student social opportunities and growth, and graduate networks.

Greek Conduct. Yet to ensure the safety, integrity, and reputation of their programs, fraternities and sororities commonly maintain conduct codes that they enforce through local student-leadership action. The public police are not the only ones interested in preventing and punishing criminal or other disruptive behaviors. The fraternity or sorority member who violates significant organization norms, whether by threats, violence, harassment, dissipation, or other misbehavior, may face internal Greek investigation, charges, and discipline.

Educational Impacts. Many fraternity or sorority members may initially respond to internal Greek allegations or charges of misconduct with a so-what attitude. The accused member may think that they'll just move on to another Greek organization or out of the Greek system entirely, depending instead on equivalent college or university housing, resources, networks, and programs. The problem that Greek participants can face, though, is that a Greek determination of serious misconduct may attract the attention of the college or university, not to mention the police. When a fraternity or sorority finds serious misconduct, the college or university may follow suit, putting the student's education at risk. Consider the following information on what's at risk in an internal Greek investigation and how to respond.

The Organization of Fraternities and Sororities

National Organizations. Fraternities and sororities at specific colleges and universities are generally local chapters of national organizations, each designated by letters of the Greek alphabet. While Greek life centers on local chapters, national Greek organizations offer students their own membership, programs, networks, and resources. The most popular national fraternities include Tau Kappa Epsilon, Kappa Sigma, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Chi, and Sigma Phi Epsilon. The most popular national sororities include Alpha Omicron Pi, Chi Omega, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Delta Zeta. These national Greek organizations gathered to end hazing on college campuses, especially prevalent in fraternities and sororities, by promoting an anti-hazing hotline. The national Greek organizations typically publish student codes of conduct for their local chapters to adopt and follow, like Tau Kappa Epsilon’s risk-management guidelines prohibiting:

  • possession, sale, use, or consumption of alcohol contrary to law or school policy, including open parties where the hosts fail to regulate alcohol consumption;
  • beer pong, century club, dares, bid nights, big brother or sister events, or other alcohol drinking games;
  • possession, sale, or use of drugs contrary to law or school policy;
  • hazing activities of all kinds;
  • sexual misconduct under law or school policy; and
  • possession of firearms, explosives, or incendiary devices.

Local Chapters. The national Greek organizations authorize students at specific colleges and universities to form and operate local chapters. Tau Kappa Epsilon, for instance, allows students to form new colonies that may later become full chapters. The colleges and universities themselves play a role in that authorization. Local Greek chapters must comply with college and university policies for those organizations and with the authorizing national Greek organization's policies. Tau Kappa Epsilon's risk-management guidelines, for instance, state that they “shall apply to all Fraternity entities and all levels of Fraternity membership.” Those school and Greek policies in effect authorize and require local fraternities and sororities to self-police student conduct. Indeed, when a fraternity or sorority fails to enforce those codes, the school may suspend the local chapter's authorization, as a report indicates Central Michigan University recently did for alleged hazing and alcohol violations at its Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter.

School Codes. Colleges and universities routinely extend their student codes of conduct to include student conduct within Greek organizations. In other words, Greek life is not permission to do as one pleases. Students must still generally abide by the school's code for student conduct. Some colleges and universities, like Southern University, make addenda to their student codes of conduct to specifically address student participation in Greek organizations. Representative of other similar policies, Southern University’s addenda not only subjects Greek organizations and participants to the university's other policies, and establishes membership criteria and chapter responsibilities, but also regulates certain behaviors often associated with Greek life. Those regulations address possession, use, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, prohibit sexual abuse and harassment, and ban many forms of hazing including:

  • marching in line;
  • forced or extreme physical activity;
  • forced or involuntary spending;
  • standing for a length of time;
  • personal servitude;
  • sleep deprivation or interruption of consecutive sleep hours;
  • acts of humiliation or degradation;
  • interruption of or interference with academic commitments; and
  • paddling in any form.

Greek Organization Abuses

Greek life is the highlight of many students' college or university experiences. Many students would have done far less well, or failed to persevere at all, if it were not for their fraternity or sorority. Many graduates owe their growth, maturity, jobs, careers, and beneficial networks to their college or university Greek experience. Yet for all the good that fraternities and sororities have done on college and university campuses, their close regulation by both school and national organizations confirms certain reasonably widespread problems with some of their traditional culture and activities. Those problems have for many students resulted in misconduct charges both with the local Greek chapter and with their college or university--in the worst cases, even criminal charges through the local police.

Hazing Rituals. Hazing rituals are one problematic area for fraternities and sororities, out of which can grow college or university misconduct charges. An above section lists the many forms of hazing popular at fraternities and sororities. Hazing serves social and organizational functions, whether ice breaking, team building, or confirming hierarchical relationships. Yet hazing can cross the line into offensive, abusive, discriminatory, threatening, dangerous, harmful, and even deadly activity. One recent media report indicates fifty hazing deaths in the U.S. since the turn of the century, from such foreseeable causes as heat stroke, drowning, alcohol poisoning, head injury, asphyxia, and cardiac arrest. Even when hazing does not result in serious injury, its effects can substantially interfere with student studies, again confirming the importance of enforcing prohibitions.

Alcohol Abuse. Alcohol use and abuse is a second problematic area for fraternities and sororities. Because local chapters have student leadership and typically operate in a home outside of the school's dormitory or other residential housing, members have fewer institutional constraints on personal behavior. Their relative liberty enables some fraternities and sororities to become notorious for holding raucous parties open to all students, not just members. Free-flowing alcohol can be the prime attraction at those parties, as the above list of prohibited drinking games indicates. When things get out of hand, the fraternity or sorority necessarily finds itself charging members with misconduct, which may further lead to college or university charges of misconduct.

Sexual Misconduct. Sexual misconduct is a third problematic area for fraternities and sororities, for the same or similar reasons that alcohol is problematic. The residence-based, student-led, student-supervised nature of Greek organizations removes the few constraints that the schools may still attempt to impose to discourage frequent sexual intimacy in a hookup culture. Students, in other words, may have greater opportunities for intimacy, and attempt greater sexual liberties, at some fraternities and sororities than they might in university or other housing.

In short, hazing, alcohol, and sex are all areas of concern for fraternities and sororities where they have code-enforcement responsibilities. Internal Greek-organization misconduct charges in any of those areas, or other behavioral areas having to do with property security and personal safety and comportment, would not be unusual. Nor would it be unusual for the college or university to then take a similar interest in applying charges and discipline.

Risks of Internal Greek Investigations

The question, though, isn't so much whether fraternities and sororities should be enforcing school and Greek codes of conduct. They should, indeed must, enforce those codes of conduct, at least sometimes, surely in the more serious cases. The question is instead the risk that accused students face when unskilled and biased fraternity or sorority student leaders are handling the investigation, making the findings, and imposing the sanction. When colleges and universities investigate, charge, determine, and punish student misconduct, they typically do so with relatively clear and published procedures, employing school officials with at least some training, skill, and experience in student discipline matters. By contrast, when fraternities and sororities investigate, charge, determine, and sanction member misconduct, their inexperienced and biased student leaders are often winging it. Greek proceedings, in other words, can lead to erroneous discipline decisions that may promptly affect not only the accused student's Greek life but also the accused student's ability to continue at the college or university, if the school follows with its own investigation and sanction.

Unclear Procedures. While national Greek organizations may have relatively clear and elaborate member-conduct codes, like Tau Kappa Epsilon’s risk-management guidelines cited above, they don't typically publish elaborate procedures for their local chapters to follow when determining whether a member has committed the charged violation. Colleges and universities routinely state such procedures including how to report misconduct, investigate misconduct, hear evidence of misconduct, and make and appeal misconduct findings. By contrast, Tau Kappa Epsilon's elaborate risk-management guidelines, for instance, do not include any such procedures for determining misconduct. The national Greek organizations appear to leave it to the local chapters to make their own determinations according to their own procedures. Yet, those local student-led chapters are unlikely to have developed, published, and adhered to any such procedures. Without fair procedures, accused students may thus be entirely at the whim and mercy of the student leaders' judgments.

Unskilled Investigators. Local Greek chapters, like those at Penn State University, govern themselves through an elected executive council. Local chapter Greek-organization executive-council members are typically popular undergraduate juniors and seniors, those whom the organization's members trust or respect enough to run the chapter. Many chapters find strong and fair leadership from among their few and typically young and relatively inexperienced members. Many chapters are not nearly so fortunate. In the worst cases, executive councils can be haphazardly run by unskilled and even unfit student leaders. Those executive councils lack the procedural knowledge and transactional skill to fairly investigate charges of serious misconduct. Student investigators may have no sense of due process, resulting in poor investigations that make erroneous determinations.

Biased Decision Makers. A third risk associated with internal Greek investigations, beyond the lack of fair procedures and the unskilled investigators, is bias among the executive council decision-makers. Local Greek chapters can be small, having a dozen or fewer members. Even within larger local chapters, relationships can be close, even intimate, among the majority of members. Everyone knows everyone else's business and has some interest in it or opinion about it. Expecting college or university undergraduates who live, study, play, collaborate, and compete with one another to suddenly be able to impartially judge the credibility of the conflicting testimony of their fellow members is a tall order. Conflicts of interest and biases for or against the accused and accuser can be rampant in such circumstances. Getting a fair, unbiased, sound, and evidence-based decision in a serious internal Greek misconduct matter might be the exception more than the rule.

Careless Defense. Fraternity or sorority members who face internal Greek investigation, charge, and discipline face one other risk, this one completely within the control of the accused member. That risk is that the accused member does not take the charges seriously. As indicated briefly above, an accused member may believe that the member can just ignore the internal Greek proceeding and, if it turns out badly, move to another Greek organization or abandon the Greek system for university housing and programs. That mistaken assumption causes too many members to suffer unjust Greek discipline. Ignoring proceedings often ends in the accused student's effective default. No defense is usually the worst defense. And once the Greek organization finds misconduct and imposes a sanction, the risks to the accused member compound, as the next section addresses.

Potential Impacts of Greek Organization Misconduct

Chapter Sanctions. The first impact when a fraternity or sorority finds that a member has committed misconduct is the organization's own sanction. Fraternities and sororities do kick out members, with an attendant loss of housing, relationships, friendships, networks, and activity and resource privileges. Greek life can be special, but when a local chapter bars a member from participation and revokes the membership, the student loses all those benefits. Students who expected to live in the chapter's residence, eat relying on its kitchen and dining facilities, study relying on its quiet spaces, socialize at its events, gain leadership skills on the chapter's executive council, and draw on its alumni network for job and other opportunities, sacrifice all those benefits with serious misconduct. Don't underestimate the impact of losing local-chapter benefits. Treat internal Greek charges seriously.

National Organization Sanctions. The second impact when a fraternity or sorority finds that one of its members has committed misconduct is that the member can lose national-organization membership and its benefits. National Greek organizations have their own alumni networks, events, resources, and other opportunities. National membership alone can make all the difference to some employers or mentors when appearing on a candidate's resume. Don't sacrifice those national benefits to a careless defense of local Greek misconduct charges.

School Sanctions. Perhaps the biggest risk, though, when a fraternity or sorority finds that a member committed serious misconduct is that the college or university will take notice, pursuing its own investigation, charge, and discipline. One can gain great educational benefits without participating in Greek life. Many students do. Forgoing Greek life wouldn't be much of a sacrifice, if any sacrifice, to most students. But when a Greek organization sanctions a student, the sanction may trigger a college or university misconduct charge, depending on the form and seriousness of the misconduct. The prospect for a school charge and sanction is what makes it so important that you treat the Greek internal charge seriously. A Greek internal charge can put at risk the student's entire education, not just Greek rights and privileges. What a shame it is when a member ignores Greek charges, suffers Greek discipline, and then is unable to reverse the finding and discipline in a follow-on school proceeding. Don't let a sloppy, unfair, and biased Greek determination set the course for a school misconduct proceeding. Treat internal Greek charges seriously.

Collateral Impacts. Greek and school misconduct findings can have other broad impacts, some temporary but others long-term or even permanent. Those potential impacts include:

  • loss of housing, board, and transportation;
  • loss of access to academic, medical, and recreational facilities;
  • loss of scholarships and acceleration of school debt;
  • loss of recommendations and references from mentors;
  • loss of job and career opportunities;
  • loss of professional licenses and vocational certifications; and
  • loss or disruption of family and friend relationships.

How to Handle Internal Greek Investigation

Attitude and Approach. Students thoughtfully considering the weight of all potential impacts of an internal Greek misconduct investigation, charges, and discipline should be ready to take prompt and aggressive action in defense of an internal Greek charge and investigation. Ignorance is not an option. Neither is carelessness. Rather, students facing Greek charges should devote their full available time, attention, and resources toward managing those charges effectively. That management should mean defeating false, unfair, or exaggerated charges outright, with exonerating evidence presented firmly and aggressively. Effective management may also mean mitigating the sanction for any admitted misconduct, with other evidence of good character and excusing circumstances.

Retain Premier Representation. The single best thing that a fraternity or sorority member who faces local chapter charges can do, though, is to retain expert attorney representation to manage the full matter. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento helps students nationwide develop, adopt, and implement effective strategic approaches to internal Greek investigations for the best possible outcome. Students enjoying Greek life are seldom sufficiently mature, knowledgeable, and skilled to manage litigation-like procedures in a matter having their future at stake. That limitation is no shame. Even lawyers are wise to have attorney representation when trying to manage their own legal matters. Students do not have the legal training and experience of a lawyer. Charges are also likely to unnerve the accused student, who will need to draw on the confidence and skill of an advising attorney.

A misconduct proceeding of any type, whether by an internal Greek organization or by the college or university itself, can challenge the accused student from a time, attention, skill, and emotional standpoint, especially when considering all that students have at stake in misconduct proceedings. Internal Greek investigations can also be mystifying without any clear published procedures. A skilled and experienced academic attorney Joe Lento knows how to ensure that the investigating Greek organization provides at least minimum due process, so that the accused member has an opportunity to understand the charges and present exonerating and mitigating evidence. Act promptly on first notice of an internal Greek investigation, to retain national academic attorney Joseph Lento to represent you from the outset of your proceeding. Attorney Lento's premier representation can help you successfully defend and defeat internal Greek charges and avoid more-serious and more-impactful charges by your college or university. Retain attorney Lento today by calling 888.535.3686 or going online.

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