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Next steps set following review of fraternity and sorority life by external team

August 28, 2019 By Doug Erickson

The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and members of the fraternity and sorority community will spend the coming academic year determining ways to strengthen fraternity and sorority life at UW–Madison following a review by an external team of experts.

The team’s report highlights the value of fraternities and sororities to students and to the university while noting complex challenges related to student safety, sexual assault, alcohol use, inclusion and mental health.

“I appreciate the work of many who have taken their time to contribute to the external review process,” says Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor. “The engagement of students, alumni, advisors and campus partners leaves me encouraged and appreciative of the breadth of support for this important community. I have the greatest respect for our student fraternity and sorority leaders, and I know they will rise to the challenge of addressing the issues identified in the report.”

The university implemented the review last spring to assess, clarify and strengthen the relationship between the university and the fraternity and sorority community. It hired five national experts to conduct the review.

The review team studied documents, policies and reports and reviewed comments submitted through the external review website. During a four-day campus visit last spring, the reviewers held 20 sessions with individual stakeholder groups, including staff members, students, alumni and chapter advisors. More than 200 individuals provided direct feedback during these meetings.

The external reviewers found widespread gratitude among fraternity and sorority members for their chapter experiences, as well as a willingness among all campus partners to consider changes that would further improve sorority and fraternity life. The reviewers cited numerous areas that could be strengthened, broadly encouraging the university and the fraternity and sorority community to undertake measures that would build mutual trust, increase transparency at all levels, ensure accountability from all parties, and improve the safety of the Langdon Street area, where most chapter houses are located.

The external review team offered more than 40 recommendations to help achieve these goals, grouped into six categories: accountability; diversity and inclusion; institutional relationship; membership experience; resources and support; and student safety.

“By working with external experts in the field, we had the opportunity to explore specific areas of the community and our students’ experiences, to set shared priorities, and to determine next steps,” Reesor says. “As we move forward, these efforts, to be led by Mark Guthier, will ensure that we continue to have a strong and positive partnership.”

Guthier, the newly named associate vice chancellor for student affairs, oversees the Wisconsin Union and the Center for Leadership & Involvement, which includes Fraternity and Sorority Life.

Guthier and staff members from Fraternity and Sorority Life will soon begin hosting listening sessions with impacted stakeholders to provide opportunities for feedback on the report and to help set priorities. These feedback sessions will be held during the 2019 fall semester.

Once the priorities have been discussed by the fraternity and sorority community, the university will create and share a full implementation plan, including additional opportunities for involvement from various stakeholder groups. Opportunities to join these efforts will be posted in the months ahead on the Fraternity and Sorority Life website. By spring 2020, specific mileposts and detailed plans are expected.

One initial step that has been taken is to move the student organization conduct process from the Center for Leadership & Involvement to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. This will allow the professional staff in OSCCS to provide expertise in this area.

Additionally, a special session was offered this year at Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR) led by Fraternity and Sorority Life staff to talk about opportunities in fraternities and sororities and to answer any parent or new student questions. This was the first time this had been offered, and it was well-received by participants.

UW–Madison currently has 60 fraternity and sorority chapters made up of 4,500 student members.

Gloria Wide, a senior from suburban Chicago, is a member of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority and president of the Multicultural Greek Council at UW–Madison. She participated in the review team’s visit and welcomes the focus the university has placed on strengthening fraternity and sorority life.

“Because so many higher-ups here are passionate about working on these issues, I think it really shows a commitment to elevating the community,” Wide says. “I’m optimistic because there are so many of us dedicated to working on the system — to do better and to be better.”

The report will help immensely in providing opportunities to grow, says Delta Upsilon member Joey Levin, president of the Interfraternity Council.

“Prior to the review, I believe most of us had a general idea about some of our strengths and weaknesses,” says Levin, a senior from Madison. “This process helped us solidify those beliefs and provided us with a plan to grow as a community going forward. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity that the university provided us with, and we will use the feedback gathered from it diligently.”