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Fraternity reforms, from inside and out, seek to curb sexual assault

WASHINGTON — Eight college fraternities announced Tuesday an effort to work together on new training aimed at combating sexual misconduct, hazing and binge drinking.

The focus is on learning to recognize, diagnose and intervene in potentially harmful situations. An estimated 35,000 undergraduates are anticipated to participate in the first year of the Fraternal Health and Safety Initiative consortium, according to the announcement.

The participating fraternities include Lambda Chi Alpha, Phi Delta Theta, Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Mu, Sigma Chi, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Triangle — groups with a combined 75,000 undergraduate men at more than 550 college campuses. The consortium plans to use training that organizers say is based on research and created for retreat-like settings.

“If you think of the power of having all of these fraternities on a particular campus going through similar programming and similar messaging, it could definitely impact the culture on that campus fairly quickly,” said Marc Mores, executive vice president of the James R. Favor & Company. The insurance company insures campus fraternities and organized the effort.

Last week, the White House started the “It’s On Us” campaign, which is focused on encouraging people to consider stopping sexual assault to be part of their personal responsibility and to intervene when they suspect a potential victim can’t or won’t consent. A White House task force on campus sexual assault, in a report issued earlier this year, said that one of the most promising prevention strategies is bystander prevention.

Within higher education, there has been growing pressure to curb sexual assault and better protect victims.

In another effort to reform fraternity culture, Wesleyan University in Connecticut announced Monday that the school’s two residential fraternities will have to become co-ed within the next three years to continue operating on campus, according to the New York Times.

“The trustees and administration recognize that residential fraternities have contributed greatly to Wesleyan over a long period of time, but we also believe they must change to continue to benefit their members and the larger campus community,” President Michael Roth and Board of Trustees Chair Joshua Boger wrote in a statement explaining the decision.

Student leaders first called for the change this spring, according to Inside Higher Ed, after the school’s Psi Upsilon chapter was sued by a student who alleged she was raped in the fraternity’s house during a pledge event.

The national organization of the school’s other residential fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, told the New York times their leaders disagree with Wesleyan’s move. In a statement, they said it “insults the intelligence of Wesleyan’s students, alumni, and other constituencies, who deserve more than vague references to ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion’ when explaining why the university feels it must break a 150-year-old tradition, one that, as the statement says, has ‘contributed greatly to Wesleyan.’”

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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