Editor’s Note: Peter Smithhisler is president and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, a trade association representing 74 international and national men’s fraternities.
Peter Smithhisler: University of Virginia suspended fraternities till January after rape allegations
He says his heart goes out to sexual assault victims, but closing fraternities is no solution
Schools must hold assailants accountable, nor violate rights of those who follow rules, he says
Smithhisler: Most fraternity men join for right reasons. Punish rape, but be fair to fraternities
The University of Virginia has suspended all fraternity activities until January 2015 while authorities investigate allegations of sexual assault made against members of a prominent fraternity house there.
As the father of two young girls who will someday be college women, my heart goes out to any student harmed by sexual assault. There is no place on any campus or anywhere for such behavior, and students need protection from criminals.
And as president and chief executive of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, I am eager to work with administrators at Virginia and other campuses to take on this challenge.
From both perspectives, I urge college administrators to act responsibly. We cannot solve this terrible problem by punishing all fraternities and fraternity members for the deplorable actions of a few.
By all means, schools should investigate every allegation and hold students accountable for their actions. They should seek criminal charges against those who break the law and suspend or expel those who violate university policy.
But they should not violate the rights of those who live by the rules simply because they are in some way affiliated with those who do not.
The vast majority of fraternity and sorority members join them for all the right reasons. They are looking for a place to belong. They want to learn and apply leadership skills. They seek an outlet where they can give back to their communities. They want to enrich their collegiate experience.
To take all of this away from so many good kids simply because a few kids choose to be bad is unfair, misguided and short-sighted.
When fraternity is done right, I firmly believe it is one of the best facets of college life. My own fraternity experience enabled me to grow into a man, excel in school and better understand the value of community. I became a better person when I joined, and in my current role, I aspire to help other young men become better people.
The North-American Interfraternity Conference stands ready to participate in a productive discussion. This is why I formed three commissions this year to study the most vexing problems facing colleges today: sexual assault, alcohol abuse and hazing. Over the next 18 months, these panels will come up with meaningful recommendations to address each problem. I will share these recommendations with university administrators and NIC members alike, with the explicit goal of overcoming these issues in the years ahead.
The developments at Virginia and other campuses are alarming. I hope we can galvanize now to find solutions soon. At the same time, I am committed to protecting the fraternity movement, so that all students who choose to join a fraternity can join one – and experience membership in the way it was intended.