U.Va. fraternities agree to new party rules after rape story

AP News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2015 7:18 PM

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A pair of defiant University of Virginia fraternities capitulated Friday to the school's efforts to impose new regulations on them that stemmed from a Rolling Stone article alleging a culture of rape and denial on the campus.

The decision by the local chapters of Kappa Alpha and Alpha Tau Omega to join the other fraternities in signing the new, stricter fraternal organization agreement appeared to be the last piece needed to restore the normal functioning of the campus's Greek life. The decision came just hours after the start of rush Thursday night.

All the U.Va. fraternities' social activities had been suspended following the November publication of the Rolling Stone story, which detailed an apparent gang-rape at a U.Va. fraternity. Though much of the article has been discredited, the school pushed ahead with the new rules to make it easier for students to know how much they're drinking and to make it harder to drug the drinks.

The new party rules would ban kegs, require security personnel and ensure at least three brothers are sober. They require food and water at parties and pre-printed guest lists and forbid serving punch premixed with liquor.

The university agreed to lift the suspension on the fraternities that signed.

The University announced Friday that all the fraternities and sororities had signed the new deal, adding that they would revisit the agreement when it expires in May "to evaluate any adjustments or improvements that may be warranted."

Earlier this week, Kappa Alpha and Alpha Tau Omega said the agreement would put more liability on them and they wouldn't sign it, even at the risk of losing their affiliations with the university. They criticized the suspensions as well.

"It was simply a rush to judgment in an effort to respond to a PR crisis created by the Rolling Stone article," said Kevin O'Neill, a Washington, D.C.-based spokesman representing the two fraternities.

But they reversed course Friday, just hours before a deadline.

"The University has made it clear in writing today that our organizations will remain suspended if we do not sign the new FOA immediately and have rejected our requests for an extension to continue discussing our concerns. Given the threat of further sanctions and retaliation by the University the chapters reluctantly have agreed to sign the FOA so that our students can resume normal operations," the fraternities said in a joint statement.

The fraternities, which have been at U.Va. since the 1800s, said they were still exploring legal remedies and called on Congress and the Virginia legislature to protect them from such regulations.

For its part, the university hoped to increase safety by opening a police substation Friday across from The Corner, a popular strip of bars and restaurants sandwiched between the university and fraternity and sorority houses.

If there were concerns about the new rules changing the culture so dramatically that it would scare away potential members, it didn't show on the first night of rush Thursday.

Large packs of underclassmen in khaki pants and button-down shirts roamed between fraternity houses, many of which they already visited during fall parties.

Austin Beane, a 20-year-old second year student from Castle Rock, Colorado, said going through rush is a return to normalcy for the school, after months of media attention focused on the disappearance and death of student Hannah Graham and the Rolling Stone article.

"It was a rough semester for us. We're just trying to get things back to normal," Beane said.

Beane said most of the new rules made sense and won't much change the atmosphere at fraternity parties other than to make them a little safer.

The unique situation at U.Va. made the two fraternities' threats to defy the school more realistic.

Universities often have on-campus dormitories for fraternities or own the land under fraternity houses, allowing them to evict fraternities that don't follow school rules. But at U.Va., the houses are off campus and privately owned. The university affiliation is tangential, with each fraternity signing an agreement that repeatedly states the university doesn't supervise them. In return, the fraternities get to use a student activity center and university server space, and, more important, adopt a formal relationship with the school required by most national Greek organizations.

"U.Va.'s pretty unique," said Gentry McCreary, a consultant for the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management who formerly oversaw Greek Life at the University of Alabama. "(Fraternities) operate very independently."

Jakob Scheidt, who was president of Phi Kappa Sigma in the fall semester, said fraternities already have effective risk-management policies in place regardless of the new rules.

"Fraternities have every incentive in the world to make their houses safe, they have every incentive to make sure bad things don't happen all on their own, apart from the university," he said. "Anything that happens in your house is on you and fraternities are very aware of that liability."

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis