Housing Policy and Threats to Student Freedom

At the beginning of this month, we announced a revision to Wesleyan’s housing policy to clarify off-campus options for undergraduates. Our goal was to remove a dangerous ambiguity that has existed for more than five years: the Beta Fraternity seems to be a Wesleyan organization, but the university has no oversight over the house. We wanted to accomplish two things with this change: 1. to encourage Beta to join the other fraternities and societies in working together with the school; 2. to prevent similar situations from arising in the future with private homes adjacent to campus. Since this was not only about Beta, we used broad language, and we also wanted to announce this change before the housing process got underway so that students could plan accordingly.

I made two mistakes in this. First, the language (as many students have pointed out) is just too broad. Many students appear to see this as a threat to their freedom, and I want to be sensitive to that. The university has no interest in regulating the social lives of our students when they are away from campus, and the language we used suggests otherwise. We will change the language. My second mistake was not consulting enough with students. I did meet with some of the Beta undergrad leaders (and we have been talking about this with their alumni representatives for four years!), and I was hopeful they would join Psi U, DKE and ADP. Alas, they decided otherwise.

I told the WSA leadership yesterday that I would ask Dean Mike’s team to meet with the relevant committees to craft language that conveys that residential Greek societies adjacent to campus must be recognized by the university in order to remain open to Wesleyan students. This is the only way we can continue to have a safe system that includes our historic residential fraternities. That’s all we want to achieve with this revision.

I want to be as clear as possible: if the Beta Fraternity does not join with the other Greek fraternities and societies, it will be off-limits to undergraduates next semester. Students who violate this rule will face significant disciplinary action, including suspension. This is not an attempt to regulate the expressive activities of our students. It is an attempt to minimize unsafe conditions adjacent to campus.

I want to thank the vocal Wesleyan undergraduates for reminding their president to be more careful in his use of language, and to be more attentive to student culture. Of course, I should have known this already, but hey, I try to keep learning.

At Friday night’s trustee dinner we will be celebrating recent campus activism, such as efforts to combat sexual violence on campus, to confront housing and poverty issues in Middletown, to promote flood relief in Pakistan, and to create educational opportunities and free health care in Kenya. I know that there is a protest planned Friday about the fraternity housing policy, and there are other opportunities for making student voices heard. The state of Connecticut and the federal government both have proposed dramatic cuts to financial aid. Hundreds of current Wesleyan students depend on the programs that are threatened. This seems to me a dramatic threat to student freedom, and we are joining with other colleges to make our voices heard in Hartford. Planned Parenthood supporters plan to hold a rally here on campus Saturday afternoon to combat recent attacks on reproductive rights, another important threat to our freedom. Of course, students don’t take activism instructions from the president, and they may still want to protest for the right to have Beta remain outside the fraternity program at Wesleyan. That’s up to them.

Near the end of my first year as president of Wesleyan, I wrote a blog post about the role of fraternities and societies at Wesleyan: I have found them to be energetic, vital student organizations capable of making contributions to the campus as a whole. I know many Beta brothers; I cheer for them at games, and I enjoy having them in my classes. I hope their fraternity decides to join with the other residential student organizations. That’s up to them.

5 thoughts on “Housing Policy and Threats to Student Freedom”

  1. As a Wesleyan parent, I appreciate the value of clarifying whether housing is affiliated with Wesleyan or not. But I find it disingenuous for President Roth to state he has no interest in regulating the social lives of students when they are off campus, because that seems a clear effect of this policy change. Why should a University control where a student lives? Is that not a basic human freedom?

  2. As a Wesleyan Alum from the last decade and a former student leader, I must say I understand firsthand the difficulties that residential/social life issues present to the University’s Administration and the delicate balance of ensuring the safety of students, while respecting the inalienable rights to individual freedoms and liberties. President Roth should be commended for his handling of the housing policy issue. Roth has carefully defined a policy that affirms both the university’s absolute responsibility and unwavering commitment to student safety, while articulating a most reasonable and clear process for Beta to join the community of fraternities on campus. Being a member of a dynamic and diverse community does require the adherence to a set of guidelines and rules. To not require this, would only leave our university open to the almost certain possibility of abuse and potentially disastrous consequences.

  3. While I can appreciate President Roth’s diplomatic overtures in this matter, his addressing of the situation in this blog post seeks to distract from the matter at hand by encouraging students to concentrate on issue’s percieved by our president as being more worthy of our time. Beyond this, the main problem I have, especially as a brother of Delta Kappa Epsilon, is that I’m not convinced university oversight, specifically when it comes to parties and relevant registration, keeps the students of our campus safer. Public Safety can break up as many parties as they’d like, however, I’m unconvinced they actually aid in the protection of our students’ safety. That being said, I think the perceived increased safety for students if Beta comes back on campus is illusory and will only give our administration a mere feel of increased control.

  4. Comments on this blog are welcome, but it’s our policy not to post anonymous comments. Thank you.
    Bill Holder
    Director of University Communications
    Wesleyan University

  5. I would have much more confidence in this policy if some basic scholarly practices had been applied before it was formulated:
    1) A thorough investigation of student safety issues on campus, with particular attention to the degree to which incidents are unreported all over campus and particularly in program housing. This should include an analysis of the degree to which the Confirmation Bias has affected the administration’s beliefs about Beta House and student safety.
    2) A report of the recommendations made to the University after it conferred with experts in the area of young adults’ risky behaviors and strategies that succeed in their making choices that lead to greater safety.
    I encourage students to demand that the University gather better information on campus crimes and safety ideas from students and identify practices that are effective in increasing safety, rather than merely reducing legal liability. Unfortunately, this policy gives the strong impression (incorrectly, I hope) that “student safety” is a convenient excuse for punishing Beta’s continued independence. And, for the record, I am not “pro-Beta.” I think the whole concept of Greek organizations is ridiculous and I wouldn’t mind if they all went away. I just don’t think that my biases — or the administration’s — are any basis for thoughtful policy-making.

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