Vice President for Student Affairs Ric Hall, Lehigh’s Interfraternity Council and the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) responded to Greek chapters being placed on an indefinite “pause,” following a series of disciplinary action taken by the university.
Hall said university officials had gradually reached a tipping point in the past few months, where specific behaviors were found to be alarming and both “unacceptable and potentially harmful to students.”
“We simply had to say, ‘Enough was enough,’” Hall said. “Let’s pause, take a breath, regroup and then, once the students have worked to some solution they can all agree upon, then we’ll resume.”
All Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic chapters were notified of the “pause” on Tuesday, Jan. 28, via an email sent by President John Simon and Hall that addressed current and aspiring members of Lehigh’s Greek community.
The email referred to a “deep concern” regarding the safety and well-being of students involved in Greek organizations and those aspiring to be.
“The Interfraternity Council agrees that the health and safety of students must be a top priority,” Lehigh’s Interfraternity Council said in a statement to The Brown and White. “We are committed to working with the university and all parties to create a plan to improve our community. Wrongdoers should be held accountable, but we must respect the rights of those who are living up to the standards of fraternal excellence.”
Members of the Panhellenic Council didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Krisana Goel, ‘22, is the vice president of philanthropy for her sorority. She said when she heard of the “pause,” it was disappointing to be told that community service had to cease.
“We had to cancel our community service last week at the Hispanic Center, where we stock the food pantry for them every Friday,” Goel said. “I think the pause really led to me realizing how much the school actually contributes to the local community — especially Greek life — because it wasn’t just us stopping our community service for the week, it was a lot of other chapters, too.”
Goel said there were also issues with tutoring and bringing food to Broughal Middle School.
She said more information could have been given to chapters and individuals before the “pause” took shape.
“I think I was shocked like everyone else was, just because from my perspective, there wasn’t really that much of a build-up that we saw in the Greek community that led to the ‘pause,’” she said.
Goel said some of the guidelines surrounding the “pause” were somewhat ambiguous, and she would have wanted more details.
“The email was intended to be a shock to the system, and it was,” Hall said. “It was a desired effect — we got everyone’s attention, and had we not done something like that, my thought is that the Greek system would collapse on itself, because that’s to an extent that’s what’s happening.”
Hall said if the institution just stood aside and “let Greek life die a slow death,” it would be unfair to the vast majority of students who enter Greek life for positive reasons.
Three fraternities have been disciplined in the past few weeks. Lehigh’s chapter of Phi Kappa Theta was dissolved on Jan. 20, Theta Xi was suspended from conducting any events on Jan. 24, and Delta Chi was temporarily suspended on Jan. 27 pending an LUPD investigation of drugs and alcohol in their house, according to university conduct records.
On Wednesday, Jan. 29, members of Phi Kappa Theta received a letter explaining that those living in the chapter house would be asked to find alternative housing options and vacate the chapter house by Feb. 9.
The next day, members were then told that although the chapter will be dissolved, they wouldn’t have to vacate the physical house until the end of the semester.
Several members of Phi Kappa Theta didn’t reply to a request for comment.
In an email sent to The Brown and White, Todd Shelton, chief communication officer for the NIC, released a statement that said they agree with the university that the health and safety of students must be a top priority, and students who are not meeting expectations should be held accountable.
In the statement, the NIC, an association of collegiate men’s fraternities, also said Lehigh’s “pause” negatively impacts students who are following the rules and is the wrong way to address concerns.
“Other campuses have modeled a better way to solve issues by bringing all stakeholders to the table in collaboration to create meaningful, long-term change,” the statement said. “Blanket community actions against all fraternities and sororities that prohibit positive activities don’t work. Among other concerns, they disincentivize following the rules and taking care of each other, since responsible students are treated just like their peers causing problems.”
The statement urges the university to bring all parties together to figure out a path that places the highest priority on health and student safety, while also respecting those who are doing nothing wrong.
“Blanket actions also erode trust between campus partners and students, alumni and inter/national organizations because these actions come off as unilateral, lacking basic principles of due process,” the statement said.
Hall said the message to the Greek community is that they have always been considered one, collective community, and all chapters should be a part of forming positive and long-lasting solutions.
Emily Frase, ‘23, was in the new member process of a sorority when the “pause” was enacted, and she said the ban on Greek life has been unfair to the individuals involved.
“Even though they should be enforcing good values onto Greek life, they’re not exactly helping it get better,” Frase said. “They’re kind of just punishing us in the hopes that we get better, without actually forming a plausible plan for the future.”
Frase said she thinks when the “pause” is over, students may actually be more prone to putting themselves in unsafe situations because they’ve been removed for some time.
She said it’s been disappointing to not be able to participate in new member activities with her sorority, especially after just signing her bid.
“I mean, this is something that people look forward to – and think about before they even get to Lehigh,” Frase said. “It feels unfair that we’re being deprived of that privilege. Unless we have real leadership helping us to do better, we kind of just resent the administration for doing what they did.”
Hall said any changes or new initiatives for Greek life are for sustainability or excellence for Greek life. He said if things remain the same, he believes Greek life would slowly or eventually die. He said he believes in Greek life at Lehigh, and that students who gravitate toward fraternities and sororities do so for the right reasons.
He said Greek organizations undergoing changes is not just happening at Lehigh, but is a national trend.
“There is no plot, no grand design, no scheme, to end Greek life at Lehigh, period,” Hall said. “There is no will to end Greek life at Lehigh. All of our efforts have been for the sole purpose of improving and sustaining Greek life at Lehigh, and making sure that the students who want to join these organizations remain safe.”
Hall said Greek chapters are working with staff at the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs to construct plans on how to move forward, and said he said he fully anticipates resuming Greek recruitment.