Univresity of Minnesota fraternities ban booze at parties after third sex assault case
By Doug Belden and Mara H. Gottfried
Fraternity leaders at the University of Minnesota have taken the unusual step of banning alcohol at parties after three reported sexual assaults in as many weekends at different houses.
"This was a very significant step. I would say a revolutionary step," said senior Martin Chorzempa, president of the Interfraternity Council, a student group that oversees 24 fraternities at the university. "It needs to stop."
The council's chapter members voted unanimously Sunday to impose the party ban, effective Monday.
The group also suspended one of the fraternities where an attack was reported, Delta Kappa Epsilon, for four years. The chapter has also been suspended by its international parent organization.
The latest incident occurred late Thursday or early Friday. A 19-year-old university student reported she was sexually assaulted at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house.
It follows a similar reported attack the weekend before at the Chi Psi house and one the weekend before that at Delta Kappa Epsilon. In addition, two men were beaten and robbed at Delta Kappa Epsilon the same weekend the alleged sexual assault occurred.
Minneapolis police are investigating the cases.
Sgt. Bill Palmer, Minneapolis police spokesman, said Monday that police do not believe the same assailant is at work in the three cases.
Alcohol was a factor in the sexual assaults, he said.
Jerry Rinehart, the university's vice provost of student affairs, said Monday that authorities "believe the two men involved in the last two assaults are students," though student affairs "doesn't know the exact identities," according to a university spokeswoman.
Palmer said he couldn't discuss active criminal sexual conduct cases, though he said there have been no arrests.
Delta Kappa Epsilon's on-campus suspension was for violating council policy, Chorzempa said. He declined to provide details, citing the fraternity's right to appeal.
The international DKE organization temporarily suspended the U chapter Sept. 26, said executive director Doug Lanpher, out of concern that members weren't sufficiently controlling access to parties.
Shutting off the taps temporarily will give Greek and university leaders time to re-evaluate policies and procedures, they said.
Chad Ellsworth, coordinator for the university's Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life, said this is the first time in his six years at the U that the Interfraternity Council has imposed such a drinking ban.
Until the ban is lifted, fraternities can host dry parties, and members who are 21 can drink in the house, Chorzempa said. But if guests are present, nobody can drink, he said.
Enforcement will be up to the council, Chorzempa said. "We anticipate we'll be able to effectively monitor."
But some students said Monday that they doubted the policy would make much difference.
Senior Christina Harrison said people will just have parties elsewhere, and that the fraternities' action misses the point.
"It's underemphasizing the issue that's actually at hand, which is why are these women being assaulted?" she said. "And why is it unsafe to go out in Dinkytown, and why are they being treated this way?"
According to University of Minnesota Deputy Police Chief Chuck Miner, "We have very low numbers of reported sexual assaults on and around campus, and most of those are some form of acquaintance sexual assault.
"It's unique that we've had three instances that we've issued alerts for so close together," Miner said.
The university keeps statistics about the number of forcible sex offenses reported, with the information broken down by location.
One category, "non-campus buildings or properties," reflects any building owned or
controlled by a student organization officially recognized by the university. The majority of residences in the category would belong to fraternities or sororities, Miner said.
There were 22 forcible sex offenses reported in 2009, with none in non-campus buildings. Of the 15 reported in 2008, two occurred in non-campus buildings; and of the 19 reported in 2007, six occurred in non-campus buildings.
Nationally, one in four college women will experience a rape or attempted rape during her college career, said Donna Dunn, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
In 75 percent of college sex assaults, the offender, the victim or both have been drinking, she said.
Fraternity houses at the U are privately owned, and chapter activities are governed by the Interfraternity Council.
But if they are registered as student groups, their conduct is also subject to the student policy handbook, Ellsworth said.
Phi Gamma Delta is a student group, as is Chi Psi, though it is on probation, Ellsworth said. DKE did not register, which limits the university's ability to take disciplinary action against the house as a whole, Ellsworth said.
In February, university staff made a list of recommendations for tightening control over
fraternity and sorority parties, Ellsworth said. (Nine of the 10 sororities on campus are already dry.)
The recommendations included limiting the amount of alcohol guests bring in, mandating shorter guest lists and banning hard alcohol from chapter property.
Ellsworth said some, but not all, of the recommendations have been adopted by the student groups.
He said administrators support the Interfraternity Council's ban as a temporary move and will work with the group on longer-term changes.
Chorzempa said the fraternity presidents will reconvene Sunday to discuss further steps,
including a campaign to raise awareness of sexual abuse and a future safety conference among fraternity leaders, police and university officials.
As for how long the ban will be in place, "I have no real estimate," Chorzempa said.
It depends how long it takes to talk with affected groups, review party policies and come up with criteria to ensure safety, he said. "It's going to be a fairly large conversation."
He said he is at a loss to explain what's behind the rash of attacks.
"It is really difficult to pinpoint," he said. It probably has less to do with an underlying problem than simply "a very unfortunate coincidence of timing," he said.
He said fraternities have been doing well in recent years ensuring safety at parties, but given the recent attacks, "clearly there are some issues."
"It's something that we're taking seriously," Chorzempa said. "It's something we're moving forward on."
Kaitlyn Egan contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.