Last month, the STEAM Collective hosted a town hall in which the group presented its petition of grievances and demands to students and University administrators. One of the Collective’s nine demands addressed Willamette’s fraternity and sorority system, saying, “A review of Greek Life on campus must be conducted by an unbiased third-party as soon as possible.”
After an initially tumultuous and defensive reaction to STEAM, many Willamette Greek Life leaders have come to accept the Collective’s demand for a third-party review. In statements released since the town hall, Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) leaders have announced their support for STEAM and have condemned backlash against STEAM members. Now, FSL leaders are working in tandem with STEAM and University administrators to plan for the review, as well as to address the Collective’s other concerns about Greek Life.
In the March 6 issue of The Collegian, it was reported that immediately following the town hall, three members of one fraternity approached and verbally challenged Nell Crittenden (‘19), a member of STEAM. One of these men was Andrew Choe (‘20), the president of Willamette’s Interfraternity Council (IFC). Choe said he and two other members of Kappa Sigma approached STEAM after the town hall to address the “misinformation” they believed the Collective was spreading. STEAM had used two examples of incidents that have happened in Kappa Sigma in recent years to explain why they believe a review of Greek Life is necessary.
“The problem was that they singled out Kappa Sigma as a chapter, bringing up an institutional memory. It wasn’t so much that in itself that was a problem; it was the misinformation that was part of that,” said Choe.
Choe said the objective of this confrontation was to correct the alleged misinformation. “It was meant to be as amiable as possible.” However, he said, at times the exchange did become “aggressive” and “emotional.”
“In hindsight, it was not at all an appropriate time or place to be bringing up those issues,” said Choe.
According to the Collective, members of Greek Life, particularly members of Kappa Sigma, continued to confront STEAM members in the days to follow the town hall. At this time, STEAM is not disclosing details about particular incidents, but when asked if he had experienced verbal backlash from Greek Life members, STEAM member Nico Sacco (‘21) said, “Yes, I experienced that,” and that he knew of other STEAM members who did as well.
After the town hall on Thursday night, STEAM member Ericka Bryan (‘21) tweeted, “Also please keep an eye out for those who were visible tonight. Please step in if you see folx being cornered!”
Another member, Dawn-Hunter Strobel (‘20), replied to Bryan’s tweet on Friday saying, “Some STEAM people have already been cornered & yelled at.”
Choe said he and Julia Fleener (‘20), the president of Willamette’s Panhellenic Council (PHC), saw these tweets and decided to write a formal statement in response. The joint IFC/PHC statement was released Friday, Feb. 22 and circulated throughout the FSL community.
“I had seen online that people were saying to watch out for fraternity men, [that] STEAM members have been cornered,” said Fleener. Some members of Greek Life, she said, “were processing in some not great ways. I wanted to bring the community together and be like, this is our stance and we’re going to stand in solidarity with this.”
The statement, which Fleener wrote, said, “On Friday, individual members of STEAM were corned by members of a fraternity and berated for their public stance. These members of STEAM were intimidated, harassed and unfairly targeted. As representatives of Greek Life, and just as community members in general, this behavior is wrong, disgusting and will not be tolerated.”
At the time that the joint statement was written, Choe said he and Fleener were not exactly sure what incidences Bryan and Strobel’s tweets were about. “We had no idea who they were referring to, what interaction they were referring to. That only became clear more recently with the address to Kappa Sigma.”
On March 3, STEAM released a statement clarifying points about Greek Life that were brought up in the town hall. This statement mentioned an incident from two years ago, in which Kappa Sigma’s chapter president was removed from his position following allegations of sexual misconduct.
STEAM’s statement said, “some Kappa Sigma members took this information very personally… To convey their discontent, some STEAMers have been cornered, yelled at and had their credibility as people come into question by members of this same fraternity.”
According to Choe and Fleener, it took time for some Greek Life members to process the town hall and STEAM’s demand for the review.
Choe said, “Members of Greek Life are scared, because you hear all the snaps in Cone Chapel when they call out Greek Life, and that feels threatening to people that wear their letters every day. All of a sudden they’re like, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong but now it feels like the whole campus hates me.’”
“Honestly, for the men I think it took a little bit more processing time,” said Fleener. “After a couple days we came together and all the presidents of all the chapters were like, we need to do this. This is legitimate, this is valid and we need to take it seriously.”
Choe and Fleener said most FSL leaders agree that a third party review of Greek Life would be welcome.
“If we could get a professional, unbiased person to come to this campus and identify all the issues that we need to fix and work on, and give us suggestions for how we can do that and help us plan a comprehensive plan… Why wouldn’t we welcome that?” said Choe.
On March 15, Fleener released a statement on behalf of PHC. In it, she wrote that PHC “would like to make it unequivocally clear that we support the STEAM coalition and the demands made. We look forward to a third-party review and are completely willing to comply in all procedures necessary for a thorough review.” The statement was emailed to the whole CLA community. IFC has not released a comparable statement.
Since the town hall, Greek Life members have formed a committee comprised of STEAM members, University administrators and faculty members to discuss and plan the review. FSL leaders are also planning initiatives they can take to improve the culture of Greek Life on campus. For example, Fleener mentioned that she and Choe are floating the idea of creating the student position of Vice President of Inclusion within the Greek community.
“We have a trust deficit to make up,” Fleener said, borrowing a phrase Vice President Jade Aguilar used in one of these meetings. “With that trust deficit, we have to go above and beyond… This is definitely going to be a long process, but it’s one I think is necessary. It’s necessary for us to exist on this campus.”