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September 25, 2014

The Beta Theta Pi house on Wesleyan University's campus is one of the organizations that will have to admit women as well as men by 2017. 

Wesleyan University in Connecticut announced Monday that all of its on-campus fraternities must go co-ed by 2017 or lose official recognition and support from the school. 

Wesleyan spokeswoman Kate Carlisle says the idea of making the university’s fraternities co-ed has been in discussion for years, and that the goal is to make social life more inclusive and fair. 

"The administration spent the summer soliciting and reviewing input on Greek life from a wide variety of interested parties, including current and alumni fraternity members, parents, students and the wider Wesleyan community," Carlisle wrote in an e-mail.  

Nicole Brenner is vice president of the Wesleyan student assembly. She opposed the student government resolution last year that was the basis for the change. 

"When we first started talking about co-education, it was as a response to sexual assault," Brenner said. "In the past several months the conversation has shifted directions and focused more on issues of equity and inclusion on campus, and has framed (fraternity houses) as inherently exclusive."

That exclusive-frat culture is often associated with heavy drinking, partying, and sometimes -- rape. A report from the National Institute of Justice concluded that 1 in 10 sexual assaults on campus happen in fraternity houses. Brenner and other students say going co-ed is a first step to breaking up that culture, but still not enough. 

"I think that focusing on such a small specific population here really doesn't address the issue as a whole," said Brenner.

Greek life isn't dominant on the small liberal-arts campus. In addition to the three all-male fraternities on campus, there is only one sorority. The fraternities affected by the policy shift are Psi Upsilon, Delta Kappa Epsilon and Beta Theta Pi. The future of the fraternities is now unclear. While the national Psi Upsilon organization does allow for co-ed chapters, Beta Theta Pi and Delta Kappa Epsilon do not.

Terence Durkin is the President at Delta Kappa Epsilon, and a junior at Wesleyan.

"The University is telling us who our friends are going to be, and who we must choose as our leaders," wrote Durkin in an e-mailed statement. "This is just not right. This is just not Wesleyan. We are exploring all options with our Alumni and undergraduates."

Traditionally, fraternities are all-male and sororities all-female, but there are some exceptions. There's a much smaller number of co-ed groups, still billed as frats. They're usually organized around a service mission or ethnic identity, and in many cases aren't officially associated with greek-life councils.

And while it is unusual for a school to step in and mandate the entire system go co-ed, it's not unheard of. Two years ago Trinity College did it, citing heavy drinking and drug use. And just this week Dartmouth College announced their fraternities won't be allowed to have a pledge period,typically associated with hazing.

These changes come at a time when fraternities' role in sexual assaults on college campuses is coming under close scrutiny. In 2012, a woman filed a lawsuit against Wesleyan for failing to follow-up on a sexual assault report in compliance with federal law. The anonymous student's alleged assault happened at one of the fraternities on campus. Another assault was reported this past spring, also at one of the on-campus fraternity houses. 

Earlier this semester the university declared the Beta Theta Pi house off limits to students, banning the organization from hosting social events, after a student was injured during a fall from a balcony. 

“We have lost confidence in the ability of the fraternity members to manage social and residential activities at the house and abide by university policies,” President Michael Roth and Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley said in a statement sent out earlier this semester. “Wesleyan has an obligation to do what it reasonably can to ensure the safety of every member of the community, including the Beta fraternity members and their guests. 

Marc Mores is executive vice president of a company that insures fraternities. He's  spearheading an initiative to train fraternity brothers on how to recognize, and then intervene, when something bad may be about to happen. 

"The actions of so few members of these fraternities have a huge impact on the greater whole of their organization," said Mores.

Mores doesn't think that making organizations co-ed will do much to increase safety on campus. If anything, it could do the opposite. 

"I think when you have a co-ed situation in a fraternity facility, or house and you're co-habitating, there's an increase likelihood with engagement with members of the opposite sex," said Mores.

Regardless, it's unlikely fraternities as we know them are going anywhere soon. More than 9 million students in America go greek, and 13 percent of entering freshman say there's a very good chance they'll join a fraternity or sorority.

*An earlier version of this story said that Nicole Brenner supported the resolution to make fraternities co-ed, when in fact she opposed it.

increasing access and success, greek life, wesleyan

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