National stipulations, confusion mark controvery over Debate on Fraternities

By Julia Cinquegrani || Editor-in-Chief

The national headquarters of several fraternities and sororities at F&M have discouraged their members from attending the “Debate on Fraternities” that is being hosted by F&M’s Debate Team and will be held on Tuesday, March 1.

Stuart Umberger, director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and the presidents of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and the Panhellenic Council (PHC) cited concerns about the structure and content of the debate as the reasoning behind some Greek organizations’ discouragement of members’ participation in the debate.

In an email sent on Monday,  February 8 by Umberger to sorority and fraternity leaders, he wrote that events of this nature require review and approval from an organization’s national headquarters and that individuals should not be signing on to participate without the appropriate permissions.

The national headquarters of three of F&M’s seven social fraternities have prohibited their members from participating in the debate.

“It’s not really an issue of whether individual people on this campus do or do not want to be involved, but the [fraternity] national headquarters saying no,” said James Galasso ’17, president of the IFC.

The IFC, which is comprised of leaders of F&M’s fraternities and promotes fraternal best practices and enforces policies, has not reached a decision yet on how involved they want to be in the debate. The Debate Team has invited fraternity members to participate in the debate’s pro-fraternity side and provide statistics and information about fraternities, but the IFC has not yet decided if they want to participate.

The PHC has not reached a decision yet on whether they will support the debate or if they will discourage sorority members’ participation in it. The PHC hopes to be unified in its decision to support or not support the debate, and is holding votes regarding whether to support the debate and if they will contribute information for the debate about sororities.

Some of F&M’s fraternities and sororities are still waiting for a decision from their national headquarters about the extent to which their members may participate in the debate. Katie Carrier ’17, president of the PHC, which is composed of representatives of F&M’s sororities and promotes unity among sororities, advised sorority presidents not to advertise the debate until they had received a decision from their national headquarters approving their sorority’s participation in the debate.

Sorority headquarters and F&M sorority leaders are concerned that issues raised at the debate may go against the best interests of their organizations or interfere with their bylaws governing the publicity that sorority members should attract. As a result, sorority members have been discouraged from attending the debate or advertising it until their national headquarters reach a decision.

Although the debate will only discuss the merits of fraternities, Carrier said it is difficult for sororities and the PHC to quickly decide whether they should support the debate because of the plethora of opinions and rules that are pertinent.

“We can’t really tell people what to do or not to go to the debate, but we have best practices, and some of our best practices are to avoid negative publicity on Panhellenic matters and to support fraternities in areas of common concern,” Carrier said.

On Monday, February 15, Umberger met with leaders of fraternities, sororities, the IFC, the PHC, and Matt Rohn ’16, the former president of the Debate Team and the organizer of the Debate on Fraternities, to discuss the content and structure of the debate and to clarify Greek organizations’ possible involvement in it.

Rohn has been organizing the event with the help of Sean Flaherty, don of Weis College House. Rohn believes fraternities are a significant topic to discuss because of the national attention they have garnered in recent years and because of the ongoing conversations F&M has been having throughout the year about inclusivity and diversity on campus.

Carrier, Galasso, and Rohn could not think of a campus event in recent years that has produced the amount of controversy among Greek organizations that the Debate on Fraternities has caused.

“It would look very bad if we don’t show up, because it could contribute to the idea that we’re not being open or transparent, and we certainly don’t want that,” Galasso said. “Debate has a negative connotation attached to it. It is difficult coming from that sense because there is a fear that it will not be an open discussion and it will just be an attack on fraternities.”

In the days remaining before the debate, some sororities and fraternities are still waiting for decisions from their national headquarters, and the IFC and PHC will continue to discuss among themselves and with the Debate Team to finalize the extent of their participation in the debate.

Senior Julia Cinquegrani is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is jcinque@fandm.edu.

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