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After Student Death, Texas Tech Overhauls Greek Life

Almost a year after an alcohol-related student death and a fraternity party that featured offensive sexual decorations, Texas Tech University is boosting its oversight of fraternities and sororities ahead of the fall recruitment period.

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Almost a year after an alcohol-related student death and a fraternity party featuring a banner that read “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal,” Texas Tech University has boosted its oversight of fraternities and sororities in time for this year's fall recruitment.

Shortened new member orientation periods, stricter sanctions for rule violations and increased education on planning safer social events are among a slew of new policies in a report released this month that will affect almost every aspect of Greek life at the Lubbock university of more than 35,000 students. 

Capping the new member training period at eight weeks should limit the possibility of hazing, officials hope, and reducing the hours per week for new member activities should provide fewer chances for underage drinking. The more than 50 university Greek chapters will receive mandatory training in bystander intervention and sexual misconduct. Fraternities will undergo an additional program, “manhood and masculinity training,” which will include discussions on appropriate gender discourse.

The 39 policy changes were recommended by a 12-member advisory panel created last fall after Texas Tech freshman Dalton Debrick died from alcohol poisoning while drinking at an event for students rushing a “colony,” a local fraternity chapter waiting to receive official recognition from its national office.

In September, the university faced another high-profile incident when the Tech chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity held a party with a banner that read “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal” and a cutout of a vagina positioned around a working sprinkler. The university and the fraternity’s national office launched investigations after photos of the party leaked online.

“We hope that a lot of the policies prevent those kinds of incidents from taking place in the future,” said Juan Muñoz, the university’s senior vice president and vice provost and the panel’s chair. “Training ideally would have prevented the kind of topics or the kind of language that was used at that particular event.”

Recruitment for two of the university’s four Greek councils, Panhellenic Association and the Interfraternity Council, ends this weekend. This past week, 1,100 women rushed the 12 sororities of PHA and 800 men rushed the 24 IFC fraternities, dean of students Amy Murphy said.

The university is increasing risk management training for Greek leaders and introduced new guidelines for planning social events that advise chapters on tailgating and out-of-town functions. Texas Tech Greeks will have increased supervision from administrators and alumni — the school hired additional staff so each Greek council will have its own liaison.

Students violating the new rules will face more serious consequences, said Murphy, who also served on the panel. Before the change, Tech had no specific sanctions for student groups, only individual students. The university is developing new sanctions for Greek-specific violations including during recruitment, pledging and social events. It also rolled out an online reporting system for conduct violations.

The university is working to create more contact with parents of students who are rushing or have joined Greek organizations. Murphy shared the new policies with Debbie Debrick, the mother of the student who died last fall, and said she supported the changes. 

"Her opinion as a parent is very important," Murphy said. "She was very grateful that there was going to be additional information for parents of students who would be participating in the rush process."

Texas Tech is not the only university to have issues recently with campus Greek organizations. An incident involving Oklahoma University’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon sparked a national conversation about college Greek culture in March, when a video surfaced of a fraternity brother singing a racist chant.

In Texas over the last year, a University of Houston fraternity was suspended for hazing, and the University of Texas at Austin investigated a fraternity for throwing a “border control” theme party, where guests wore ponchos and sombreros. After the incident, UT-Austin’s IFC updated its code of conduct to include “cultural sensitivity” guidelines.

At Texas Tech, fraternity brothers said the Greek community welcomed the new policies, which give them unprecedented communication with school administrators, and have already seen a change in the culture. Administrators and students said IFC fraternities have begun self-reporting more policy violations than they had in the past.

New risk training encouraged brothers to report violations by stressing that safety and the values of the organizations should be prioritized over individual members who are misbehaving, said Tech junior Samuel Phariss, a member of Lambda Chi Alpha and IFC risk management chairman. 

Fraternity recruitment, which took place last week, has been safer this year, Phariss said, in part because IFC implemented a daily 10 p.m. meeting with students who are rushing. The meeting lasts one to two hours and keeps students from attending unsanctioned events and underage drinking at night during the recruitment period.

"Last year was very tragic and it hit everybody pretty hard," Phariss said. "It was the unfortunate wake up call we did need."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University and the University of Houston are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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