Much has been written in the past year or so about campus rape. In prior years however, more attention has been paid to alcohol on campus with binge drinking being a focus of attention. The truth is that the two issues are linked. The University of Michigan is currently renewing its focus on a culture of excessive drinking among fraternities and sororities. Campus officials plainly are concerned about the impression of this elite university as a party school and of bad behavior by students. College campuses are strange places; students who live on campus are mostly under the lawful drinking age. Yet they live in a culture which is consumed by heavy alcohol consumption for socializing. Most of this alcohol consumption occurs in privately owned spaces, such as fraternities or sororities or apartments that are rented. Yet the activities that occur in these private spaces are dominated by students who all attend the same institution.
Historically, however the law has made great distinctions between universities sanctioned social events particularly those that take place on university owned property and privately organized activities. The dramatic change in the regulatory environment by the U.S. Department of Education is an effort to require universities and colleges to exercise more control over student behavior that takes place on private property. The first phase of this stepped-up enforcement has been an emphasis on encouraging victims of sexual abuse to file complaints with University investigating offices. These investigations follow procedures which frankly have been changing almost every year. As universities receive new guidance from the government and as they get criticized for not doing enough to address the problem, they alter their policies.
I predict that the next phase of university efforts to combat sexual abuse on campus will be to hold fraternities responsible if they create conditions in which sexual assault occurs with some regularity. We will continue to see individual sexual encounters being investigated in university bureaucracies. However, I think we will find universities more willing to respond aggressively to concerns about sexual assault in fraternities than they have historically done so.
For information or questions regarding this post readers can contact the author David Nacht.