Comprehensive Housing Review Needed
The punishments recently meted out to two fraternities expose weaknesses in the fraternity system and the Interfraternity Council's disciplinary procedures. The crippling of a police officer by a boarder at Beta Theta Pi has gone entirely unpunished by MIT. At the same time, the Institute has decided not to lift a suspension of Sigma Alpha Epsilon since the fraternity violated an injunction against summer recruiting. As a result, SAE will not be rushing this fall.
BTP's claim that it was not responsible for the actions of a boarder is not entirely valid. The house's legal responsibility for these boarders is no different from its responsibility for the actions of fraternity brothers who live there during the academic year. MIT and the fraternity need to accept this fact and take appropriate responsibility.
While it would be impossible for the fraternity to maintain total control over boarders, particularly those not affiliated with MIT (as the offenders in this case likely were), the fraternities do have opportunities to rein in the actions of problematic boarders. Residents who show any pattern of misbehavior should be threatened with the loss of their security deposit or eviction.
BTP is not unique in its treatment of boarders; as such, that house should not be punished too severely for having an unlucky selection of summer residents. Instead, the entire fraternity system needs to re-evaluate how summer residents are screened and overseen. To avoid incidents like this in the future, it may be necessary for fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups to tighten restrictions on boarders. MIT might require summer dormitory residents to be affiliated with the Institute, since this affords a great deal of additional control over their behavior through internal disciplinary proceedings and sanctions. Similar restrictions would give off-campus residences a similar measure of control over their boarders.
In addition to the tragedy at BTP, SAE was also sanctioned for violating an MIT-imposed ban on recruiting activities by the house. The punishment offered by the IFC Judicial Committee was so weak that it was rendered almost totally moot by the administration's decision not to allow SAE to rush. However, that eventual resolution of the situation is satisfactory and reflects a punishment that is keeping with the nature and severity of the infraction.
These incidents are merely the latest in a long series of embarrassing and worrisome incidents in the fraternity system. These have demonstrated that a number of MIT's fraternities are unhealthy or unsafe places for freshmen to live. Although many fraternities are extremely valuable - with impeccable credentials and providing useful services to their members and the community as a whole - these incidents call into question the value of several living groups.
Since MIT requires freshmen to live either with family members or in an approved residence, the Institute has a responsibility for ensuring that the approved housing options are safe places to live. Up to now, MIT has allowed residences to maintain their approved status with essentially no review. In order to ensure that all the freshman housing options are safe and to rebuild faith in the system, MIT should conduct a comprehensive review of all approved housing options, both FSILGs and dormitories. The Institute should withdraw approval from any residences that may provide unhealthy environments for MIT students.