Faced with the possibility that assembly limits imposed on MIT’s Boston fraternities in October 2013 may continue through Rush week this September, the Interfraternity Council doubled down last week on a prohibition of the use of roof decks at all MIT fraternities in an attempt to ease tensions with the city of Boston.
The IFC has also put in place a provision that if Boston fraternities do not obtain licensure by Rush week, fraternities eligible to hold parties (those in Cambridge and Brookline) may do so only on Saturday of that week.
The assembly limits, enacted by the Boston Licensing Board, mandate that the number of people in an MIT Boston fraternity house at any time cannot exceed the residency limit, effectively restricting social gatherings and events.
The city of Boston has not specified a timeline regarding when licensure will be approved or what steps are being taken to expedite the process.
The “Temporary Open Air Spaces Rule Provision”
The “Temporary Open Air Spaces Rule Provision,” according to the IFC website, prohibits the use of “roofs, roof decks, balconies, and ledges” at all fraternity houses, except by maintenance personnel. The prohibition applies to all fraternities, including those in Cambridge and those which currently have licensed roof decks.
The punishments for violating this prohibition are stringent. The provision specifies that a first offense results in a “strong recommendation of social probation for a minimum of one year,” a second offense yields a “strong recommendation of organizational suspension,” and a third offense results in a “strong recommendation of organizational loss of recognition.”
Additionally, the provision says that “houses may be exempt from the policy with a written agreement from the FSILG office.”
The Association of Independent Living Groups enacted the same prohibitions in the fall of 2013. The recent motion by the IFC was a commitment to reinforce the policy.
According to IFC President Haldun Anil ’15, the primary reason for this restriction is to “ease the tension with the city until the situation can be sorted out.” He said that this tension arises from the fact that fraternities need a specific permit from the city of Boston in order to use roof decks. Many fraternity houses have unlicensed roof decks.
This provision was approved by over two-thirds of the attendees at the IFC President’s Council meeting last Thursday. Anil said that “fraternities understand that this policy is necessary in order to ease tensions with the city.”
Officers of a Boston fraternity, speaking with authorization of their president under the condition of anonymity, citing possible consequences from the IFC, expressed concerns regarding the generality of this legislation. They pointed out that many fraternities have invested a great deal of money in their roof decks, and some have even made sure to obtain the proper licensure. One said that restricting all fraternities from using their own space is “unbelievable,” and that “if [a roof deck] meets code, it should be approved. If it doesn’t meet code, it should not be approved.”
The “Temporary Recruitment Rule Provision”
The other policy recently passed by the IFC is the “Temporary Recruitment Rule Provision.” According to the IFC website, this provision states that if Boston fraternities do not have licenses to hold events and gatherings by Rush week, then all fraternities which are able to hold parties (those not in Boston) can only do so on Saturday, Aug. 30 during Rush week. The policy applies to fraternities in both Boston and Cambridge.
Responding to concerns that new students will not get a complete impression of fraternity parties in just one night, Anil commented, “In the past, Saturday has been a popular night for fraternities on both sides of the river to host parties; freshmen tend to go from party to party on the same night.”
This restriction will be voided if Boston fraternities obtain the proper licensure before Rush week.
Rush week looms
According to Anil, one of the primary issues in the licensing process is that the city of Boston has not been specific about regulations, making it difficult to move forward. “We’ve stressed the importance of getting the licenses back before Rush,” said Anil. “The IFC, FSILGs, and MIT administration are working hard toward that goal.”
Anil added that the IFC hopes to “make a contingency plan in case we don’t get the licenses before Rush week.”
The aforementioned Boston fraternity officers also stressed the necessity of lifting the restrictions by Rush week. “The really important thing for us is to get well-rounded students,” said the officers. They said that because Rush week is crucial for fraternities to make a lasting impression on new students, the assembly restrictions will make it hard for fraternities to represent the diversity and values that Greek life brings to MIT.
These officers said that a major cause of delay in obtaining licensure is ambiguity in the laws and licensing procedures. “One of the main difficulties that the IFC and fraternities are facing is that frat houses are installed and licensed as dorms. There’s a gray area in the code that dorms are not necessarily given a formal occupancy limit. The issue at this point is that the [Inspectional Services Department] is failing to address that there’s a hole in the code that is very specific to our living situation,” said the fraternity officers. “What we’re looking for is that this gray area gets resolved.”
The fraternity officers also feared that new students will get the impression that Greek life is under-supported by the MIT administration if the restrictions continue through Rush week. “I’d have gone to a different school if I got the impression that there was such a lack of support for the fraternity community,” said one officer. “This could have a serious effect on kids wanting to come to MIT in the future.”
Fraternities and the MIT administration
Regarding the regulations, the city of Boston directs communication to the MIT administration, the MIT administration communicates with the IFC, and the IFC communicates with individual fraternities. Anil noted that “individual fraternities, in terms of student leadership, haven’t been directly involved. However, the IFC has been gathering feedback from house leadership.”
The aforementioned Boston fraternity officers said they felt they lacked direct input into the situation. “Our role is to basically abide by the rules and not get in trouble,” one officer said. They also said that, in regards to obtaining licensure, the MIT administration and individual fraternities have two different agendas. “The MIT administration doesn’t understand fraternity culture; they’re just looking to meet housing needs,” said the officers. “We feel that there’s no one with a vested interest on our side,” another said.
Anil said that “given all the restrictions we’ve faced and continue to face, it’s easy to get disheartened, but it’s important for the community to keep a positive attitude.” Anil said that the IFC is hoping to reestablish a state of normalcy within the fraternity community, but with a higher focus on risk management and making sure that houses are safe for all brothers and guests. “We may have to be more limited, more managed in terms of risk, and stringent about how many people to let in [to events at fraternities],” said Anil. “We do not want to cause any reason for the city to think we’re unsafe.”
The aforementioned Boston fraternity officers are wondered what they could do to expedite the lifting of the assembly limits. “We’re dealing with a situation that was supposed to take a month or two, and has extended for eight or nine months, an entire school year,” one of them said.
“We want the MIT administration to make this a top priority because it affects directly about 25 percent of the student population, and close to 100 percent of the student body indirectly.”