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Tufts cracks down on fraternities, sororities

Tufts University in Medford.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff/File 2017

Tufts University plans to crack down on Greek life organizations this year after allegations of hazing, sexual misconduct, and alcohol abuse roiled the campus last fall and sparked a months-long investigation of fraternities and sororities by administrators.

Tufts officials, who suspended new recruitment last fall, said they had recently concluded the investigations into nine of the school’s 16 Greek organizations and have issued sanctions against some of them, while others are still pending. One fraternity dissolved after the controversy in January.

The university investigations found that some of the organizations had violated Tufts’ hazing, alcohol, sexual harassment, and academic integrity policies and have required members to receive training. No criminal charges resulted from the investigations, nor were students suspended or disciplined, said Patrick Collins, a spokesman for the university.


The university said it will allow some sororities and fraternities to recruit new students this fall, but will limit membership to those in their sophomore year or older and will require pledges to attend a hazing prevention and safety workshop.

“We are committed to working with our students, faculty, staff, and others to remodel Greek life to enhance oversight, improve risk management, and ensure that organizations are aligned with the university’s values and standards of inclusivity, personal and academic integrity, and active citizenship,” the university said in a statement.

Tufts is among many undergraduate institutions grappling with the role of Greek organizations on the campus environment, as it tries to provide a robust social life for students, while also ensuring that it’s inclusive and safe.

Harvard University, for example, is considering whether to phase out exclusive social organizations, such as final clubs, along with sororities and fraternities, over concerns that they foster a discriminatory and unsafe environment.

At Tufts, the debate about the fate of Greek organizations gripped the campus last year after the school’s newspaper published a graphic account of a fraternity rush, including students being forced to watch other pledges perform oral sex on women. The controversy over these organizations is likely to continue this year.


Students are divided over whether the organizations should be abolished or reformed.

Timi Dayo-Kayode, a sophomore from Maryland, said he wanted to rush last year but couldn’t because the fraternities were shut down.

He said it was smart of the administration to shut them down but thinks they should be reformed, not abolished.

“It’s basically like cutting off a foot because you have an injury or stubbed your toe,” said Dayo-Kayode, who studies computer science and economics.

Kira Lauring, a sophomore from Baltimore who studies computer science and American studies, said she understands that members find a sense of community in the organizations, but said they marginalize people of color, those who can’t afford the dues, those who are disabled, or identify as queer or transgender.

“You can reform things only so much,” Lauring said. “I don’t think everyone in a sorority is a bad person; I just think it doesn’t belong at Tufts.”

Hannah Kahn, a 19-year-old sophomore, said she struggled all summer about whether to rush a sorority this year. She said she wanted an opportunity to be around other strong women, meet the older students, and participate in social and philanthropic activities. But she was also concerned that these groups exclude some students and were dogged by drinking and sexual assault allegations.


She said after talking to sorority members and hearing their willingness to reform and expand their membership, she decided to join a sorority. The university’s reforms are a good start, she said. “I think at this point, it is going to be here, for better or worse, let’s make it positively impactful,” she said.

Greek organizations have been part of the Tufts culture for more than 150 years and the university faces challenges in trying to abolish them, said Charles Trantanella, a Westford resident and 1989 graduate who wrote a Greek life history.

Every decade a controversy erupts and there’s a push from students to reform or abolish Greek organizations, he said.

But about a quarter of Tufts undergraduates were members of a sorority or fraternity as recently as 2015, more than those who participated in school athletics, he said.

And because so many Tufts students live off campus, the Greek organizations provide a social connection and ensure that the parties are contained around the campus and don’t spill into neighborhoods in Somerville and Medford, Trantanella said.

“It’s a big part of the social life of the students, you would need something that would replace that,” he said. “It would leave a vacuum, and the fear is that it would move off campus.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.