To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Greek life requires bystander training for all new members

Student violence prevention educators trained the 77 new members of Brandeis’ fraternities and sororities this semester. The bystander trainings, required at Brandeis by all Brandeis club officers but not members of Greek life, are aimed at preventing violence by providing students with skills to address different situations.

The students, Lexi Foman ’21 and Aaron Pins ’21, are members of two of the 10 fraternities and sororities Brandeis students can join, however, the organizations are not recognized by the university itself. Because fraternities and sororities aren’t recognized as organizations at Brandeis, Greek life leaders aren’t required to undergo bystander training like other Brandeis chartered clubs. The organizations cannot become chartered clubs at Brandeis because clubs are required to be non-exclusionary, according to the club leaders handbook, so students recruit, advertise and host events independently.

But in 2018, Samantha Jean ’19 reached out to the Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center (PARC) to start bystander trainings for members of Greek life—trainings that have been continued by Foman and Pins.

Foman serves as the Sergeant-at-Arms for the Greek Awareness Council (GAC), a group made up of different fraternity and sorority members that connects Greek life with the Brandeis campus, and hopes that the trainings will continue after she graduates in 2021.

 “All of us as members of Greek life, but also just as students at Brandeis and people in the world, have a responsibility to prevent violence when we see it even if it’s uncomfortable,” said Foman in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

“In a short amount of time as students turnover and graduate, it will be that 100 percent of the Greek life community will have been bystander trained,” Vice President for the GAC Anna Greenberg ’21 added in the interview. “That’s actual change.”

The bystander training sessions were hosted in different classrooms and all new members were trained as of Nov. 11, said Foman to The Hoot. The trainings were versions of the first level of bystander training offered by PARC, which trains Brandeis club officers.

The trainings were adjusted to reflect scenarios members of Greek life might encounter in real life, said Director of PARC Sarah Berg in an interview with The Hoot. For example, students were asked to consider what they would do if a member of their fraternity or sorority was serving too much alcohol to party-goers, or what to do if a person at a party was visibly drunk and Greek life members were hesitant to call the police.

The training also touched on sexual assault, asking students to consider a situation where a friend and member of their organization was assaulting another friend.

Students affiliated with Greek life are more likely to experience sexual assault, according to the 2019 campus climate report, a survey answered by about 22 percent of the Brandeis graduate and undergraduate student body.

The report found that, of the undergraduate student respondents, 24 percent of fraternity or sorority members reported experiencing sexual assault and nine percent reported being raped since becoming a student at Brandeis. Students whose best friend is in Greek life or students who attend Greek life parties also reported sexual assault and rape at higher rates, while students with no contact with Greek life reported sexual assault at a rate of 18 percent and rape at a rate of five percent.

“While one cannot assume causation, there is a strong correlation between contact with different aspects of Greek Life and increased sexual harassment, assault and violence,” reads the report.

But members of Greek life, said Foman, also improved in their abilities to intervene in different situations. Members of Greek life were also more likely to confront a person hooking up with an unconscious person, at 75 percent compared to 52 percent of students with no affiliation with Greek life, according to the climate report.

And problems of sexual assault and violence are not unique to Greek life, said Berg. These are problems the Brandeis community as a whole needs to address, she added.

“Greek life is choosing to be proactive about these issues we know to exist everywhere,” Berg said. “It’s an everybody problem.”

Berg wants to go beyond just training club leaders to hopefully train all students on the Brandeis campus, and not just once during a student’s four- or five-year undergraduate career. Repeated bystander trainings, said Berg, are far better at helping students learn to deal with tough situations than a one-time training.

Berg is proud of the GAC’s initiative in training new members—a project that began in 2018 when PARC violence prevention educator and sorority member Jean brought the idea to Berg. Jean was the first Sergeant-at-Arms before Foman and first began the trainings for all of Greek life and then new members.  

“It really came from a need and desire from the community,” said Jean in a phone call with The Hoot. “The community stepped up to the plate to do this and I think that it’s important to note…Since we are not recognized by the university it’s really on us to make sure we are owning up to ourselves and holding ourselves accountable,” Jean said.

Greenberg also hopes that the training demonstrates that Greek life is committed to safety.

“Sometimes it baffles me that people have this notion that students in Greek life somehow don’t want to go about trying to get rid of this stereotype,” Greenberg said. “Students in Greek life are students. They want trainings, they want to increase accountability [and] safety.”

Some of the other safety measures, termed “risk management” by members of Greek life, include resources for Greek life members like the GAC, Sergeant-at-Arms and blacklists—resources emphasized in her trainings, said Jean. The blacklist is different for every organization, but is a list of individuals who are not allowed to be present at Greek social events because a person feels unsafe or threatened by that individual’s presence, said Jean. These resources are another part of how Jean adjusted the first trainings to be more realistic toward members of Greek life.

Though Jean graduated in 2019, she is proud that the trainings have continued and praised PARC for the center’s work in facilitating bystander trainings.

Foman and Greenberg intend to require new member trainings in the GAC constitution. The Sergeant-at-Arms is required under the existing constitution to coordinate “at least one bystander training per semester open to all of Greek [sic] life.” He or she also has to keep track of who has not been bystander trained and communicate that to relevant sorority and fraternity chapter presidents. 

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