Inside the student-centered approach to the recent reinstatement of the College’s six fraternities
In late March, a group of about 150 Rollins students, faculty, staff, and alumni partnered with representatives from national fraternity organizations to identify the most pressing issues surrounding Greek life at the College and to brainstorm ways to better align fraternity and sorority life with the Rollins mission. This Fraternity & Sorority Life Solution Summit was just one piece of a month-long process that led to the reinstatement of all six Rollins fraternities. Rollins360 sat down with Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Meghan Harte Weyant to learn more about the College’s unique approach to supporting fraternity life at Rollins.
Meghan Harte Weyant, Assistant Vice for Student Affairs and Dean of Students (Photo by Scott Cook)
Why were fraternities suspended in the first place?
“I was looking at a series of concerns around high-risk behavior that affected the fraternity community at large. Those incidents were associated with individual chapters, so I needed to sit down with each individual chapter and investigate what actually did and didn’t happen. That’s the intention of a summary suspension. It’s an administrative process to allow for an investigation and review and then respond appropriately. We had to take that time to meet with each of them and explain to them ‘X, Y, and Z are our concerns. What did happen? What didn’t happen? What do we need to address?’”
Weren’t the fraternities themselves involved in bringing some of that high-risk behavior to your attention?
“Yes. There were chapters—to their credit—that had already brought forward concerns about students in their chapters that they wanted to address as peers, and we were working closely with them to address those concerns. That needs to be noted, because I don’t think there are many fraternity and sorority life communities around the country that could say the same thing.”
Was this confined to the actions of individual students? Or did it rise to the level of being a systemic issue?
“We were looking at individuals engaging in high-risk behavior who were affiliated with fraternities. In regards to safety concerns, I don’t believe we were looking at fraternity-wide, systemic issues. We had a small percentage of students engaging in unsafe behavior. The systemic concern, my greatest concern, was and continues to be how are individuals within our fraternity community engaging as bystanders. When do they step in and call out unsafe or unjust behavior? What do they expect of each other? How are they holding individual members accountable?”
So it sounds like the suspension was as much about using this as a teaching opportunity for the larger population as it was about addressing the behavior of individual students.
“It was predominantly a teaching opportunity—a pause and reflection for the community as a whole to recognize and think about their expectations for holding each other accountable. We have processes and procedures to hold individual students accountable, and we did. We will always do that. The fraternity suspension was about creating a needed reflective pause to say, ‘these are organizations that have values that you personally and as a group subscribe to. The institution has a mission of leadership and citizenship. To what extent are you not fulfilling those values and that mission if you’re not addressing individual behaviors within your own chapter.’”
Can you walk me through the reinstatement process?
“Very soon after we initiated the summary suspension—which we decided on with our Interfraternity Council, chapter presidents, and delegates—we began sitting down with individual chapter executive boards, their advisors, and their national headquarters and having conversations about the concerns associated with each chapter. They then doubled back and had conversations with their members and advisors and began putting together action plans that they thought were most important for their groups. Then Jazmine Rodriguez, Director of Fraternity & Sorority Life, and I reviewed what they were proposing. We eventually came to a place of approving final reinstatement plans, and they’ve been working through those ever since.”
How did the Solution Summit fit into the process?
“One of the expectations of coming off summary suspension was their engagement in a whole series of activities including the Solutions Summit. It was important to me to not make a series of assumptions about what I thought the biggest challenges were for our fraternity men. I could have done that. I’ve seen that done in a number of places where someone in my role ascribes to a community what its greatest challenges are. But I haven’t seen that approach succeed, which is why I think nationally we continue to face some of the same concerns with fraternity and sorority year in and year out. Instead, I wanted to work closely with our students to have them identify what their challenges were and then begin crafting potential solutions. Our students are really brilliant, and they can speak to their lived experience better than someone in my role can. I wanted to offer the opportunity to help them identify their biggest concerns. We spent the day ideating, thinking about their potential challenges. During the course of the day, they identified a host of challenges that they want to tackle. They tackled three in particular that day: hazing, sexual assault, and leadership within the community. That day also brought about alcohol as a preeminent concern.”
Were those consistent with the high-risk behaviors that you’d identified?
“We were not looking at a sexual assault case. I think that’s really important to note. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have concerns about sexual assault within our community, but that was not one of the reported high-risk behaviors that prompted the summary suspension. Sexual assault was a concern that they identified within their own community. That speaks to their awareness of what’s going on, to their sense of responsibility for each other, and their willingness to tackle tough questions. One of the reflections at the summit was by a fraternity president who shared how critical is was for him to continue to learn from women on our campus about the best way he could step in as a bystander and prevent sexual assault. That’s a notable reflection because it speaks to an ability to recognize ourselves in a community issue. That is responsible leadership and engaged citizenship in action. It is a critical reflection, because it speaks to our students’ willingness to have these tough conversations.”
How was the summit facilitated? Who was leading those sessions?
“I’m a sociologist by training. As a sociologist, I’m particularly interested in community-based or cohort-based intervention strategies. I also just happen to be a fan of human-centered design thinking, because I believe it to be a pragmatic application of the liberal arts philosophy. Human-centered design flips our thinking about problems. We educate students in the liberal arts tradition in order to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems through a series of lenses, viewpoints, and ways of thinking. Human-centered design helps us build an environment. It gives us a process to engage our liberal arts thinking. It also allowed our students to be actively involved. What I didn’t want to do was have a full-day conference where we were lecturing. I wanted our students to be actively creating. I then went back to Interfraternity Council, and they pulled together a team of representatives who would serve as the Solutions Summit planning team. I showed them a draft of what a human-centered design workshop could look like. Our student leaders said, ‘We want to take this on. We think we can lead it. If we facilitate it, we’ll get better, more truthful responses and deeper engagement.’ They found 22 facilitators within the Greek community who went through human-centered design training and learned how to facilitate that process.”
What percentage of the fraternity population participated in the summit?
“All of the executive boards participated, which is anywhere from five to 10 people for each chapter, and then they had two members from each class year participate, so two first-years, two second-years, and so on. We wanted to have broad representation.”
What happens next? Will you hold a summit like this on an annual basis?
“There’s a whole series of next steps that need to happen from here. With the semester wrapping up, I want them focused on their academics more than anything else right now, but we’re working very closely with our IFC president to think about what things will look like in the fall. What will our new member institute look like in the fall? What does chapter president training look like in the fall? What are the next steps for solution implementation? I also think it’s important that we spend time with national fraternity organizations on our campus, addressing our particular concerns and questions and how their chapter helps us fulfill our mission.”
None of these issues are unique to Rollins though, right? Would you say every fraternity at every college in the country has to deal with issues like these?
“I would be surprised to find a college that doesn’t have to confront these issues regardless of whether they have a fraternity and sorority system. Health and safety issues are part of having traditional age students on a campus, particularly as they engage in groups. Anywhere you have groups of students, you have the potential of having these concerns.”
How unique was Rollins’ response to this situation—making students really own the process and engage in finding solutions?
“I think our response has been incredibly unique. We see fraternity and sorority life suspensions happen across the country. What I don’t think we’ve seen is this kind of engagement—this very intense engagement with our student leaders and our chapters. In other suspensions and at other times in Rollins’ history where we’ve suspended organizations, it was more of a cold timeout where all chapter activities just ceased—dialogue ceased, relationships tarnished. What we didn’t do was build the container to have reflection, have conversation, think about the strengths and the challenges of chapters and the community at large, and stay in it together as a community. I think that lack of engagement with students is why we see the same issues pop up year after year after year. I have found our conversations have helped me better understand what they need in order to be active bystanders and to hold their peers accountable. This is not a situation where they don’t want to act responsibly. It’s a situation where they need coaching on ways to intervene to keep other students safe. I think we all mostly want the same thing—a safe, healthy, and engaged student community.”
What is your biggest takeaway from this process?
“The main thing I’m taking away from this is I don’t know necessarily what the next student issue to tackle will be, but I know we will not be able to solve it without being in relationship and collaboration with students. This is what the work of education for leadership and citizenship should look like on a residential campus.”
“As the Dean of Students, I can’t unilaterally pass down new policy decisions or dictums to solve some of the most pressing student issues. We won’t solve these issues effectively that way. Those of us in administrative positions are going to have to stay in it with our students to create a safe and impactful student experience.”
“We’ll continue to work with our students individually. We will use our student code of conduct to engage the educational process for which it was created. We will continue to work with student groups, organizations and teams to address their concerns and align their experiences with the mission of the College. Our work is a continuing process of education and engagement, and I that’s what I love about it.”
“Our fraternity and sorority communities have shown incredible leadership and strong engagement. Looking toward the future, there are lots of opportunities to maximize the liberal arts experience and the mission of the college embedded within the fraternity and sorority life community. Rollins must be a place where our fraternity and sorority life experience is shaped by our liberal arts ethos. And that is an incredible opportunity.”