Grayson Joslin is a freshman political science major and writes “Soapbox” for The Daily News. He is also a senator for Ball State’s Student Government Association. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
In the 1980s, Playboy ranked Ball State the 18th best party school in the nation.
From that point on, Ball State’s reputation as a hub for parties was cemented. That perception would be put front and center on a warm October morning in 2018, when a cornerstone of Greek Life at Ball State was put under scrutiny.
On Oct. 3, the national Theta Chi fraternity revoked the Ball State chapter’s charter after multiple incidents, including a sexual assault, were reported at the Theta Chi house at 1100 W. Riverside Ave. The university immediately withdrew recognition of the Theta Chi chapter. The oldest brotherhood on campus, with more than 185,000 national lifetime members, would not be able to form a new chapter on Ball State’s campus any earlier than the fall 2021 semester.
The clock has now struck midnight on the suspension, and the once-suspended fraternity has made what it desires clear: Theta Chi wants to come back to Ball State.
Ball State’s administration faces an important decision, and how they react will send a clear message to students and faculty regarding how fraternities will be disciplined in the future.
Growing up 30 minutes from Muncie, a point that always came up when I told people I was applying to Ball State was the reputation the university gained as a party school.
I saw how American culture portrayed fraternity life: kegs, hazing and juvenile behavior. This reputation was hammered home in movies like “Animal House” and “Neighbors,” which showcased a variety of mischievous activities and culture.
Combine that notion with Ball State’s standing as a rowdy party school, and my mind was made up before getting to campus — I was not going to join a fraternity.
Let’s be clear: I have no hostile bias toward Greek Life here at Ball State. I understand the impact they have on our campus — there are bountiful opportunities to build leadership skills and to associate with a brotherhood of men with similar ideals. But, at the end of the day, I have different ideals than them. The clean-cut, professional image these Greek Life organizations sell to incoming students during rush week hides what I have come to understand as a dark underbelly of hazing, sexual assault, secrecy, elitism and — in some unfortunate circumstances — death.
These incidents in Greek Life have affected many colleges in the past — including Ball State.
In October 2017, the Interfraternity Council announced it would suspend social gatherings until Jan. 31, 2018, for its member fraternities. The reasoning was that their actions “stemmed from behaviors that do not represent the Beneficence Pledge,” according to a letter sent out following the decision. This decision was in response to 51 reports of sexual assault, fighting, hazing and other behaviors to the Office of Student Life between August and October 2017. The end of this suspsension came only eight months before Theta Chi was suspended. Andrew Walker, senior communications strategist for Ball State, said in an email, “Theta Chi is in the process of recolonizing and is in the process of seeking recognition as a student organization by the University [sic].”
Walker also said Theta Chi officially coming back to campus and being confirmed as a member of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) “will be dependent on their recognition as a student organization and by the IFC.”
Theta Chi representatives first presented to the senators of Ball State’s Student Government Association (SGA) Oct. 20, 2021. The representatives announced their intentions to form a new chapter on campus and stressed the ideals of the “Resolute Man,” the personification of the morals and integrity of Theta Chi.
I heard about Theta Chi’s suspension before I came to Ball State and became an SGA senator. I learned about it and pondered the possible ramifications the suspension could have on the university.
When Theta Chi representatives came to present to SGA, they stressed their image of the fraternity, which they described as focused on philanthropy and dignity. However, based on what I learned about the fraternity’s past, I would argue the image the Theta Chi representatives shared was misleading.
To an even greater surprise of mine, representatives failed to acknowledge that they were suspended three years earlier. After their presentation, I asked the representatives how they would stress and emphasize accountability and responsibility within Theta Chi. The answer they gave was a non-answer in my opinion, as they put aside the question of accountability to talk up their “Resolute Man” program once more.
It wasn’t just my question they avoided answering directly. In response to another question from a fellow senator, the representatives said they “understand where they’re coming from, and I want to show them that this new group of guys can be exactly what this campus needs,” without putting forward any specific plans or additional information regarding how this “new group of guys” will be any different than the last.
Overall, the representatives’ responses sounded like public relations talk lacking a sincere commitment to accountability. If they cannot provide proof of a positive change, how can they expect hesitant students to trust that their return would be a good thing?
If Ball State accepts Theta Chi’s attempt to come back and reestablish a new chapter, Ball State’s administration will be setting a dangerous precedent for Greek Life organizations. It seems Ball State is sending the message that if a fraternity or sorority harms their own image and that of the university, then it can take advantage of the lax accountability that can let them come back without earning their return.
There is no concrete public system to deal with Greek Life misconduct at Ball State. This means when tackling a fraternity or sorority who has broken the rules, it is the Wild West when it comes to how to reprimand them. However, solutions can be put in place for extraordinary circumstances, as shown with the suspension of social activities by the IFC in October 2017.
Even more alarming, many fraternities, including Theta Chi, place a premium on secrecy to ensure the confidentiality of certain aspects of their brotherhood. When approaching Theta Chi’s website, trying to access their constitution and bylaws brings up a page that shows these documents are only available when logged into a myThetaChi account.
It is not just their governing documents that are shrouded in secrecy. Currently, viewing the statement announcing the suspension by the national headquarters on any media outlet redirects to a private server with no option to move forward. By prioritizing secrecy, Theta Chi was diminishing their “dedication” to accountability and sending the message that brotherhood is more important than transparency.
This lack of transparency is one of many variables that can lead to some terrifying situations that may take place without any public outcry as consequence. Hank Nuwer, professor at Franklin College and writer dedicated to the history of fraternity hazing and abuse, found that there has been a hazing death related to a college fraternity chapter in the United States every year from 1959 until 2019. Though Ball State has not had a hazing death in the university’s history, these statistics represent the risk inherent to excusing bad behavior. Based on how Theta Chi’s attempted return is playing out, it seems as though Theta Chi is hoping that Ball State will say bad behavior has the potential to be excusable.
I welcome this approach of greater penalties for Greek Life organizations after decades of leniency. Ball State’s current administration, and Greek Life governing administrations in the past, has taken actions to ensure the safety of students in response to unsafe situations in Greek Life. After Lambda Chi Alpha’s suspension from campus in late 2004, the fraternity waited until March 2011 to be officially reinstated on campus. What did Theta Chi do so differently that made their suspension shorter?
Ball State’s administration must keep the safety of students in mind if it wants to consider letting Theta Chi back on campus. In order to restore faith for the student body, the administration must put together a system that will allow for more transparency and accountability in Greek Life. I believe Ball State needs to be more transparent with Greek Life organizations on campus; the university and the Greek Life governing associations need to work together to institute a system of accountability. We must invest in a system that puts safety first because the current system does not fully protect students, and it did not prevent Theta Chi from wanting to return to campus. I believe new guidelines need to be implemented in order to prevent this situation from happening.
It will take some time to see if Theta Chi has learned from its mistakes, so what purpose does it serve to bring them back onto campus before they’ve shown a willingness to change?
Bringing Theta Chi back on campus could bring a risk of more unfortunate incidents, and another incident is something with the potential to leave another mark on Ball State’s reputation.