DeKALB – When a Northern Illinois University fraternity was found to have committed conduct violations last year that could endanger students’ safety, administrators took a punitive approach.
For committing multiple violations over homecoming, the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity was hit with a three-year social suspension, a ruling Greek members characterized as a death sentence during a March board meeting.
But after months of negotiations and a re-evaluation of the scope of Greek issues, the university and Phi Kappa Theta have agreed to a progressive alternative to the fraternity suspension that would help Greek students learn and evolve from previous actions rather than be punished for them. The hope from both sides is that this restorative justice approach can be implemented throughout Greek life.
Evan Johnson, president of Phi Kappa Theta, called the new ruling a conditional social probation and said it was a big win for both the university and the fraternity’s national organization.
“I can’t wait to see the massive success this brings for us and other Greek organizations as well,” Johnson said. “It’s a historic agreement I think any other Greek life across the country could take notes on and use to better their organizations.”
An investigation last year determined that Phi Kappa Theta jointly hosted five consecutive days of events with an NIU sorority where a number of violations of the university’s Off-Campus Social Events Policy occurred, including failure to register events via Huskie Link, hosting drinking games, providing common-source alcohol, failure to provide a guest list and failure to provide sober event assistants.
Several other Greek organizations were also found to be guilty of incidents that follow the same pattern, which NIU leadership felt was indicative of a larger cultural program.
Therefore, the two Greek organizations were given the opportunity to alter the suspensions so long as they use the sanction period to engage in activities where students take responsibility for their actions, address the effects on those harmed by their activities and develop positive behaviors.
Under the new ruling, agreed upon in April, Johnson said at the beginning of the semester, his fraternity will have to submit a list of all events they wish to participate in and describe how each event aligns with the organization’s values.
The fraternity also will work with a consultant who will act as a life coach to help map out goals and success.
As long as the fraternity continues to live up to the university’s expectations, restrictions will be loosened each semester until the probation ultimately is lifted.
Chris McCord, NIU acting executive vice president and provost, said the university’s original ruling has not been withdrawn, but the university essentially has suspended the punishment while this new approach is tested.
“If they completely fall off the wagon and don’t live up to the new sanction, we reserve the right to impose the three-year suspension,” McCord said. “This is not meant to say we’ll look at every opportunity to trip them up, but we just need them to know that if they work with us, we’ll work with them.”
McCord credited the national Phi Kappa Theta organization, as well as the students in the local chapter, for helping to frame this new plan.
“We are very much looking at this as a model of how we can approach the student code of conduct and not just for fraternities or sororities, but for any students organization,” McCord said. “I’m excited that this might give us a more positive way to approach these issues as a learning opportunity for students.”