Administration's inaction allows illegal fraternities to thrive

UB needs to become involved in prosecution and prevention of illegal groups

In The Spectrum’s final issue of the 2013-14 school year, managing editor Lisa Khoury exposed a dangerous and unchecked phenomenon occurring just minutes away from UB’s South Campus. In her article, “Animal Heights,” Khoury outlined the organization and behavior of five illegal fraternities at UB: Sigma Alpha Mu, Alpha Tau Omega, Phi Delta Theta, Kappa Sigma and Delta Sigma Phi.

These groups, which illegally use the names and symbols of national organizations and are not registered with UB, operate in open secrecy. Their houses are located in University Heights, like the majority of legal Greek organizations, but unlike legitimate fraternities and sororities, these groups are outside of university purview – and UB seems wholly too comfortable with that.

Aptly compared to gangs by a current UB student (who, notably, remained anonymous out of fear of retaliation), the behavior of illegal fraternities, as investigated and documented by Khoury, is indeed outright criminal. From extreme, violent hazing involving group beatings and excessive, forced alcohol consumption that sent students to the hospital and others leaving UB entirely when they couldn’t disaffiliate to recruitment of high schoolers and drug-selling operations involving marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine, the actions of these groups is deplorable.

UB has a responsibility to protect its students and to help them graduate successfully. And though the students who choose to join these groups may not seem entirely deserving of assistance, let’s consider the students who live next door to these groups, or who attend their parties, where copious amounts of alcohol and drugs are readily available – more so than at the parties of legal fraternities.

The university has consistently avoided involvement in the University Heights area, ignoring students ensnared in leases for unsafe housing and turning a blind eye to those victimized by robberies and shootings. The administration is apparently content with the idea of its students living down the street from – and attending class with – students who sell drugs and assault each other.

It’s essential that UB takes action, because the school is the only one that can. The national organizations whose names are being used illegally have never taken legal action against the groups, doing little more than sending cease and desist letters, which, mailed from national headquarters spread across the country, accomplish nothing.

The University Police has no jurisdiction in the Heights and the Buffalo Police, who do, understandably have more pressing priorities than investigating the groups – until they become aware of crimes being committed. UB could make it easier for the UPD simply by providing them with information about these groups, such as their names and symbols so that they could locate the fraternities’ houses more easily, and report them to the school, allowing UB to take action.

Targeting the illegal fraternities is far from easy, as the groups can quickly abandon a house that attracts the attention of authorities, and members of the fraternity are notoriously tightlipped once they’ve become brothers.

But currently, the already challenging prospect of investigating and pursuing legal action against these groups is made all the more daunting because very few people on campus are dedicated to the task. Pam Jackson, the assistant director for Fraternity & Sorority Life, has been investigating the underground fraternity scene for over a decade, and clearly has made little headway – perhaps if she had the support of the university behind her, that could change.

Even more important – and more straightforward – than prosecution is prevention. A survey conducted by The Spectrum revealed that approximately 44 percent of students say they were never warned about illegal fraternities when they came to UB. That number should be a zero. Liz Lidano, director of UB’s Judicial Affairs, explained that students are warned about illegal fraternities at orientation, but despite information about the groups being offered at student presentations and parent orientation, many students clearly aren’t getting the message.

This topic should be addressed at not only orientation, but also in all UB101 classes, so that students are effectively made aware of the dangers of joining or partying with these groups, and dissuaded from making an already serious problem even worse by pledging with illegal fraternities. But even this is not enough to ensure prevention, because UB101 is not mandatory.

Students need to see that the university will not tolerate the presence of illegal fraternities. UB’s Student Code of Conduct states that students can be expelled for participating in an illegal fraternity or sorority, but Jackson can only recall one expulsion in the last 14 years. If students actually faced repercussions for their involvement, incoming students may be dissuaded from joining in the first place.

The 39 legal, registered fraternities and sororities at UB offer students opportunities to expand their social circles in safe environments, get involved on campus and make meaningful contributions in the Buffalo community. These illegal fraternities are a dangerous distraction from what can be a positive force for the university, and it’s up to UB’s administration to protect its students from the reckless behavior and outright abuse that these groups promote.