Abigail Alexander, a Kappa Delta at the University of Arkansas, loves her sorority and her sisterhood, but has come to realize that not only is she part of an organization for academic women, but part of a political machine, that spends hundreds of thousands yearly, lobbying for legislation in U.S. Congress. The machine is the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) and the most recent legislation in question is House Resolution 3408, also known as the Fair Campus Act.
The Fair Campus Act was proposed by Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas to ensure that sexual assault investigations on college campuses are carried out in the most fair manner. The act calls for a stricter standard of evidence than what is currently required for a university to press charges, as well as providing a lawyer for both parties and access to material evidence during a university’s judicial processes.
“I think this act was rooted in goodwill, but goes about sexual assault prevention in all the wrong ways,” said Alexander.
While the Fair Campus Act doesn’t make reporting a sexual assault to the police a requirement for universities to hold their own investigations of incidents, it does call for restrictions and requirements that could possibly prevent convictions. Victims’ groups across the nation oppose the proposal, saying it enables rapists rather than protects victims.
“We don’t force victims of other crimes to interact with police and file reports and initiate a criminal justice investigations, said Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officers of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
Among the supporters of the Fair Campus Act is the National Panhellenic Conference. The organization has already spent $200,000 lobbying for the Fair Campus Act, but the future of the legislation may be cut short depending on the individual national sorority chapters that make up the umbrella organization. In a press release published Nov. 13, the NPC stated that it will continue support of the act.
“Going forward, NPC will continue to collaborate with our 26 member organizations to develop programs and policies focused on ending sexual assault and supporting survivors,” said the NPC’s press release on Nov. 13.
However, multiple national sorority organizations that make up part of the NPC have come out disagreeing with this legislation, prompting the NPC to end their support.
“Alpha Chi Omega has not and will not endorse the Safe Campus Act or the Fair Campus Act without substantive victim-centered changes,” said a statement released by Alpha Chi Omega Nationals. “As a leader in NPC and in the area of domestic violence awareness, we take our role very seriously and believe collaboration is the best way to advance victim-centered legislation.”
Phi Mu, another sorority on Arkansas’ campus, has withdrawn its support as well.
“I’m proud of Phi Mu for being one of the first sororities to break their support,” said Hannah Hunter, a member of Arkansas’ chapter of Phi Mu. “I don’t like the legislation and think that it would hinder victim’s ability to feel safe and get support. Police investigations take a while. Universities should be able to act on their own to protect their students,”
In a press release, Phi Mu Nationals said while it does not endorse the Fair Campus Act, they appreciate work done by the NPC in their organization’s best interest and will continue to evaluate any proposed legislation that could potentially benefit their members.
While eight national sororities have spoken out against the legislation, others have remained silent, raising concern among members.
Alexander worries that her sorority dues are helping fund something she opposes.
Emma Von Edwins, a member of Pi Beta Phi, shares Alexander’s sentiment regarding the pending act.
“I’m concerned for the future of women in higher education,” said Von Edwins. “This isn’t a direction Congress needs to take and not something I want to be a part of. I’ll have a hard decision to make if my sorority decides to support the Fair Campus Act.”
This legislation was inspired by the recent high-profile rape cases at Vanderbilt, Florida State University, and the University of Virginia, and the increase in on-campus sexual assault over the past three years. NPR’s Investigative Unit analyzed the data reported by the Department of Education and found that the number of “forcible sex acts” on campus increased 49 percent from 2008 to 2012.
According to the University of Arkansas’ 2014 Campus Crime Statistics Report, three rapes were reported on campus property and an additional two were unfounded, meaning that no assailant was identified or a victim recanted.
This is in contrast to statistics provided by the Association of American Universities and the Bureau of Justice Statistics that report one in four college women experience sexual assault before graduation.
Megan Mctigue, a member of the Chi Omega Psi Chapter at the University of Arkansas, feels strongly in opposition to the Fair Campus Act because she believes it limits the resources available to victims.
“Women on campus will soon realize, if this act is passed, that this is not a place that encourages sexual assault victims to come forward,” said McTigue.
Statistics reported by the National Rape Response Services state that two to eight percent of rape accusations turn out to be false. “Misconceptions about false reporting have direct, negative consequences and may contribute to why many victims don’t report sexual assault,” states their website.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 63.3 percent of men who self-reported acts of rape or attempted rapes confessed to committing the crime more than once.
The University of Arkansas’ faculty handbook’s section on sexual assault policy states that, in order to preserve evidence needed to prosecute, a victim “should not alter the scene of the attack. The victim should not change clothes, bathe, or shower, douche, drink or eat anything, or brush his or her teeth before reporting the assault.”
Alexander used this advice as an example of the length that victims already have to go to preserve evidence and obtain a conviction. She knows the Fair Campus Act will make this even more difficult because the amount of evidence required for a conviction will be increased.
“We will be studying the legislation and working with elected officials as it goes through the committee process,” said Randy Massanelli, Vice Chancellor of Government Relations.
The Arkansas Student Government is in opposition of the Fair Campus Act and the Student Panhellenic Council at the University of Arkansas, which recently elected new officers, plans to meet next semester to discuss the issue.
Hannah Pavey, the president of Von Edwins’ sorority on campus, said that Pi Beta Phi Nationals will meet this upcoming week to discuss the implications of the act and whether they will offer their support.
“Until Pi Beta Phi Nationals decides what to do, I want to make sure that my opinions and my sisters’ opinions are heard,” said Von Edwins. “I want our membership to be an influence.”