Staff Editorial

University of Iowa making progress on student safety

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Monday, Sep. 17, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Monday, Sep. 17, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

University of Iowa leaders are sending a message to student organizations — obey health and safety rules or face removal.

School officials last week withdrew student organization status from four fraternities that authorities say violated campus rules about hazing and alcohol consumption. More than 400 students are members of the barred fraternities. The university recently has dealt fraternities a series of other penalties and restrictions, following the death of a first-year UI student during an out-of-state fraternity event in April 2017.

This crackdown is a welcome development, even if it is overdue. It is one of many tactics the university has employed the past several years to combat a culture of dangerous drinking on campus.

University leaders have a tricky balancing act, recognizing students have a right to free association. Fraternities are fixtures of the campus community, filling important roles in students’ social and service lives. These organizations have networks of alumni, parents and other boosters, and universities want to maintain support from those stakeholders.

However, college administrators have a responsibility to promote student safety, especially as part of university-approved activities. As UI officials said in announcing their actions, parents send their adult children to school with the expectation that their well-being will be the top priority. When we see so many troubling situations stemming from frat life here and around the country, it suggests there is a problem in need of great attention.

From what we know now, incidents at the shuttered Kappa Sigma fraternity are the most disturbing. New members were subjected to a late-night hazing ritual known as “the gauntlet.” The event included physical assault, dangerous overconsumption of alcohol and even squirting hot sauce in people’s eyes, according to UI documents detailing the policy violations.

That level of misbehavior goes beyond the bounds of the “boys will be boys” attitude many of us apply to college life. Physical violence is unacceptable, and we applaud the UI’s moves to address it.

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Still, a real shift in culture will not come through top-down directives from university administrators. Instead, students themselves must recognize the problems and work to bring about their own change. We see promising signs that is happening. The student president of the Interfraternity Council previously told The Gazette, “It’s a time to realize that the behavior that was going on before is not something that can continue.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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