Dear West Virginia University Family:
Hazing deaths. Racist and sexist bilge spewed forth on social media. Higher rates of sexual assault compared to the general student population.
Fraternity and sorority life on America's college campuses is at a tipping point. Major universities such as Florida State, the University of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State have suspended all Greek activities. Fraternities and sororities are acquiring an increasingly toxic reputation among parents, employers and members of the public.
At West Virginia University, we are not waiting for the next tragic death, arrest or headline-grabbing incident to prompt our action. When it comes to student misconduct in our fraternities and sororities, the time to act is now.
At this critical moment, our leadership team has two choices before it. One is the path that many of our peers have chosen: Shutting down fraternity and sorority life. The other is working together as partners — the University, students, alumni and our national leaderships — to create real change.
We want to pursue the second path — but we can only do so if each of us commits to transforming our fraternity and sorority culture and to holding each other accountable. Last evening, we met with student leaders from our Fraternity and Sorority Life communities to discuss immediate actions, as well as form long-term strategies for change. I was pleased to see our students accept this opportunity with thoughtful dialogue and a commitment to be accountable to each other and to the University.
Change is never easy, but it is amazingly effective when pursued with a shared sense of urgency and purpose.
Following a tragic student death in 2014, we have had great success in changing our overall student culture to emphasize working smart and playing smart. The result has been a rise in student academic qualifications. Last fall, for example, on our Morgantown campus we welcomed our biggest class of Honors College freshmen ever, as well as our largest overall freshman class, with the highest-ever GPA.
As someone who has worked closely with college students for nearly four decades, I know that today's students can lead the way in solving their own biggest problem — reining in the small number of students whose increasingly negative behavior is damaging the reputation and credibility of all.
To make this happen, fraternity and sorority alumni and national chapters of fraternities and sororities must step up to combat behavior that flouts their organizations' values. Fraternity and sorority student leadership must step up to enforce rules about alcohol use and member behavior, and to reinforce that discrimination and intolerance are unacceptable in our diverse learning community. And University leaders must step up to find long-term solutions that will improve the student living and learning experience.
Together, we can change the national conversation and show that fraternity and sorority communities can attract attention for academic success, philanthropy, friendliness and inclusivity, and positive mentorship opportunities.
I have faith in our students, in our alumni and in the entire University family. Together, we must ensure that West Virginia University makes news for the right reasons. And we can ensure that our students leave campus with bright prospects, lifelong friendships and treasured memories rather than regrets.
E. Gordon Gee
President, West Virginia University