After an arduous period of campaigning, confronting and rewriting, the Greek Opportunity Grant Reform Act was passed unanimously by the ASUC Senate at its general meeting Oct. 19.
The bill reinstates funding and support for the Interfraternity Council, or IFC, and campus LEAD Center and marks a reversal from the senate’s original stance to revoke funding, established in a previous unanimous vote in March.
Since the bill’s passing, UC Berkeley community members have discussed how to best approach the responsibility to prevent sexual violence and sexual harassment, or SVSH, in campus fraternities. While senators argue in favor of collaboration and forgiveness, some survivors assert that certain attempts to take accountability are too little and too late.
“What do we have to do as survivors, for people to listen to what we are saying and what we are wanting?” asked Kalliope Zervas, former ASUC senator. “It’s just an extremely sad day for survivors in the Berkeley community at large.”
Specifically, both former and current senators describe a lack of a “safe space” for survivors to come forward and advocate for SVSH prevention policies in the ASUC. While recent initiatives made by the ASUC’s Sexual Violence Commission, or SVC, and the IFC seem to address that concern, Zervas calls Wednesday’s action a step in the wrong direction.
Reinstatement of grant funding for fraternities draws criticism
Supporters of the March bill argue that it was necessary largely in part to hold organizations accountable for a pattern of apathy towards SVSH prevention, an aim that has not yet been satisfied, according to Zervas, who authored the March bill.
Zervas likened the bill’s reversal to “putting a bandaid on a bullet wound.”
“That is so unfortunate, but the harsh reality is that (the responsibility for SVSH prevention) lies upon everyone’s shoulders, even those who have dismissed SVSH and who also have done active things to harm SVSH survivors,” Zervas said. “At this point, the only thing we can really do to create change lies within our students.”
The closed-session nature of the discussions around Lee’s bill was also a point of concern for some; Zervas said this prevented survivors from providing their say on the bill.
According to an anonymous ASUC senator, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, the main defense used to reinstate funding during the closed sessions was that funding was only revoked from the IFC, while the Panhellenic Council, or PHC, remained eligible. The senator also noted that SVSH is more prevalent in fraternities than sororities, making the point moot.
“It’s absurd to hear that after hearing so many testimonies from survivors that the ASUC can go into closed session, say whatever they want to say so that it’s not on public record, and then pass the bill,” Zervas said.
Role of the LEAD Center Department of Fraternity and Sorority Advising
One solution proposed by ASUC Senator Stephanie Wong is to leave the development and application of SVSH prevention policies up to professionals from the PATH to Care Center and the Student Advocate’s Office, citing the lack of SVSH training and experience as challenges student body senators inherently face.
Zervas alleged misconduct against director of the Fraternity and Sorority Life department of the LEAD Center Jeff Woods and IFC president Josh Lee, highlighting her unsuccessful attempts to work with both Woods and Lee to establish measures to prevent SVSH.
“The person who’s introducing the bill has already caused so much harm to survivors who have come forward,” Zervas said. “This is a man who does not care about SVSH, so it’s not like we can just work towards a better relationship with these people and leaders.”
As of press time, Josh Lee has not responded to allegations.
Catherine Bauer and Sahba Azarli, SVC co-chairs, acknowledged Zervas’ concerns, noting that the SVC has not yet met with Lee or Woods to discuss SVSH prevention efforts moving forward.
“Addressing SVSH should be and is a survivor-led effort and initiative. It’s very important for the voices of survivors to be heard when enacting the change,” Azarli said. “That’s something that we should all keep in mind when engaging in these types of policies.”
The anonymous ASUC senator recalled seeing Woods at senate meetings. According to them, Woods was invited to speak to the senate by Lee; however, his presence did not assure the senator that enough was being done by the LEAD Center to prevent SVSH.
Moving forward, the anonymous senator emphasized that one of the most important things for the ASUC Senate to do is to place more pressure on Woods to address SVSH.
“It’s different when it’s just a bunch of kids bickering,” the senator said. “When you bring in this authority figure from the LEAD Center, it changes what we think we can do as senators.”
According to the anonymous senator, Lee’s bill is simply meant to restore funding and support to the IFC and LEAD Center, while ASUC members work on a long-term initiative or bill that more directly addresses the topic of SVSH prevention.
Another proposal offered by both Bauer and Wong is to offer financial incentives to fraternities that implement SVSH prevention practices. For example, Wong said, if a fraternity met a minimum attendance level for SVSH prevention training, they would be offered a grant. The anonymous senator expressed their disapproval of the idea.
“That’s stupid, because we shouldn’t compensate anyone for doing the normal, decent thing,” the senator said. “If someone is actively doing things that puts other students at harm, I think there should be action taken against them.”
Arguments in favor of the Greek Opportunity Grant Reform Act
After the passing of the Angel Shots Initiative last week, the SVC, established in 2017, is determined to produce tangible impact to combat SVSH by providing a platform for survivors, according to Azarli.
According to Bauer, through the new bill, the ASUC aims to establish healthy working relationships between the ASUC and the IFC without limiting operations by way of cutting off funding, or by inflicting what she calls “punitive power.”
In fact, according to Bauer, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the ASUC does not retain punitive power over the IFC or the PHC.
“What the ASUC can do and what it has done in the past is incentivize positive behavior monetarily,” Bauer said. “The ASUC cannot punish a fraternity for not achieving set goals.”
Bauer reflected that the Greek Opportunity Grant Reform Act is instead a way to establish the legitimacy of the ASUC in relation to the IFC and PHC, and to encourage collaboration between the three organizations.
One product of the interdepartmental collaboration between the IFC and the LEAD Center is BearLine, a “survivor support line” that allows survivors to procure help from fraternity leaders anonymously and promptly, Bauer said.
According to her, the initiative was suggested by fraternity members and is funded by the LEAD Center — providing reasoning that the two organizations have met the threshold for a “noticeable attempt” towards SVSH prevention measures, as outlined in the March bill, and have thus established grounds to reinstate funding.
“It’s important to recognize that a functional working relationship with organizations such as PHC and IFC is more important to the long term safety for survivors and for would-be survivors than cutting off ties completely and not being able to work out those issues with the people who are leading those organizations,” Azarli said.
Zervas, however, emphasized that a functional working relationship is no longer something worth pursuing.
Expressing a lack of faith in the ASUC’s and the LEAD Center’s ability to adequately address SVSH concerns, Zervas alleged that SVSH is systematically perpetuated by Greek life and can only be solved if the ASUC were to take “complete accountability” and if the IFC was to disaffiliate the same fraternities as the campus.
“If survivors don’t feel like the ASUC is an organization they can lean on because it has zero working relationship with the Interfraternity Council, then we’re doing a disservice to potential survivors,” Bauer said. “If the ASUC isn’t seen as a place where survivors can go to share their truth to ask for help … then the ASUC SVC is not doing its due diligence in supporting those survivors.”