‘We need the support of the community’: Greek life leaders work to prevent sexual misconduct after former IFC president resigns


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Students write notes of support during a protest against sexual violence outside the Cathedral of Learning in October.

By Rebecca Johnson, Editor-in-Chief

Content warning: This story contains references to sexual violence.

When Alex Hodge took over as president of the Interfraternity Council at around 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 19, the governing body for Pitt’s social fraternities was embroiled in controversy.  

Earlier that afternoon, a student pressed administrators at a public town hall on whether Hodge’s predecessor, Michael Liu, would face disciplinary action for a statement he wrote addressing a recent sexual assault on campus. The statement, which Liu posted and eventually deleted on both IFC’s Instagram account and his personal account the previous week, called the reported assault “disheartening,” but said it shows that “anyone, including you or me, has the capacity to conduct harmful behaviors whether that be under the influence of a substance or out of desperation.”  

Other students blasted him on social media for minimizing sexual assault on campus. Even a fellow member of IFC’s eight-person executive board called the statement “vile” and urged him to resign.

“[The statement] was not acceptable when it was put on Instagram, both in its content and because it was unreviewed by anybody else, including advisers, other members of board, etc.,” Hodge, a senior political science and communications double major and former IFC vice president, said. “I do believe that [Liu] intended well with it. The day that it was posted he expressed what he thought it meant to me, and I told him that that is the opposite of what it meant.”

Regardless of Liu’s intentions, Hodge said the organization could not move forward with him as president due to the publicity the statement got and the “heightened tone” on campus regarding sexual misconduct. He added that Liu was helpful in switching over all relevant accounts after he resigned. Liu did not respond to a request for an interview, or respond to a request for a comment on the details of his resignation. 

But this incident hasn’t disappeared from the minds of students involved in Greek life, even months later. 

Fraternities, sororities and Pitt staff members are contemplating the best methods for discussing sexual misconduct within their organizations, and how to built upon existing initiatives. While every event might not have gone entirely to plan — including a November event that some students reportedly walked out of in protest — leaders in Greek life say they are focused on creating safe environments in organizations that have traditionally been criticized for their role in contributing to sexual violence on college campuses. 

Requirements for sexual violence prevention, responses from leaders

Richard Fann, the associate director in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said in 2018, when he was hired, the office committed to creating a “more inclusive, more diverse, more dynamic education process for students” following recommendations from an external consultant. In 2018, Pitt placed all Greek organizations on modified social probation status — meaning they couldn’t host, sponsor or participate in social activities where alcohol is present — following a “serious alcohol incident” that resulted in a student being hospitalized. 

In line with this commitment, the office created Fraternity and Sorority Life 101, a class students are required to take in order to join social fraternities or sororities. According to the FSL 101 website, the class covers expectations for membership, how to report hazing, sexual assault prevention and more. 

In the class, Fann said he attempts to be as transparent with students as possible about realities within Greek life. For example, he references a 2009 study which found that women in sororities are nearly four times as likely to be sexually assaulted in college compared to nonsorority members.  

“My goal in this role is and maintains to be making a big campus small, and I can’t have someone join an organization unless you have fully abreast of the information you need to be prepared,” Fann said. 

This statistic is something that has stuck with Marideth Tokarsky, the president of Pitt’s Collegiate Panhellenic Association, since her FSL 101 session, saying it was “scary” to hear as a woman in Greek life. She believes that it’s important to be up front about these statistics, because “the second you start hiding it, is the second it becomes that much bigger of a problem.”

When Liu released the controversial statement from IFC on Instagram, Tokarsky said there was a lot of internal reflection within Panhel, even though the Panhel executive board didn’t agree with the statement and they immediately urged Liu to take it down. 

Tokarsky, a senior emergency medicine major, said she met with sorority chapter presidents to offer resources and support. She added that before Liu resigned, he met with Panhel to listen to some of their concerns regarding the statement, and she hopes he’s doing OK as a person.   

“Ultimately, the way we see it is this problem is so much bigger than just that one statement, and we would rather devote our energy to preventing the problem … because we could run circles all day around the statement and never reach a resolution,” she said. “So we’ve really tried to put our focus into what kind of programming … can we do in the future to kind of help this problem.” 

In the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, Fann said he spoke with Liu and told him that “anytime you’re making a statement, it’s better to make a statement from a personal side than representing everyone.” He then talked with students in Greek life to gauge their feelings on the situation, and, as an adviser, let the processes within IFC play out on their own.

For Tokarsky, part of addressing the problem involves attending mandatory sexual misconduct trainings as well as planning more “conversation-style events” between students. She also hopes the rest of the Pitt community comes together to help facilitate this change. 

“I know there’s a lot of focus on Greek life, because of the statistics that are national statistics. But it truly is a conversation that involves the entirety of campus, and so I believe that we’re in the headlines a lot for it and I understand that,” she said. “But we need the support of the community to kind of combat this problem that affects all of campus because I would say Greek life is pretty integrated here.”

All fraternity and sorority chapters at Pitt also must participate in a program called the “Cathedral Standards of Excellence,” which sets requirements concerning academics, member development, positive relationships, civic engagement and chapter responsibility. 

During the 2021-22 program, for example, the OFSL required chapters to attend a hazing prevention program it organized as well as a bystander intervention training sponsored by either the University Counseling Center, the Title IX Office or FSL Ambassadors Sexual Violence Prevention Committee with at least 60% chapter attendance. 

If chapters fail to meet set requirements — which sometimes depend on the number of people within a chapter — they must meet with a “chapter coach” to work toward reaching the minimum standards. Fann said chapters can also take part in a 15-week “Healthy Dialogue” series during their meetings that covers topics such as consent, bystander intervention and resources for sexual assault prevention with a trained facilitator.   

“You can’t go through a year without having a sexual violence prevention program. You can’t go through without having [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] programming,” Fann said. “You can’t go through and not talk about risk management.”

As president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the governing council for Pitt’s historically Black and African-American fraternities and sororities, Julia Frank said it’s important to work toward preventing sexual violence on campus, especially because communities of color are disproportionately impacted. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than 20% of Black women are raped during their life — a higher share than among women overall. 

Frank said, in addition to required trainings, she encourages chapters to take part in the PEER2PEER grant program hosted by Sexual Assault Facilitation and Education Peer Educators. If student organizations complete two SAFE programs, which provide discussion-based education on topics like consent, healthy relationships and survivor support, they are eligible to receive a $200 grant from Student Affairs. In the spring, she’s looking to plan an event that highlights recognizing the signs of sexual misconduct and available resources on campus. 

“These issues are bigger than us. And so, we need experts to train us, right,” Frank, a senior molecular biology major, said. “So I’m not equipped to speak on these issues and talk about these things and train other people.”

Within IFC, Hodge said moving forward he’s encouraging conversations about sexual violence prevention within chapters. At a “family dinner” in October — which fraternity chapter presidents and members of IFC’s executive board attend — an official from the Title IX office talked about how to facilitate conversations on sexual misconduct. 

All chapters must now facilitate 10 conversations throughout this academic year. Hodge said he also plans to invite leaders from SAFE, Take Back the Night and Pittsburgh Action Against Rape to speak at an IFC meeting.

Some students criticize programming at a November event

Not every event geared toward sexual violence prevention this semester went as smoothly as Greek life leaders might have liked. At an event in November organized by the Greek Week board, a sub-group run by fraternity and sorority leaders, some students in the roughly 400-person audience reportedly walked out in frustration following certain portions of the event.

Fann said the event was originally planned as a diversity, equity and inclusion program to talk about the dynamics of race and sexual violence prevention with experts across campus. During an open-mic portion of the event, Fann said students brought up concerns related to sexual misconduct and required trainings, partially in response to the October town hall where a student questioned why organizations “built on rape culture” weren’t receiving more sexual assault prevention training. 

On social media, students seemed to disagree with two aspects of the program in particular — a question about how they would react if a friend or family member were sexually assaulted on campus and being asked to respond to a sample Pitt police notification. Hodge confirmed that these concerns were brought up at the event as well. He said while there was some productive conversation from the event, the best place for these types of discussion are probably in smaller groups. 

“I think having people that disagree with how the event was run was natural and productive for this conversation, because this was an entry level step into the process,” Hodge said. “Especially with the topic of sexual violence, there is no end result. You can never be fully educated on it.” 

Because the event was mandatory for around 20% of all fraternity and sorority members and it wasn’t originally advertised as a discussion on campus sexual assault, Fann said some students felt bombarded. Fann said he apologies to any student who felt uncomfortable at the event. 

“Understand that the intent wasn’t to harm, it was to help,” he said. “But in the future, we would like those programs — similar to our Healthy Dialogue series — to be in more intimate groups to allow for a more robust discussion.”

Tokarsky agreed that smaller sessions would probably be better. For her, this event demonstrated how much students — within and outside of Greek life — want the University to hear their concerns regarding sexual misconduct and take appropriate action. It also showed her how difficult it is to create safe spaces that lead to beneficial conversations, especially as students with lots of other commitments. 

“We’re going to make mistakes along the way,” she said. “We’re going to underestimate and overestimate. It’s a learning experience, and we can only hope to keep bringing up these conversations and discussions.”

Editor’s Note: Liu worked at The Pitt News briefly in 2021.