Wesleyan University has banned students from the local house of an off-campus fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, pointing to "a long history of incidents there" as the reason.
Students living in the Beta house have until Sept. 15 to sign up for alternative university housing options, at which point the building will be off-limits to all Wesleyan students, the Middletown, Connecticut, school announced Wednesday.
"We have lost confidence in the ability of the fraternity members to manage social and residential activities at the house and abide by university policies," wrote Wesleyan President Michael Roth and Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley in a letter to students. "Wesleyan has an obligation to do what it reasonably can to ensure the safety of every member of the community, including the Beta fraternity members and their guests."
The Beta house will be off-limits "for the rest of the academic year at least," the officials said.
Wesleyan's Beta chapter, known as Mu Epsilon, had already been put on probation by the national Beta Theta Pi organization. It is not recognized by the university as an official Greek organization, but had been a permissible housing option.
A Wesleyan spokesperson declined further comment.
Jud Horras, administrative secretary of the national Beta Theta Pi office, pledged cooperation with Wesleyan's review of the local chapter on Wednesday. He also announced that Mu Epsilon has now been suspended by the national office.
"Beta Theta Pi has enjoyed 125 years at Wesleyan, but the chapter has been in the midst of an extensive period of self-renewal and reorganization following several years of challenging behavior," Horras said in a statement. "Moving forward and building positively on that reality, Beta Theta Pi must continue to accept responsibility for its members' actions that have not lived up to the expectations of the University, community and larger General Fraternity. To that end, effective immediately, the Fraternity is downgrading the chapter's status from 'Probation' to 'Suspension.'"
While it's not the first time that Wesleyan has singled out Beta, the latest move follows an incident earlier this week in which a sophomore was seriously injured falling out of a third-story window of the fraternity house. The unidentified student was initially described as in critical condition, but her status has since been upgraded to stable.
Wesleyan's ban on Wednesday is also the latest in a series of crackdowns among Northeastern liberal arts schools on Greek life, prompted by high-profile lawsuits and repeated problems at the frat houses.
Wesleyan and the Beta fraternity were sued in 2012 by a former student who claimed the Mu Epsilon chapter was known on campus as a "rape factory." The university had warned students to stay away from the fraternity in 2010, but that was prior to the plaintiff's arrival on campus, and therefore, she contended, the university had failed to protect her from the house where she was raped in October 2012. The lawsuit was settled in 2013.
Following another lawsuit over a sexual assault at a different fraternity, Psi Upsilon, Roth told students this past spring that "we will be gathering information to present to the Board as it considers what role, if any, residential fraternities will have on our campus in the future."
Roth's spring statement came on the heels of an announcement by one of Wesleyan's peers, Amherst College in Massachusetts, that it would ban students from joining fraternities. Middlebury College in Vermont, Colby College in Maine and Williams College in Massachusetts have kicked frats off campus as well.
A survey by the Wesleyan Student Assembly in April found that a majority of students who responded to the survey thought making fraternities coeducational would improve the campus, and a plurality said fraternities are less safe than other locations where students party.
The full statement from Roth and Whaley:
We write to announce that the Beta Theta Pi residence at 184 High Street will be off-limits to all Wesleyan students effective Monday, September 15, 2014. The students currently living there will be provided with alternative university housing. The decision to prohibit students from using the Beta house is based on the long history of incidents there. Most recently, during a party at the house a student fell from a third floor window and was seriously injured. We have lost confidence in the ability of the fraternity members to manage social and residential activities at the house and abide by university policies. Wesleyan has an obligation to do what it reasonably can to ensure the safety of every member of the community, including the Beta fraternity members and their guests. The Beta house will remain off-limits to all Wesleyan students for the rest of the academic year at least. Down the road we are open to seeing from the fraternity a considered plan for the house and social activities there that satisfies our expectations for residential life at our university.
This story has been updated with comment from the national Beta Theta Pi office.