As of late Monday night, the Theta Delta Chi (TDX) fraternity has gathered more than 700 signatures on its campus-wide petition released Sunday evening, opposing the University’s decision to remove the fraternity’s housing. The decision is the first case in which consecutive failed conduct reviews — under the “Standards of Excellence” (SOE) evaluation system — directly resulted in a loss of fraternity housing.
The University’s decision follows four years of failed SOE reviews, though TDX leadership characterized the process of attempting to meet the University’s requirements as trying to hit a “moving target.”
The fraternity’s petition was circulated through online posts, emails and tables at Arrillaga Family Dining Commons and White Plaza throughout the day on Monday. It continues to garner new signatures by the hour, according to TDX leadership.
The petition called on students to express support for TDX’s continued status as a housed organization and encouraged signees to share personal experiences with the fraternity that might encourage administrators to re-evaluate the decision.
Newly-elected TDX vice-president Michael Quezada ’20, who assumed his post last week, told The Daily that TDX is pleased by the widespread support the petition is receiving from students.
“Testimonies that people have written have been honest and touching,” Quezada wrote in a Monday statement to The Daily. “We’ve all been super appreciative of the support that we’ve gotten across campus.”
TDX hopes to obtain at least 1,000 petition signatures prior to its appeal to Residential Education (ResEd) Dean Koren Bakkegard. The group has until Feb. 4 to file the appeal, a deadline which was extended on Tuesday from the original date of Jan. 28, according to TDX leadership. Bakkegard’s decision in evaluating the appeal will be final.
Though morale among TDX members was low after learning of the University’s decision on Sunday, the community immediately united behind the decision to appeal and is encouraged by the outpouring of support received from petition signatories, according to Quezada.
“We’re prepared to fight back with everything we have,” he wrote in his statement to The Daily. “Everyone in the house agrees that win or lose we’ll become closer as a chapter after fighting back together through this.”
Former TDX president Erik Ubel ’19 echoed Quezada, saying that the process of appealing has already brought the community closer. Ubel emphasized the powerful testimonies TDX has received via the petition form.
“We have testimonies from women saying this was the safest [Inter-Fraternity Council] IFC organization on campus when they were here,” Ubel said. “[These testimonies] are real people … who took the time to say our community is safe for people of different sexual orientations, people of different gender identities, people of different races.”
ResEd’s Fall 2018 SOE review listed TDX’s “equity and inclusion” as a strength, but its “health promotion and harm reduction,” “member learning and development” and “recruitment, education and retention” as organizational weaknesses.
Though current Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) president Sloane Maples ’20 expressed disappointment regarding the University’s decision given the “strong and long-term relationship” between KKG and TDX, she also understood the rationale behind removing the fraternity’s housing.
“I kind of understand where the University is coming from as I have gotten to learn more about the Standards of Excellence process as president,” she said. “I think it’s a difficult decision but somewhat understandable. I think the policy is a bit harsh, but if that’s what Stanford has decided to implement, that’s what we as organizations have to hold as our standard too.”
However, former Kappa Sigma president Santiago Rodriguez ’19 expressed surprise that TDX received the “Needs Improvement” designation from its SOE evaluation for the fourth year in a row this fall, given the organization’s attempts to improve its performance.
“I knew all of the work they put in during the year based on the feedback they had gotten the previous year, so I was shocked they got `Needs Improvement’,” he told The Daily.
TDX argued in its November report on SOE progress that the chapter has worked hard to address University comments, including concerns that TDX lacked a “a mission, vision and group identity … as a fraternal organization at Stanford.” After receiving the report from the Organizational Conduct Board (OCB), TDX cancelled all social events for fall quarter 2018. The fraternity also said that it stopped serving hard liquor at events.
Per Stanford’s alcohol policy, hard liquor, defined as beverages containing at least 40 percent alcohol by volume, has been prohibited at all categories of undergraduate student parties since 2016.
“This is a very strange sort of process,” Ubel said. “I think a lot of people on campus have a certain suspicion of the administration, and it’s very easy to take the position of, ‘Oh the administration is out to get Greek life’ … but I think that’s too simple of an opinion to take.”
While Ubel contended that the University did not act “maliciously” in making this decision, and that “[TDX] is not perfect,” he emphasized the “trend of improvement” that the organization has shown in response to SOE feedback. He added that the attributes of the community, as reflected by the testimonies that are being garnered alongside the petition signatures, reveal that TDX’s effect is a net positive.
“I personally don’t think that the conduct of our organization merited a removal from our facility, because we are an improving organization,” he said.
Additionally, Ubel argued that some of the feedback from SOE evaluations proved vague or difficult to dispute, such as the University’s desire for the fraternity to develop a “chapter purpose,” a key part of the feedback in TDX’s 2017 SOE evaluation.
“When you think about an organization like TDX, or any frat or sorority which is very social in nature, it can be very difficult to outline a guiding purpose for an organization like that,” Ubel said.
Rodriguez said that while SOE evaluation involves eight discrete categories — ranging from “Chapter Management” to “Equity and Inclusion” to “Health Promotion and Harm Reduction” to “Public Service and Civic Engagement” — these categories were very difficult to define.
Ubel also contended that housed Greek organizations are not held to the same standards as other themed houses or co-ops, especially since these groups are not required to go through the SOE program. Rodriguez agreed with Ubel’s assessment, arguing that there is a “higher scrutiny” from the University toward Greek organizations; however, he emphasized that he does not believe Stanford is trying to “eliminate Greek organizations one by one.”
“At the end of the day, if you just shine a spotlight at any organization on campus you’re going to find deficiencies, and I just think that they shine that spotlight at Greek organizations more than other row houses or other organizations,” Rodriguez said.
Ubel argued that the timing of SOE action was nebulous. While the University told TDX multiple times through written communication that it could lose its house if it failed to receive a rating of 2, Ubel said TDX was never informed of exactly when this consequence would occur or under what circumstances.
“When you look at this correspondence, you see sort of off-the-cuff suggestions for things that our organization ought to accomplish,” he said. “There is never any sort of set guidelines.”
However, other Greek life leaders believe the SOE program to be straightforward.
Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) president Peter Guzman ’20, told The Daily that he believes the University “tries to be as objective as possible” in the SOE process, which he participated in this year.
“It’s been a pretty straightforward process,” Guzman said. “The University just gives us straight bullet points about what we did wrong and what we did do well, and from there we just build on the next SOE from there.”
Guzman also mentioned concrete recommendations that the university gave SigEp to work on, which included hosting more philanthropy events with Sigma Psi Zeta (an Asian-interest sorority which shares the 1047 Campus Drive house with the fraternity) and improving internal engagements within the organization to engage active membership.
“The action items [the University has] given us are pretty concrete and our executive team has been doing well getting feedback from the university and turning it into real events that our organization has been enjoying,” Guzman said.
Maples said that the stipulations of SOE could be better publicized in order to reach all members of Greek organizations as opposed to just those in the leadership.
“A lot of people within organizations don’t know much about [SOE],” Maples said. “So it’s hard when you hear news about an organization being disciplined and don’t understand the process that decides that disciplinary action.”
Nonetheless, Maples emphasized the importance of enforcing these standards.
“I do understand that they have these rules in place, so it’s important to uphold them,” she added.
Asked about the Greek leaders’ concerns about the SOE process, Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris said the administrative body is working to address the students’ questions. Harris declined to immediately answer specific inquiries about the SOE process, including the distribution of Greek organizations’ scores. Harris also did not name the administrator charged with overseeing the SOE system.
The future of Greek housing
In the wake of the TDX housing decision, other Greek organizations are considering the potential repercussions for their own communities.
For Kappa Alpha (KA) president Patrick Gilligan ’20, TDX’s loss of housing “forces the rest of the Greek community to reflect on their status as chapters and members of this campus.”
“It is very clear that more is expected out of housed organizations than ever before,” Gilligan wrote in an email to The Daily. “I think that if chapters do not work diligently to meet and exceed the increased expectation from university administrators, then it is possible that we will see more houses lose their ability to live in an on-campus residencies.”
Rodriguez expressed concern regarding the perceived ambiguity surrounding the SOE evaluation process among Greek leaders, and argued that it allows for a subjective administration of the rules.
“This is worrying in general, the fact that because of subjective opinions and subjective measures that the university has in place, any house could lose their house at any point,” Rodriguez said.
Ubel laments the loss of a “pervasive sense of freedom and autonomy” that comes about through choosing to live with people who are “similar to you in certain respects, and different from you in very important respects” in communities like TDX. Ubel raised the question of who will replace TDX in the facility at 675 Lomita.
“I think it’s a fair question of what’s lost in that transition, from an organization that has that continuity to just another sort of living space on campus,” he said.
This article has been updated to reflect an extension on the deadline for TDX to file an appeal to the decision.