The frats were planning to host an event with ThePlug Vancouver — a “Frat Party Crawl” on Sept. 8, it was cancelled. Image: Wikipedia
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UBC’s fraternities are throwing public parties despite making a commitment last year to only hold private events moving forward

For the 2021-22 academic year, the Fulcrum has revived the Canadian University Press (CUP) Wire to better inform University of Ottawa students on what is making headlines in the Canadian post-secondary world.

The Ubyssey — Vancouver

UBC’s fraternities are throwing public parties despite making a commitment last year to only hold private events moving forward.

In February 2020, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) — the governing body of UBC’s frats — announced an indefinite suspension on all open social events following drugging allegations from multiple female students in 2019.

However, last week, the frats hosted at least one party almost every night. These parties were advertised across social media and on campus as welcome-to-UBC events for incoming first-year students.

These parties have also drawn COVID-19 safety concerns. On Sunday night, the RCMP shut down a UBC frat party for violating provincial health orders and issued a $5,000 fine to the party organizers. Videos from the party posted on social media showed people dancing together in packed rooms without masks on.

UBC community members criticized the frats online for potentially exposing and spreading COVID-19 among students before and after the news of Sunday night’s party broke.

Although the promotion posters for these events state that attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination, most do not mention mask requirements. In a statement to The Ubyssey, IFC President Noah Jassmann said vaccines and UBC cards are mandated for entrance at any frat party, and that the IFC “expects chapters to adhere to the current Provincial Health Order.”

“These rules are enforced through our judicial board,” he added.

Interested students also need to register ahead of time, unlike in years past. Still, over 100 people have listed themselves as “Going” on some of the Facebook events, exceeding the province’s limit on indoor organized gatherings of no more than 50 people.

The frats were also planning to host an event with ThePlug Vancouver — a “Frat Party Crawl” on September 8 — but it was cancelled on Wednesday due to “the worsening state of the COVID-19 pandemic in our community.” ThePlug’s event faced criticism before it was cancelled as well.

The Ubyssey has reached out to the RCMP for comment.

Open frat parties were banned — now they’re back

While it has been typical for the frats to host several parties in the week leading up to the start of classes, the IFC’s commitment to no longer host public events seemed to signal an end to this tradition.

“Having those parties where the whole Greek village or other houses are just packed with people, there’s no way we can control who’s coming in, and it just opens the door for so many issues,” said former IFC president Adam Moallemi in a February 2020 interview with The Ubyssey.

But, according to Ryan Wong, a fourth-year economics student and former AMS councillor, the 2021 frat party invites tell a different story. He took to Twitter ahead of the parties to criticize the frat behaviour as “irresponsible.”

“[T]here is nothing about invitations in any of the events posted on social media,” Wong tweeted. “[T]hey are exactly the same as advertisements before this ban…”

In an interview with The Ubyssey, Wong added, “When they announced the ban it made national news attention as it was a very strong commitment to ‘permanently ban open social events.’”

“I’m just confused as to why that ban hasn’t been implemented.”

Jassmann said that open parties were never permanently banned, but are simply not recommended.

“The IFC has advised its member fraternities that some open-party models may be revisited in the future, should they be possible within the guidelines of future Provincial Health Orders,” wrote Jassman. “For now the IFC has advised its member chapters against hosting open events, as we believe an invite-only model is currently the best option for public safety.”

In defense of open parties, Jassman cited “the promotion of inclusivity,” but acknowledged that such events can lead to “various risks.”

“The IFC is hoping to work on a model that promotes inclusivity, while also mitigating as many risks as possible going forward.”

Who holds the frats accountable?

Frats are part of the UBC community. However, frat houses are technically managed independently by the frats themselves.

“It’s important to note that the fraternity houses are owned and operated by individual fraternities through long-term leases,” wrote Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, in a statement to The Ubyssey. “They are entirely independent of UBC and UBC has no role in their management.”

However, the office of VP Students has been in communication with the IFC to encourage safe practices.

“In preparation and support of the start of Winter Term 1 we will be hosting a mandatory training session with all Fraternity and Sorority Presidents in partnership with the RCMP and the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services,” Ramsey wrote. VP Students Ainsley Carry confirmed these plans in a statement of his own, but the exact details around this training — what will it entail or when it will take place — remains unknown.

In both of their statements, Ramsey and Carry urged the frats and students to adhere to the province’s health guidelines.

“It is imperative that all of us take responsibility, not only for our health, but the health and safety of those around us. The same imperative applies to all student groups and organizations, including fraternities,” Ramsey wrote in his statement.

“We do not want parties to jeopardize the safe return to campus and everything for which we have all worked so hard,” Carry added.

Relationship between frats and AMS remains unclear

The frats are also independent from the AMS. Following the drugging allegations, the student society voted to remove the IFC’s status as an AMS club in 2019 due to violations of AMS code — including the IFC’s restriction on membership to only male-identifying individuals and its unauthorized collection of membership fees, among other things.

“I would say that our relationship to the IFC is similar to that of other unaffiliated student organizations on campus,” AMS President Cole Evans said in an interview with The Ubyssey. This means that the frats control their own funds and are not subject to AMS oversight.

According to Jassmann, the IFC is no longer affiliated with the AMS, but can still rent out AMS space on campus.

The AMS tried to establish accountability mechanisms over the frats during its negotiations last year with the IFC around a potential Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) — a document that would have outlined the two groups’ relationship — but these talks stalled due to details that were “challenging to work out.”

Along with the accountability mechanisms, Evans said that the IFC’s remaining funds — which were in an AMS clubs account — was another sticking point. The leftover money was deposited into the AMS club benefits fund “as per our policy,” according to Evans.

Evans said that the AMS has had conversations with UBC in the past around the Greek system, although it was unclear whether such talks have taken place in this instance.

“If we have a concern [with the Greek system], those concerns are conveyed to the university,” he said. “The university can then see those addressed, as the university is probably the more responsible party than we are at this point for making sure that the fraternities are behaving in a way that is keeping the campus community safe.”

He added that the AMS has other “tools” to make sure the frats and IFC are held accountable, but again did not specify what those were, or whether these have been utilized recently.

While Evans said that the AMS would not reopen conversations around a potential MOU with the IFC — he did not mention a reason — Wong believes that two organizations should work to establish a clear relationship.

“[The MOU] is an opportunity for the AMS to set some expectations of the IFC and frat parties, to ensure student safety,” Wong told The Ubyssey. “Maybe part of those expectations is a commitment to uphold the IFC’s own permanent ban on open parties.”

The Ubyssey is the University of British Columbia’s student newspaper since 1918