In our editorial last week, we brought up concerns about the safety of students in off-campus housing and university policy regarding them. Information that we found about the university’s policy regarding its fraternities specifically was unclear.
Many readers were offended that we singled out this group of students, who otherwise have often been noted for their high level of involvement in the university community, but it should be stressed that last week’s editorial was about policy, not people.
As recent events across the country have shown, emergencies can happen in the dorms or in the classroom, in Portland or in the off-campus fraternity houses, and regardless of where these event take place, we, as a university, need to be prepared for them. This means that we’ve taken long-term steps through procedure, planning and policy to prevent these events from happening and to prepare ourselves if they do.
The editorial called attention to the discrepancy in USM policy that prohibits any students on campus from carrying weapons, but that fails to extend to off-campus, university-affiliated groups such as fraternities. We urge the university to clarify the policies regarding off-campus fraternity houses and their relationship to the USM on-campus community.
Certainly, USM can’t extend the reach of its policies to students living off-campus, but it can ask that its staff closely monitor students who appear to be experiencing difficult times and offer assistance to help them find appropriate services. It is, of course, much easier to support residential students, but where do fraternities fall in this equation? Technically, these student organizations are university-affiliated and are loosely monitored by officials, but when it comes to certain policies, like the gun-carry policy, they are exempt because the University of Maine System policies dictate that “living” is not a “student activity.”
The Gorham incident involving an armed student was an isolated event, but as a university, these policies need to be clarified for the safety of all students. Of course, the national chapters of both of USM’s off-campus fraternities prohibit the use or storage of firearms in their houses, but should we rely on someone else to dictate our community’s public safety policies?
We care deeply about the safety and well-being of our friends residing in off-campus fraternities and are glad that USM is a place where Greek Life has been so beneficial to its members and the USM community. Unfortunately, recent events may have negatively impacted the reputation of fraternities at USM, and clarification, or amendment to the policies regarding their relationship as part of the campus community, could only help to ensure their continued success in the future.