VANCOUVER—When Lea Farah and her friends went to a frat party at the University of British Columbia for the first time last year, Farah’s glasses immediately fogged up in the hot and sweaty room.
She says she quickly felt uncomfortable as frat members aggressively ogled and came on to the female students.
“I never want to go again. It hasn’t happened to me, but I know people have faced sexual harassment and groping at frat parties. I know it happens,” said Farah, a second-year behavioural neuroscience student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Nazia Nadir, a second-year UBC chemistry student, said she was tired of hearing people make excuses about sexual assaults and sexual harassment at fraternities.
“I went to a frat party once in first year and will never go again … the (frat) boys also post on social media bragging that they are jerking off in class so you better not sit in that chair. It’s gross,” Nadir said.
Star Vancouver spoke with these students Thursday, two days after allegations surfaced that several of their peers had been drugged at fraternities at UBC over the weekend. Fraternities are typically all-male organizations for students that often hold social functions that are open to the rest of the student population.
Out of over a dozen university students who spoke with Star Vancouver, most said they weren’t surprised about the drugging allegations.
A UBC economics professor, Marina Adshade, said in a tweet Tuesday afternoon a student of hers “spent the weekend at the hospital with six other women who had allegedly been drugged in fraternities at UBC.”
The tweet gained widespread attention and triggered investigations by the university and RCMP.
Now, the professor is calling on Canadian universities to ban fraternities.
The Inter-Fraternity Council, which represents fraternity organizations at UBC, has suspended all social events while investigations are pending. The council said in a Facebook post Wednesday it was encouraging people with information to contact the RCMP and that it is not commenting further.
Star Vancouver visited several frat houses Thursday but was told by members the fraternity council had “instructed them” to not comment on the drugging allegations.
At one frat house, where empty beer cans and upturned chairs laid on the ground, two young men were standing and chatting with each other in the courtyard.
Both said they only heard about the recent drugging allegations on social media and were surprised.
One of the men said this was the first alleged drugging case he had heard of and it concerned him because his fraternity tries to “promote safety” at parties with brothers staying sober and watching exits at parties to make sure people aren’t bringing in outside drugs and alcohol.
He asked not to be named out of fear of repercussions for violating the fraternity council’s instructions.
But Adshade, the UBC economics professor who posted the tweet that triggered the investigations, said the young men in charge of the fraternity system are not equipped to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct among their members.
“We’re talking about 18, 19, 20 and 21-year-old boys. None of these people have the capacity to deal with a sex offender,” she told Star Vancouver Wednesday.
UBC has the largest fraternity and sorority system in Canada, according to an article by the University of Toronto’s student paper, The Varsity. A 2019 UBC student society survey found six per cent of respondents participated in fraternity and sorority life.
UBC did not respond to Star Vancouver’s request for a response to Adshade’s remarks.
Fraternities and sororities tend to prefer to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct internally, said Samantha McCabe, who graduated from the University of British Columbia in May 2019 and now works in Toronto as a journalist.
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The former coordinating editor of UBC’s student paper, The Ubyssey, frequently reported on sexual violence on campus.
Seven per cent of students experience sexual assault or misconduct at the hands of another member of the UBC community during their time at the university, according to the school’s student society’s survey for the 2018-19 academic year.
Of the respondents, women were more likely (13 per cent) than men (four per cent) to experience this. Fifteen per cent of students had accessed the student society’s sexual assault services centre in the 2018-19 academic year.
James Anderson, a 22-year-old studying political science at UBC, said frat parties are risky places for younger people.
“It’s definitely the younger students who go and there’s an endemic issue with over-consumption of alcohol that’s clearly more of a problem at frat parties than other kinds of parties on campus,” he said.
“It is a longstanding issue that the university has tried to address, but they still seem unwilling or unable to fix the issue.”
More than half of sexual assaults of post-secondary students involve alcohol or drugs, according to a 2013 resource guide from the Ontario government.
Another student, Joe Taylor, a fourth-year computer science undergrad, said he thought the UBC fraternities were making a “decent” response to the drugging allegations but that the whole issue is one of the reasons why he chose not to join a fraternity.
“The stereotypes about frats are often true,” he said.
In 2017, UBC implemented its first stand-alone sexual violence policy — a move that was heralded by many as an important step forward, said McCabe. That led to disappointment when implementation was hampered by communication problems and low levels of trust between students and university staff.
“A lot of people saw that as a huge step forward but were disappointed with the follow- through,” said McCabe.
“Sexual violence at UBC is something that has very been much in the public eye and a systemic issue at the school.”
The Inter-Fraternity Council at UBC has introduced several changes in recent years in an attempt to combat sexual misconduct issues among its members. The council’s bylaws now state fraternities must hold an annual bystander training program.
But McCabe said what is missing is an understanding of the root causes of sexual violence.
“We can have all the campaigns we want about consent … but does that really mean anything if we’re not taking a hard look at why we have such high levels of sexual violence?”
UBC’s vice president for students Ainsley Carry issued a statement Wednesday saying the safety of students was its highest priority.
“My staff has been in contact with the Inter-Fraternity Council and we will be speaking to the fraternities at length in the coming days. We are doing everything we can to find out more,” the statement read.