Safety risks at fraternities and sororities should remain a concern for the city

Re: “New city proposals to tackle issues with Greek life residences”

Safety risks at fraternities and sororities should remain a concern for the city

There are safety risks in the Greek life community that must be resolved. After years of unsafe practices at fraternities and sororities, and numerous complaints from their neighbours, recent proposals by the City of Toronto aim to resolve these safety concerns and help rebuild bridges between the two parties. Three of the six proposed solutions involve establishing open dialogue between Greek life community members and their neighbours, including holding meet-and-greets and assembling call lists of influential Greek life community members whom the public can contact.

These proposals are the result of an open letter penned by Ward 20 councillor Joe Cressy that suggested that Greek houses should be shut down if they fail to secure multi-tenant housing licenses. Concerns voiced by individuals and their respective resident housing associations are at the forefront of this inquiry.

Incidents over the years have become increasingly hard to ignore, from drug busts and house fires to stabbings and sexual assaults, as previously reported by The Varsity.

Many people likely assume that Greek houses are overseen by the University of Toronto, but they typically operate with minimal supervision and without any formal ties to the university. The activities at these houses, however, do affect the university, including the student residents of these houses and the many students their events attract. As such, it is vital that student safety be secured.

One solution, it seems, is to increase by-law officer patrols and thereby upgrade supervision during peak hours in the community. However it is not clear if the city can afford to reallocate resources to monitoring these parties. Moreover, residents of Greek houses should not have to passively accept inappropriate or dangerous behaviour from their peers.

The conflict appears to have been exacerbated by a lack of communication; the Interfraternity Council, which represents a majority of the fraternities on campus, has voted that no individual house may speak to the press, preventing members from publicly making or defending themselves against complaints. While Greek communities may be valued by students and help them feel like they belong at the university, the behaviour of certain members of Greek organizations, as well as the safety risks associated with their housing situations, cannot be ignored.

Anastasia Pitcher is a first-year student at New College studying Life Sciences.

City proposes solutions for conflict between Greek life community, residence associations

Executive Council poised for decision on Greek house licensing

City proposes solutions for conflict between Greek life community, residence associations

The city’s review of multi-tenant housing regulations, which encompasses fraternity and sorority houses surrounding U of T, has opened up a rift between the residences of these houses and the communities that surround them. The outcome has been a six-month-long deliberation process at City Hall between students in Greek life housing and their neighbours regarding changes to the way these multi-tenant houses are licensed.

Issues of excessive partying, lewd behaviour, and improper garbage disposal have been raised by members of housing associations around the U of T campus, with local residents citing problems such as “numerous fires” and “numerous sexual assaults” occurring at nearby fraternities.

In a recent public meeting, city staff presented six possible solutions to provide the public with a general idea of what could be suggested in January and then voted upon in February, when the Executive Council meets.

The six solutions

The first solution is one that was initially proposed in a letter from Ward 20 Councilor Joe Cressy in early June: that fraternities and sororities should no longer be exempted from the housing regulations that all other multi-tenant buildings are required to follow. This suggestion is what first sparked the debate over the status of these houses in September. It is believed that for fraternity and sorority houses to be fully compliant with multi-tenant housing regulations, they would have to fundamentally change their operations, putting their continued existence in jeopardy.

Decades of tension between fraternities — more so than sororities — and surrounding residents have come to light from residences in the neighbourhoods that surround frats and sororities in the wake of Cressy’s letter.

This tension has spawned a few of the proposed solutions, which directly target the relationship between Greek life residences and their neighbours. Three of these solutions are community-led meet and greets with Greek house residents, proactive community outreach to fraternities and sororities before school starts, and the establishment of a community working group consisting of both Greek and non-Greek residents to help bridge the gap and improve communication between the two groups.

Along the lines of communication, another proposed solution is creating a contact list within the neighbourhood so that residents have a number to call to voice their complaints.

The last of the solutions is the establishment of proactive enforcement of bylaws within the area during peak times of activity. One major concern for this solution is that the city may lack the resources for full enforcement. In addition, according to a comment made during a public consultation reported by Toronto Community Houses, “many fraternities and sororities are dry and/or have education on alcohol and housing.”

Speaking to stakeholders

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President External Anne Boucher was initially skeptical of Cressy’s original proposal, stating that it appeared to have the intention of slowly removing fraternity and sorority houses from the city. However, Boucher said she was repeatedly met with the assurance that the city is simply looking to ensure that Greek houses are safe and regulated.

Boucher said she was presented with a detailed presentation of the licensing change and is convinced that the proposal truly aims to improve the safety of Greek housing. She wrote that “this change specifically would not harm the operation of Greek houses.”

Boucher said that while some of the other solutions look to solve long-standing residential grievances such as noise complaints, they fail to really address how Greek houses could be made safer.

The Annex Residence Association’s David Harrison highlighted the long-standing tension between Greek houses and their neighbours, saying that “clearly, the Greek group didn’t see any need for change to their status or additional rules and regulations.” He insisted that the residents he represents find the enforcement of some form of regulation on Greek housing to be the most pressing solution.

City staff will develop a summary of consultations in a report to the Executive Committee in early 2018.

The Inter-Fraternity Council, which represents the majority of U of T fraternities, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.

The U of T Panhellenic Association, which represents the majority of U of T sororities, did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Noble goals with limited scope

Proposed bylaw changes for fraternities and sororities will not effectively address concerns about noise or waste management

Noble goals with limited scope

Earlier this year, backed by a number of community residents’ associations, Councillor Joe Cressy called for fraternity and sorority houses in the City of Toronto to be regulated as multi-tenant properties. This would mean that fraternity and sorority houses, including those on U of T’s campus, would need a license to operate, a move that requires adherence to city codes and bylaws.

Cressy believes that this change will help fraternities and sororities become better neighbours. However, while changes to regulation may resolve concerns about health and safety, it will take more to lessen the negative impact fraternity and sorority houses may have on the neighbourhood at large.

Being designated as a multi-tenant property would force frat and sorority houses to abide by health and safety requirements, including property bylaws about waste disposal and the regulations outlined in the Ontario Fire Code. To maintain their housing license, fraternities and sororities would be required to pass an annual inspection by Toronto Fire Services and Municipal Licensing and Standards. Any violations would result in a financial penalty.

Currently, there is no way for the city to ensure the safety of those living and frequenting these buildings. Licensing would allow the city to make sure that students do not suffer the consequences of poor building maintenance. Although serious fires or building accidents have yet to be reported, we shouldn’t wait for these incidents to go viral before doing anything to prevent them.

At the same time, though a multi-tenant housing license might be helpful for improving property maintenance, it won’t do much to address issues on noise and waste, which are a major source of complaints from other residents. Out of the 16 known frats and sororities on campus, there have been a total of 20 noise investigations related to their properties within the last two years. Coupled with 27 investigations about waste over the same period, it’s a total of 47 city investigations since 2015. Only 14 of all investigations have resulted in orders to comply by the city.

Unfortunately, the changes being proposed do not address issues outside of property maintenance, meaning a multi-tenant housing license won’t spur fraternities and sororities to more effectively govern their behaviour in these cases.

There is also a case to be made that bylaws are an ineffective way of governing behaviour in the first place. According to its recent review on multi-tenant housing, the city believes that existing bylaws are “sufficiently” effective. Recent data on the frequency of complaints against fraternity and sorority houses — and their lackluster resolutions — shows otherwise.

As of late, one fraternity house at 157 St. George Street has had 14 noise and waste investigations in the past two years, with two happening on consecutive days this September. Another house at 152 St. George Streethas had nine investigations, and a third house at 180 St. George Street has had eight. This assortment of complaints and investigations have only brought forth eight notices to comply.

Statements from residents also reflect concerns about enforcing long-term regulations. As community resident David Sterns wrote in a letter to Mayor John Tory, “Toronto fraternities successfully defeated an attempt to remove their rooming house by-law exemption in 2011 by stating their desire to work with neighbours… As soon as the threat of regulation ended, any talk of working with neighbours ended and things quickly went back to the way they were.”

Certainly, this isn’t reflective of all fraternities and sororities on campus, many of which comply with regulations. However, it appears the current system for dealing with noise and waste concerns is ineffective in a number of cases, as the high frequency of complaints has persisted.

The power of orders to comply from the city is not a strong enough deterrent for noisy and messy behaviour. Any improvement in the way the city handles these complaints won’t come solely from a housing license.

The city, community, and students will have to work together to resolve the issues that the proposed regulations cannot fix on their own. For starters, the city should not rely on self-governance on the part of fraternities and sororities; consistent community inspections on the part of bylaw officers, as well as prompt and efficient city responses to noise or waste complaints, are necessary. Moreover, a strike system could be imposed, in which houses with three or more notices by the city will have to face severe financial penalties. These changes will help ensure that students are really cleaning up their act.

Multi-tenant licensing is certainly a good start but the issues at stake are multifaceted, and it will take more than a single solution to resolve them.

Andrea Tambunan is a first-year student at University College studying Life Sciences.

The Breakdown: the origins of Greek life on campus

A brief history

The Breakdown: the origins of Greek life on campus

Greek life at U of T has recently become the focus of attention in the campus community following an open letter penned by City Councillor Joe Cressy calling for fraternity and sorority houses to be properly regulated as multi-tenant houses. The coverage has since brought into question the Greek’s relationship to U of T. Here, we break it down.

In 1879, Zeta Psi, an established American fraternity, started the world’s first non-American chapter at U of T. Kappa Alpha Society opened a Toronto chapter in 1892, and Alpha Delta Phi in 1893. The first Canadian female ‘fraternity’ was Kappa Alpha Theta, organized in 1887. The first Black fraternity at U of T, Alpha Phi Alpha, was established in 1908 and had two members on record, although the fraternity closed its chapter two years later.

The relationship between U of T and these Greek letter organizations began early on, starting in 1899 when a residence in the west wing of University College was closed due to financial issues, prompting U of T to use fraternities for student housing. Loans, favourable interest rates, and long-term land leases were given to various chapters. In 1901, Kappa Alpha leased the land known today as Massey College for $1 a year in a long-term contract with the school. By 1927, U of T was host to a reported 42 chapters, compared to 23 at McGill University in the same year. In 1959, U of T expropriated several fraternity-occupied properties on lower St. George Street, leading to their relocation north to today’s Annex neighbourhood.

Currently, two societies govern Greek life at U of T: the National Panhellenic Council, which recognizes seven sororities, and the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), which represents 10 fraternities. Among these fraternities is Delta Upsilon, which is self-identified as being uniquely “non-secret.”

The individual houses tend not to provide media outlets with comment because, as IFC President Sam Jenison explained, the IFC voted that no individual house is allowed to talk to the press.

The current relationship, or lack thereof, between U of T and Greek letter organizations is also elusive to non-members. In an account of the University of Toronto’s history, author Martin L. Friedland reveals that after 1960, when a Black female student was denied entry into a sorority, U of T formally dissociated itself from Greek organizations based on their exclusivity.

This dissociation continues today. The university’s Director of Media Relations Althea Blackburn-Evans said in a recent Varsity article that the university does not recognize fraternities or sororities as campus groups “because they’re not open to everybody who wishes to join.” In his conversation with The Varsity, Jenison confirmed U of T’s dissociation, writing, “We don’t work under ULife and we have no affiliation with U of T.”

Annex residents speak out against fraternities

“Numerous fires, numerous drug issues, and numerous sexual assaults” among cited issues

Annex residents speak out against fraternities

Fraternity and sorority housing may face significant licensing requirements changes by the end of the month. As The Varsity previously reported, the city’s Executive Committee will review whether or not to remove the multi-tenant housing licensing exemption from fraternity and sorority houses. If the change proposed by Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy is approved, then Greek houses around U of T may be shut down if they do not successfully secure a multi-tenant housing license.

Residents push for action

Cressy’s move to have the Executive Committee address the role of fraternities and sororities came on June 5, and it was supported by letters from the heads of the Annex Residents’ Association, Bay Cloverhill Community Association, Grange Community Association, Harbord Village Residents’ Association, and the Huron Sussex Residents’ Organization.

Following repeated incidents going unpunished, Sterns wrote a letter to Mayor Tory about the issue on June 15. The letter listed several cases of inappropriate conduct on behalf of the fraternity houses residing in the Annex, including a police raid confiscating over $125,000 worth of drugs in 2008, the death of a young man who fell from a window of Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in 2013, and the stabbing of three people outside of a frat party in 2015.

Following the 2011 decision, Sterns expressed skepticism of any more collaborative promises on behalf of fraternities and sororities, and urged the Mayor to support Cressy’s efforts to get rid of the licensing exemption.

The Executive Committee will address the situation on September 26; executives from the University of Toronto Students’ Union are expected to speak.

Greeks dodge licensing in 2011

Former Ward 20 City Councillor Adam Vaughan advocated for the removal of fraternity and sorority houses’ licensing exemption back in 2011 for reasons similar to Cressy’s. “The idea is simply to find a way to say to the ones that are holding parties at 4 o’clock in the morning where they’re peeing on people’s cars and doing all kinds of bizarre stuff in the parks, could you just please get on with your neighbours?” Vaughan told the National Post in 2011. “Find a way to help us help you grow up.”

There were certain obstacles that Vaughan faced in accomplishing this task, though, laid out in the staff report requested by the Licensing and Standards Committee at the time.

Specifically, there were two hindrances that kept the committee from bringing forward a licensing proposal. The first was that, according to the staff report, the city “does not have the authority to license people or organizations purely on the basis of their affiliation,” meaning that since a fraternity or sorority does not fall specifically under one classification, it is difficult to define how it should be licensed.

The second reason was that licenses cannot limit the behaviour of tenants. While a license would require the building to be fully up to code, issues that may arise related to behaviour would not be regulated.

Vaughan met representatives of the fraternities and sororities at the time and attempted to establish a collaborative system, as recommended in the staff report, resulting in the Joint Working Group meant to address neighborhood complaints. The working group took the approach of allowing fraternity and sorority houses to rely upon their organizations for regulation and enforcement, as fraternities and sororities have rules for any affiliated chapters. Despite this, complaints continue to be filed to the Annex Residents’ Association, and residents say they have had a hard time getting in touch with anyone of influence in the fraternity community.

Concerned residents speak to The Varsity

Permanent residents of the Annex — the neighbourhood home to many of the Greek life houses in Toronto — have expressed concerns about noise pollution, littering, and general disturbances coming from fraternities much more so than sororities.

David Harrison, chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, said that they “get a steady stream of complaints from neighbours of the Fraternities. There are three or four frequent offenders. The Sororities are generally much better behaved.”

Rita Bilerman, a resident of the Annex for 11 years, said she has had multiple experiences dealing with fraternities. Bilerman alleged there have been “numerous fires, numerous drug issues, and numerous sexual assaults” attributed to fraternities in the time she’s lived in the Annex. She said she is concerned that if the houses are allowed to continue on as they are, there is the potential for real tragedy. She recounted stories of fraternity members sitting atop the roofs of houses, daring each other to run naked past oncoming traffic, and passing out on her front yard.

In addition, Bilerman has kids — the oldest of which is a high school student. She said that fraternity houses in the area have invited her son to parties, and, according to Bilerman, plenty of high school students attend these parties, some of which she claimed serves alcohol to minors.

Mayor Tory’s office is refraining from commenting on the issue until the full staff report is completed.

The Inter-Fraternity Council, a representative body of 10 fraternities around U of T, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.

Data compiled by Tom Yun

City to address overdue zoning of fraternities, sororities

Redefining buildings as multi-tenant houses may cause grief for the Greeks

City to address overdue zoning of fraternities, sororities

On June 5, City Councillor Joe Cressy published a letter addressed to the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee calling for fraternity and sorority houses to be properly regulated as multi-tenant houses. Cressy is the councillor for Ward 20, which includes the majority of the UTSG campus, where Greek life is most salient in Toronto.

The committee made the decision to review the feasibility of the status change back in June — from there, city staff will publish a report on Toronto’s multi-tenant houses and recommendations for potential changes, which will be voted on by City Council in late September.

Regulating the houses being used by fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant houses may come with strict regulations related to property maintenance, waste management, parking, and written confirmation of the maximum number of tenants. This comes on the back of support for Cressy’s letter from housing associations in the Annex, Bay Cloverhill, Grange, Harbord Village, and Huron Sussex neighborhoods. All have had issues with the behaviour of tenants and visitors to these houses, as well as the amount of garbage that they produce. The vote to re-classify Greek houses as multi-tenant houses will come as the city is completing its review of these types of dwellings and strengthening requirements to ensure the health and safety of tenants and mitigate neighbourhood impacts. If the city successfully re-zones fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant houses, they will likely have to apply for a license to operate as such. If they are denied this licence, Greek life around U of T may find itself forced out of traditional real estate.

A matter of safety and civility

“Frankly this is just a straightforward move to ensure that all multi-tenant houses including fraternities and sororities are safe,” Cressy said in an interview with The Varsity. “I don’t see why anybody should see this as something objectionable.”

Several housing associations submitted statements of support for Cressy’s efforts, citing complaints they’ve received from members in their community about the actions of fraternity houses. “Every few years the concerns about the offending Frats boils over and municipal attention increases and the offending Frats promise to do better,” David Harrison, Chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, wrote in an email to The Varsity. “The promises always fade. And, every year brings a new crop of students who need to be taught manners and civilized behaviour.”

The Annex is home to many of the fraternity and sorority houses in Toronto. Harrison adds that parents of students who live in fraternity and sorority housing usually assume that the houses are overseen by the University of Toronto, but this is not the case. “Actually, the UofT wants no role in the supervision of these establishments,” wrote Harrison.

University distances itself from Greek life

Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost of Students at U of T, also submitted a letter to the Executive Committee, clarifying the university’s relationship with surrounding fraternities and sororities. According to the letter, the university does not recognize fraternities or sororities as campus groups. This is “consistent now with our policy on recognized campus groups — that primarily the reason they’re not recognized is because they’re not open to everybody who wishes to join,” said Althea Blackburn-Evans, Director of Media Relations at U of T, in an interview with The Varsity.

U of T hasn’t had any affiliation with fraternities and sororities since the 1960s. Blackburn-Evans explained that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, fraternities and sororities were acknowledged as part of university life. “[But] for quite a few decades now, they haven’t been recognized by the university. So we don’t have any relationship with them,” she said.

Greek houses are legally exempt from Toronto housing regulations that would otherwise govern the buildings as multi-tenant houses. These regulations include the requirement of holding a housing licence. A housing licence ensures that the building is up to fire code standards and fulfills the requirements of the Health Protection and Promotion Act. Due to the nature of Greek housing’s exemption, there is no guarantee that these general requirements are being met.

“Licensing these houses not only provides the City with a mechanism to effectively respond to these concerns, but also entitles those who live in the houses a guarantee that their living environments meet building code and safety standard requirements,” wrote Cressy in his letter to the Executive Committee. “It can also provide the city with a mechanism to deal with houses that are chronically unsafe, for both residents and visitors, and those with demonstrated issues related to problematic behaviour.”

Cressy highlights some aspects of what he calls “problematic behaviour” as being mostly tied to fraternities. Alongside “garbage, extreme noise, and property standards violations,” he identifies the increase of sexual assaults at fraternities, “incidents that often, due to the stigma faced by survivors, can go unreported and unsolved,” as being a key problem with the current system.

Student groups respond

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union have voiced their support of Cressy’s efforts, expressing concern for the students’ safety.

Anne Boucher, Vice-President External of the UTSU, explained that while fraternities and sororities are not affiliated with the university, “[because] many of them are mostly made up of U of T students, and many of our students frequent them, we need to ensure that action is taken to ensure these places are safe.” Boucher did note that aspects of Greek life “can be valuable spaces for our students’ personal development,” but she said the union “cannot ignore the sexual violence and problematic behaviors that have repeatedly manifested in these spaces.”

An advisor to the Panhellenic Sororities Society explained that there are self-enforced regulations in its sororities, telling The Varsity that “each house is individually operated by their International headquarters, and follow guidelines, rules and standards specific to their organizations.” They went on to explain that, to their knowledge, no one from the city has reached out to the society on this issue, but that they would welcome a collaborative opportunity.

Sam Jenison, President of the Inter-Fraternity Council, said that the council acknowledges the changes but cannot provide further comment at this time.

A review of fraternity and sorority housing status is underway, and an official vote on the matter is scheduled to follow in September.