In light of recent events, we, as concerned alumni, feel it is necessary to voice our concerns regarding the need to create a campus environment that keeps student social functions safe and inclusive.
This summer, a student was shot in the chest off campus. More recently, three other students were bound and held at gunpoint at their off campus house. That was followed by two students being abducted and robbed. These recent events are warnings to the Wake Forest community that if changes are not made, students will continue to be in danger.
For better or worse, a majority of students’ social night life is dependent on Greek organized activities. Currently, hundreds, if not thousands, of Greek and non-Greek students are transported off campus for social functions. Some students do not want to wait for provided transportation or pile into over-crowded, possibly unsafe vehicles. Their choice is oftentimes to drink and drive. When students leave campus for off-campus house parties, they are in unfamiliar residential neighborhoods, in unsafe basements, with no regulation outside of the Winston-Salem Police Department.
This results in the allocation of needed community resources to police college parties instead of monitoring the rest of the Winston-Salem community. Shifting that burden to the other citizens of Winston-Salem is detrimental to the community and those in need around the university. These off-campus social functions often cause strained relationships between students, neighbors and law enforcement.
Wake Forest students, like students nationwide, are going to be social. Many will consume alcohol. They are often related, and many will display poor judgment or will make mistakes. While the university can encourage them to act responsibly, these are realities. Given known student behavior and the alarming rate at which students face danger off-campus, why would Wake Forest create an environment or circumstances that continues to push them off campus?
Some alumni remember when most Greek functions occurred on campus, in university- owned and controlled lounge space. Social functions were contained and were regularly visited by Wake Forest law enforcement, who spent more time ensuring student safety and less time responding to students in danger. Those functions were not without problems. Some students engaged in high-risk behavior, but it was done, mostly on campus, in not unsafe spaces in off-campus rental houses often miles away from campus.
The climate of social functions on campus allowed students of varying interests and groups to interact socially, creating an enriching social environment for all students interested in socializing. Students today lack those opportunities and that experience. Functions off campus make it more difficult for those interactions to occur. All may be welcome to attend functions, but without the ability to walk to them, access is limited. There is nothing more exclusive than needing car service for a social function. Rides are given with priority to students within the group hosting the function, preventing social circles to grow.
Today, there is less on-campus lounge space allocated to fraternities than there was several years ago. We also understand that for those who do have lounge space, there have been new strict rules implemented regarding their use of the space. This further complicates the problem. On a national level, fraternities and sororities are equipped to educate, monitor and actually relieve Wake Forest of some liability should an issue occur at a function. Removal of Greek organizations from lounge space merely places more liability on students and on the university.
The university is by no means solely responsible for these problems. We are not under any illusion that students are free from responsibility. We also understand that some actions have triggered an aversion to Greek life on campus. The University has made efforts to create social spaces on campus, but more needs to be done. Wake Forest has a problem, but we feel there are reasonable solutions that would encourage student inclusion and safety.
Students deserve a solution. Wake Forest needs to provide one or be prepared for what may ultimately be a tragic incident affecting our community.
We feel that many issues surrounding the social climate at the university, not just those of safety and inclusion, can be remedied by keeping students on campus. We also feel strongly that anything short of doing so will only treat the symptoms, not the root problem. To be clear, we do not advocate for harsher punishment of those who have been forced off-campus. More rules are not the solution. The current situation is a symptom of years of that approach.
In our opinion, the best solution is the establishment of traditional fraternity and sorority housing on or near campus. For years, this case has been made to the university; however, this is only one of several solutions. Good-willed people should also support any solution that promotes safety and inclusion.
We, as alumni, do not want to stand by silently as students face violence and dangerous circumstances for the sake of having social lives in college. We hope the administration, board and students will work to address the unnecessary risks facing students and improve the environment at the university. We are confident that alumni will cooperate and assist, having the goals of safety and inclusion as priority. Wake Forest has incredible administrators, including Penny Rue and her team. We know that there are more great people like her who can own this problem with us. We fear that if circumstances continue as they now exist, the result will be more unnecessary harm to students. Failing to act will make us all guilty.
The Concerned Alumni