Lucian Blue Scher
Investigative Beat Reporter
Content Warning: This article contains references to interpersonal violence and assault.
First introduced in Feb. 2021, California Assembly Bill 524 (AB 524) aims to increase transparency between campus-affiliated Greek organizations by requiring a public report of information regarding the organization and its members. After 19 months and three assembly amendments, AB 524 was approved unanimously by the California senate and signed by the governor on Sept. 13.
AB 524 calls for broad information regarding membership and summaries of Greek organizations. It also gives respective institutions control over what information their Greek organizations provide, from informing the public of basic information to more minute details.
Back in April 2021, Alexandra Wishowski of The Bottom Line (TBL) reported on the Campus-Recognized Sorority and Fraternity Transparency Act, which provided insight into the progression of California Assembly Bill 524. AB 524 was, during that time, beginning to be drafted by Associated Students and Students Against Sexual Assault, along with Assembly members Freddie Rodriguez, Dr. Joaquin Arambula, and Jose Medina — Democrats of the 52, 31, and 61 Districts of California, respectively.
The originally proposed bill would require campus-recognized Greek life organizations to report certain information which the educational institution would then have to organize into a “publicly accessible report” on or before July 1, 2023, and each year subsequently. Failure to do so would result in immediate suspension from campus recognition.
Included in this report are the address, date, and time of every Greek-sanctioned event and the address of each Greek-owned house. This may be intended to make events less private, which is intended to curb misconduct through more supervision. Eric Victoria, a UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Sigma Pi member, takes issue with this.
“[This is a] step in the right direction that creates chaos. For more people to know what’s going on, [makes] it harder to keep it safe. The door already gets swamped,” they said.
The originally proposed bill had two important clauses in the requirements of information that must be provided to the educational institution:
V. Any outcomes of allegations of misconduct by the organization or any member of the organization.
VIII. The number of citations, or disciplinary actions taken, relating to sexual assault by a member of the organization.
The publicity of details of this type of legal action could encourage people to speak up about activities they may have been nervous to share previously. By increasing transparency and honesty around the reality of Greek life, potential new members, pledges, and parents could feel more sure and comfortable about their choice.
Alexandra Wishowski, the original TBL correspondent on the bill shared her thoughts since reporting on the story.
“I don’t believe publicly knowing the information from the original clauses would reflect badly on Greek organizations at all, especially seeing as we already are known on campus for these incidents which deter people from affiliating anyway,” Wishowski said. “Being protective of the information is suspicious and allows people to jump to conclusions, but being open with it shows that we are aware of the issues they need to work on and that they are removing these dangerous members.”
On the other hand, Greek life members like Victoria are concerned about the bad reputation that one member’s actions could place on an organization as a whole.
“The individuals with allegations don’t deserve empathy or anything, but we are still young, and if [legal action and sexual assault records] are public forever, it can ruin their life [and] make it easier for them to never be able to grow out of it,” Victoria said.
However, the finalized legislation removes requirements V and VIII in favor of the following:
VIII. The current conduct status of the campus-recognized sorority or fraternity, as determined by the institution.
XI. Any additional information the institution may require.
However, Wishowski, on the omission of outcomes of allegations, said, “Without knowing the outcome, it was scary to think that the perpetrators could be walking around freely and we have to constantly look over our shoulders even more at parties.”
The new clauses may remove specific information about Greek organizations that would be valuable in deciding to participate.
“The idea is in the right spot, but the outcome I don’t think will be an improvement.” Victoria pointed out.
This is likely because the legislation leaves interested parties wondering why the institution made the decision it did. Gaps in information need to be filled, and rumors, unreliable internet sources, and biased opinions are not the solution.
One reason for the lack of specificity could be the final clause XI giving institutions full power to request information that they want. For example, UCSB could reveal outcomes of legal action taken with or against Greek organizations.
The final version of the law also calls for all campus-recognized Greek life organizations to submit their number of new members, the total number of members, addresses, sanctioned event dates, community service hours, GPAs, and fundraising totals.
A community of support is a spectacular opportunity for students at such a transformative time in their lives. By publicizing dangerous actions, the law may deter students from making bad choices and encourage them to look out not only for themselves but for their fellow students.