Junior James Bradford, president of Kappa Alpha Order fraternity, was recently elected president of the Interfraternity Council. The Chronicle spoke with Bradford about the issues IFC currently faces and the organization's efforts to increase diversity and prevent sexual assault on campus. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Chronicle: What are your major goals this year?
James Bradford: I think that we have to break down barriers and collaborate within the IFC. I’m trying to encourage collaboration there that will lead ultimately to events and ultimately build a better community within IFC that trickles down to the chapters—starting with executive team and the president’s council.
Another thing that I really want to emphasize is the aspect of diversity in the IFC. I think that the perception of the IFC is that we are white, privileged males, and I think my goal for the IFC is to become a more approachable body to all types of people. The first thing we really have to do is gather context. Our first step will be reaching out to identity groups—simply gaining insight, asking questions and listening. A couple questions that would be important are how can we as IFC foster an environment that is successful for individuals of all types of identities, how are we not doing that right now and how can we get better. And then the second thing is we have to connect on a personal level with people that we are trying to recruit. While the perception of IFC is of a white male privileged group, everyone has their own experiences and stories to tell as IFC men. It’ll be important to communicate on a personal level and tell what the IFC means to them.
Lastly is sexual assault awareness and prevention. This is a large point. Obviously, IFC has a sexual assault prevention team. They've made strides specifically in regards to training. It’s about making sure there are training sessions for new members who will be joining the IFC fraternities and then continuing the conversation. We need to know how to have tough conversations. It also falls down to chapter-facilitated and IFC-facilitated events like speaker Tim Mousseau [who spoke Monday on campus] about topics that aren't the easiest to talk about.
TC: How do you think IFC at Duke compares to fraternity life at other institutions?
JB: From what I have gathered from conversations with David Pittman [interim director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life], I think that the IFC chapters at Duke collaborate less than they do on other campuses. That is my perception. And this is something that I would like to begin to open up with other peer institutions and just to ask them that exact question. I think that part of it is a change in perspective from the chapters where it’s less of me and more of us. And also IFC facilitating the right events.
TC: What are your thoughts on the social scene increasingly taking place off campus for IFC fraternities?
JB: A lot of the perception is that off-campus events tend to be unsafe. Regardless of where events are being held, our events need to be safe. As for on-campus versus off-campus, the IFC exec is really pushing with chapters to have events on campus. We would really like to see the IFC have a good representation of social and philanthropic events on campus. One of our goals is to communicate to chapters that these resources exist. The other thing is working to have a better relationship between IFC, [Housing, Dining and Residence Life] and [the Student Health and Wellness Center] because I think there are people in the IFC who resent the on-campus policies which in some ways have pushed the events off campus. It's not that we need to go into the Office of Student Conduct and complain about policies. It’s figuring out how to host events that people are going to be excited about on campus and about collaborating and finding a medium where we can host things on campus.
TC: It’s no secret that fraternities frequently face disciplinary action and are put on probation at Duke. Why do you think that is?
JB: First thing to note is that in previous year fraternities and [the Office of Student Conduct] have had a pretty testy relationship. But what's important to note is that when chapters are put on probation, Student Conduct is attempting to design sanctions that help the chapter become better in the long run. You can really work with Student Conduct and can improve your chapter based on these sanctions. I think the more important thing is that chapters can avoid more punitive measures by really focusing and working with Student Conduct on recommendations that are really meant to improve the chapter. It comes down to working more effectively with Student Conduct—having a relationship with Student Conduct to be able to demonstrate that your chapter is really committed to fixing the problem that got you there in the first place.
My whole mantra with the IFC is about collaboration. When people bring up Student Conduct, people guard themselves. Let’s use those meetings to become more productive as a chapter. Let’s not get so defensive that we dig ourselves into a hole.
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TC: What are your plans for the IFC sexual assault prevention team?
JB: I’m a member of that team and was a member before I ran for president, and my vision for that is for that team to become better integrated into the workings of the IFC. So last year, they gave a presentation to presidents with certain recommendations and those recommendations stand right now. The IFC will subsidize water bottles because that is something that team found to be a step toward making events safer.
Over the last year, those recommendations have become less evident to presidents, and I don't think presidents know to take advantage of them. What this takes for us as IFC is to work more closely to implement recommendations. We’re working on a project with them that talks about training for sexual assault awareness and prevention. One thing is that it was mandated that all incoming new members have "Prevent. Act. Challenge. Teach." training. We found that having a continuous conversation about sexual assault was what was really going to be important. Having had those new member classes who have gone through PACT training, it facilitated an honest conversation about sexual assault and how sexual assault and sexual assault prevention intersect with Greek life at Duke.
I think moving forward it’s going to be a matter of the team recommending initiatives and the IFC exec making sure chapters know about those recommendations and are taking advantage of them. One thing I’ve found as a chapter president is that mandating things isn't the best way to engage chapters. People tend to resent IFC when they do that. [It’s better to] work toward engaging chapters in doing the right thing because you see the value in them and you’re engaging in the cause not because I’m telling you you have to do them.