I received a letter from President Roth to Psi U members trying to explain the University’s ban on students entering Psi U (thereby ending the housing plans of members who had secured rooms there, presumably leaving them with the leftover housing slop). While that is unfair to the members as a group, the president’s letter had two more ominous statements. First, “[w]hen we asked Psi U leadership if they had anything to add to this information, we were told no, and that given the ongoing investigation, student members would not be encouraged to come forward and explain.” Second, “I hope that Psi U will find a way to be reintegrated into the housing program at Wesleyan. That will depend on the actions and the plans of the undergraduates over the next several months.”

Especially together, those two quotes suggest the University might be using the Psi U shutdown to pressure students to point fingers at fellow members during an investigation that has yet to result in any public charges. The idea that Wesleyan might undermine its students’ Constitutional right to remain silent troubles me, both as a graduate and an attorney. I often thought when I went there that some Wes students lived in a bubble disconnected from some real world potential consequences of their actions. When, however, the bubble ruptures and students actually face real world consequences, like prison, they should not be stripped of their real world protections. And it also raises other troublesome dynamics. Pretend you are a Psi U member (or even a Eclectic or Westco resident – housing does not matter for this example), and you have broken no laws but know of others that have. If you play the snitch, you risk counteraccusations and suddenly have your own criminal proceeding to fight. Lucky you.

I certainly do not want Psi U to run a drug distribution ring out of the house I once lived in and love, but so far all I have seen are Draconian actions supported by no meaningful evidence. It remains an open possibility that the alleged suspects have graduated or otherwise left the group. If so, why punish the remaining members? Moreover, nothing suggests the entire fraternity, or even most of it, had any involvement in the alleged wrongdoing. And it’s not as if law enforcement doesn’t have its own powerful tools to break witnesses and extract evidence from targets. If the prosecutors really suspect a drug ring, I would expect they are now trying to elicit helpful evidence (whether true or not) by offering immunity or favorable plea deals in exchange.

The fraternity’s members – like everyone – are presumed not guilty unless and until found otherwise in court. Wesleyan is not treating Psi U that way. Beyond that, it apparently would like its own students to compromise their Fifth Amendment rights by speaking when even a greenhorn lawyer would tell them to shut up, no matter whether they had broken the law or not.

Rasmussen is a member of the Class of 1990.

  • Douglas the Bennet

    This is an important statement. Thank you for making it.

  • Anonymous

    Psi U claims “No drugs were purchased” and “this incident occurred during senior week,
    when most of our membership had left school, the chapter was effectively
    not operating, and there were non-members residing in the house.” But they urge their members not to cooperate with any investigation. You can’t try to have it both ways and expect there to be no consequences.

  • Sarah M. Roberts

    I agree with “Douglas,” regarding Rasmussen’s letter.

  • DavidL

    For a long time Wes students and administration looked the other way on drugs. Then a life threatening incident in the dorms that got widespread national attention caused a turn around. Now it’s punish, punish, punish by the administration. Perhaps they should find a way to punish themselves, since the hands off policy of the school administration had a lot to do with the problem in the first place.