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June 9, 2003

Campus outcry follows MTV shoot

By Jennifer McNulty

The filming this spring of UCSC’s Delta Omega Chi (DOC) fraternity by MTV for its hit reality show, "Fraternity Life," has prompted discussions across campus about the value of this type of national television coverage, the role of Greek organizations at UCSC, and expectations regarding student conduct.

This is one of two houses MTV has provided for the duration of filming. Photo: Chris Myers

The fraternity signed a contract with MTV this spring and is scheduled to be the fourth Greek organization profiled on MTV’s "Fraternity Life" and "Sorority Life" series; the DOC episodes are expected to begin airing in September.

The fraternity’s decision to sign on with the network was outside the university’s purview, and the campus’s formal involvement in the project has been limited to negotiating contracts for on-campus filming. Even so, supporters and detractors have weighed in about the wisdom of the endeavor from the earliest stages of discussion, according to campus officials.

"Although most organizations appreciate free publicity, not everyone at UC Santa Cruz thinks it's a great idea to be featured on this particular MTV program," said Ronald P. Suduiko, vice chancellor of University Relations, whose division oversees commercial film contracts on campus.

Opponents of the filming became more vocal following last week’s admission by two DOC members that they stole a rare koi fish from Porter College, and recent allegations of sexual harassment against the fraternity. Public outcry surged last week following news reports of the fish incident.

Campus officials consulted widely before allowing the network to film on campus. In April, they met with Santa Cruz city, county, and business representatives to discuss the pros and cons of having MTV film in the community.

A representative of the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council estimated that having MTV profile a UCSC fraternity could generate up to $1 million in revenue for the region, and a representative of Santa Cruz County was enthusiastic about the project and optimistic that the fraternity members would make their town proud, said Elizabeth Irwin, associate vice chancellor for communications, who represented UCSC at the meeting.

The campus subsequently signed agreements allowing the network to film fraternity activities on campus on two separate dates. Campus officials had second thoughts after observing behavior by DOC members during filming.

Their concern intensified when members of the fraternity came under police investigation in the disappearance of the rare mature Hikari Ogon Japanese koi from the fishpond at Porter College. UCSC police turned over the case to the district attorney.

The theft was also referred to the UCSC Office of Student Judicial Affairs for adjudication, which could result in disciplinary sanctions for the organization as well as individual members, according to Doug Zuidema, director for Student Judicial Affairs. DOC was also reprimanded by Zuidema’s office for allegations of sexual harassment that occurred during spring quarter.

"I support Greek life, but I don’t support bad behavior. They are not living up to the standards of fraternities and sororities on this campus, nor our principles of community," said Zuidema, adding that his office will follow up with an investigation and appropriate disciplinary action if MTV airs any footage capturing violations of law or campus rules, including underage drinking.

MTV selected DOC after fraternity member Casey Loop, a senior majoring in economics, approached the network in March and invited producers to come "check us out," said Loop.

"We have something pretty special here, and I really thought the first show [of "Fraternity Life"] did an injustice to Greek life and to fraternity life," said Loop, who sent e-mail to MTV producers at 1 a.m. "The very next day, they called us and sent questionnaires. I really felt we could make the show much more entertaining, much more exciting."

For the duration of filming, MTV has provided fraternity members with two houses, one of which overlooks the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, two silver Range Rovers, and individual monthly cash allowances. The fraternity is receiving an undisclosed payment, as well. DOC has 28 active members, according to Loop. Six pledges are living at the house by the harbor. Citing contractual agreements with the show’s producers, several DOC members declined to describe activities that have been filmed.

Current and alumni members of DOC were enthusiastic about the opportunity to spotlight the fraternity on national television, said DOC president Evan Beaudu, a junior from Folsom who is majoring in film and psychology.

"The atmosphere around campus and in Santa Cruz is not very conducive to Greek life," said Beaudu. "This is an opportunity to show we have a really good time, and we build lasting relationships."

Asked if the filming provides an opportunity to counter "animal house" stereotypes and build campus support for Greek organizations, Beaudu noted that "MTV is going to portray us how they want to--it might not be accurate."

"No matter what we do, good or bad, MTV is going to focus a lot on the more interesting, exciting aspects, like partying, and the crazy drinking associated with fraternities, anyway," he said.

Jay Hosack, the UCSC volleyball coach and a volunteer adviser to Greek organizations at UCSC, met with DOC members before they signed the contract with MTV.

"I told them that this is an opportunity for them to portray their organization on a national level," said Hosack, a 2002 UCSC graduate and alumni member of Theta Chi, UCSC’s first Greek fraternity. "I did the best I could talking directly to them, and then I talked with their alumni."

Like the other Greek organizations featured in MTV’s series, DOC is a local organization that exists only at UCSC. Unlike national and international Greek organizations, locals have no governing body, noted Hosack. "MTV only chooses locals because nationals have governing bodies," he said. "Locals don’t have anybody to say ‘no.’"

Although the media spotlight provides an opportunity to present the benefits of Greek life, which include social outlets, professional networking opportunities, and an enhanced sense of school pride, Hosack conceded his own surprise that MTV would choose UCSC. "That was the first reaction--why here? The Greek system isn’t even established here," he said.

Indeed, Greek fraternities and sororities received a chilly welcome at UCSC, where the 1989 founding of Theta Chi prompted the creation of an opposition organization called Students Against Greek Establishments (SAGE). The group launched a letter-writing campaign and sent more than 2,500 letters of opposition to Theta Chi’s national headquarters, said Hosack.

Between 400 and 500 UCSC students are currently members of Greek organizations.

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