Phi Alpha Tau hopes to change culture after 18-month hiatus


By Vivi Smilgius

Content Warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault. 

Phi Alpha Tau will return to action this semester, marking the end of the fraternity’s 18-month hiatus in response to a series of sexual assault allegations made against a former member.

The accusations made against Jackson Davis, who worked as a Resident Assistant at Emerson before graduating in 2017, made national news in July 2020 after the Tau alum—who worked as a producer at NowThis at the time—was quote-tweeted by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Since then, Phi Alpha Tau has ceased recruitment and gone silent on social media.

Emerson senior Cameron Carleton, a business of creative enterprises major who serves on the fraternity’s marketing team, said the allegations leveled against Davis shed light on a “culture of secrecy” among the fraternity. Older members of the fraternity were aware of Davis’s actions, he said, but did nothing to hold him accountable.

“There was a lot of negative behavior that was being swept under the rug,” said Carleton. “We had no idea these things were happening. We’ve been trying to establish a culture of transparency and accountability.”

Part of Phi Alpha Tau’s shift in culture comes with an updated code of conduct, as well as a Standards Board charged with investigating brothers accused of violating said code. Brothers under investigation will be put on probation and barred from interacting with other members of the fraternity.

Most crucially, the standards board and code of conduct will allow the fraternity to internally investigate and expel brothers not complying with its standards, including those with open Title IX investigations—an ability the fraternity did not have during Davis’s time at Emerson.

“The Title IX office at Emerson has historically let us down in terms of holding people accountable for their actions,” said Phi Alpha Tau Standards Chair Lex Torrington. “The code of conduct is a way for us to hold ourselves internally accountable.”

Torrington, an Emerson senior who is also a member of the men’s lacrosse team, noted that all NCAA sports teams undergo mandatory Title IX training. He advocated for Greek life organizations across the country to do the same training, adding that he plans to set up annual workshops for Greek life organizations at Emerson.

“It’s been really helpful to learn from the Title IX office and start conversations about these things,” he said. “Eliminating secrecy through transparency and conversation and explicitly referencing these issues is a big goal of ours in the wake of what we just learned about our history.”

Phi Alpha Tau also plans to donate to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center following a period of fundraising. The fraternity has adopted ending sexual violence as one of its “core issues,” as stated in an Instagram post on Jan. 10. 

Sophomore Chapter President Zach Bennett said new members would help shift the fraternity culture.

“We want to bring in a lot of people and have these ideals and terminology thrown out so the people joining know there’s no secrecy and we’re very up front,” said Bennett.

When the Davis allegations broke, Torrington said, many of Phi Alpha Tau’s younger members felt surprised and betrayed—feelings he says will not be part of the fraternity’s culture any longer.

“None of the people who had these active investigations or allegations were active when we were, but some of the older members in our fraternity… were present when this history was happening,” he said. “And they never talked about it and never told us about it.”

“I felt really betrayed by the organization and by these other older members of our fraternity for never being explicit about this history and letting it get swept under the rug,” he added.

The fraternity’s steps forward are a step in the right direction, said Casey Corcoran of the the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center—though he noted that the organization needed to not only be reactive, but proactive.

“Any individual organization that’s done harm has to acknowledge that harm and has to work to regain the trust of those that have been impacted by that harm,” he said. “That goes beyond just saying the right things. It’s showing through actions that there’s a change and that there’s accountability.”