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The Background Story

In May, friends and family mourned the deaths of five UNC-Chapel Hill students 17 years ago. These students passed away well before their time in a tragic house fire at one of the university's fraternity houses, Phi Gamma Delta.

Since the tragic event, brothers of Phi Gamma Delta, friends and family of the victims, politicians and many others have campaigned at university, local, state and national levels for increased fire safety standards in campus housing. At the state level and below, the campaign has taken its most noticeable form in the "Help Save a Life, Get on the Truck" campaign, spearheaded by Governor Bev Perdue, whose son Garrett was a Phi Gam brother at UNC the year the fire occurred. In 2001, as a result of their activism, UNC mandated and installed sprinkler systems for all on-campus housing. In 2011, these very sprinkler systems put out a house fire at the Sigma Chi house.

At the national level, the campaign resulted in the founding of the FSPAC in 2005, which has since been lobbying for a federal law that would allow fraternities to use money from charitable foundations to renovate and improve chapter houses. If passed, Greek and any other affinity-group housing would be allowed to use their own fundraising money to equip homes with fire sprinklers. According to an internal industry memorandum reviewed by Bloomberg News, about half of all fraternity houses currently lack sprinklers.

The former sponsor of the bill was none other than Representative Paul Ryan, a member of Delta Tau Delta at Miami University. Long time supporter Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee, is the bill's current sponsor. In April, more than a dozen politicians attended a special fundraising event in Washington by FSPAC to show their support. Representative Steve Palazzo, a Republican from Mississippi and Sigma Chi brother, and Steve Stivers, an Ohio Republican and Delta Upsilon alumnus, were among some of the most vocal in their support of the act.

Why is this important now?

Just recently, Bloomberg News released two articles, one on July 24 and one on July 25, based on several months of internal research and interviews by staff members to numerous interfraternal leaders and the FSPAC lead lobbyist, Kevin O'Neil of Patton Boggs, regarding the tax break legislation. These articles, full of the typical sensational media tactics and fraternity clichés, do not present a balanced examination of the issues at hand, and overall portray Greek life and organizations negatively. The Bloomberg News articles aim to cripple the tax break legislation by making it about something it is not---namely, by overshadowing the history of FSPAC as it relates to fire-safety legislation, and shifting the conversation into one about hazing.

As Greek members, it is our duty to not only represent the legacy of our fraternity through our every-day lives, but to also stand up for Greeks as a whole, when necessary. The legislation at hand could potentially mean the difference between life and death for future brothers living in chapter houses, whether on-campus or off.

So how can you help?

• First, you can read the Bloomberg News articles to understand the accusations being alleged at FSPAC.
• Second, you can get informed about what this bill is really about by reading the "The Background Story" above and also checking out FSPAC's formal response to each of the articles. FSPAC does a great job of breaking the articles down piece-by-piece to provide direct responses to each assertion by Bloomberg News with quotes.
• Lastly, visit the FSPAC "Key Issues" page and click "Take Action" for the "Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act" to quickly and easily submit a form to congress that shows your support.

What's your opinion?

Do you think media coverage of Greek life and organization is skewed negatively? How were fire-safety standards in your living quarters when you were an undergraduate brother? To share your opinion with brothers, or anything else relating to it, write [email protected] or simply comment below.