Let’s talk about fraternities – one of few student organizations that can segregate campuses by simple virtue of their existence.
The divide between Greek life and GDI’s (“God Damn Independents,” formerly known as students not in a frat or sorority) is just as apparent as the divide between different cliques in Greek life itself.
Certain frats associate with certain sororities, some chapters promote association solely between members and, usually, members of Greek life are apt to hang out with each other rather than with friends who don’t sport any letters.
When things go down on frat row, Greek life and the rest of the student body often have wildly different reactions – and lately, Greeks have been accused of not taking the allegations made against them seriously. This is especially relevant now, considering the fraternity-driven scandals cropping up on college campuses nationwide.
Here are some highlights from this semester alone:
- A decades-long pattern of sexual assault at the University of Virginia was exposed last week when “Rolling Stone” broke the story of a female student being gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi house. UVA has now suspended all fraternities.
- West Virginia University suspended all Greek activities after a freshman student died at the Kappa Sigma house.
- Clemson suspended all Greek social and pledging-related activities, and fully suspended two dozen fraternities, after the death of a sophomore student and a string of incidents involving fraternities on the campus.
In these, and in other similar fraternity scandals, two themes are common: First, the stereotypical Greek brotherhood driven by drinking and dangerous hazing; and second, the newer – but increasingly widely held – view of the fraternity as a breeding ground for date-rape, gang-rape or rape in general.
As more universities take action against some or all of their Greek chapters, and fraternities receive more and more negative publicity, at least one thing is clear – there is something deeply wrong with the culture that accompanies fraternity life.
Try telling this to a brother, however, and you’ll be met with protests and insistence their particular chapter of their particular fraternity is different.
This is true in some, if not many, cases.
I know plenty of men involved in Greek life at our and other schools, and most of them are good friends, responsible adults and not the kind of people who condone activities that would lead to the death of a pledge or allow a sexual assault on their watch.
I also know, however, just how powerful groupthink can be, how quickly things can get out of hand when drugs or alcohol are involved, and how easily the party and rape culture that is usually quietly omnipresent on frat row can overtake the most innocent of nights.
It’s not enough for us to say that “our” fraternities are better, or hope education and increased supervision will prevent or reduce dangerous and traumatic incidents in our fraternities and on our campus.
Fixing the fraternity “problem” will require a serious change in the culture that surrounds Greek life, instead of simply punishing individuals or chapters after someone gets hurt.
Certainly, fraternities that endanger pledges, encourage binge drinking to the point of death and/or allow for rape or sexual assault to happen in their chapter houses need to be held accountable for their actions. And likely, the best way for universities to do this is to punish guilty individuals, suspend the responsible fraternity chapters and, potentially, suspend all fraternity activity until the school has developed better methods of monitoring and evaluating Greek life.
However, these are only temporary solutions – they don’t do anything to address the underlying culture that normalizes rape and excessive hazing. Universities nationwide need to provide meaningful education to all students about drinking, drugs, sex and consent.
They need to consistently and reliably identify areas of campus where problems are likely to arise – in this particular case fraternities – and target them with education and with compliance reviews.
Fraternity violations need to be met swiftly with real consequences. But, perhaps most importantly, a shift in fraternity culture needs to occur and must be spearheaded by the fraternities themselves in order to gain any traction.
This is no small order – but its one Greek life should consider if it wants any chance at saving its reputation, or at its continued presence on college campuses.
Shannon McHale is a senior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.