Opinion: Fraternities make college campuses more dangerous, especially for women

Photo: North American Inter-fraternity Conference

Elizabeth Turley, Managing Digital Editor

Warning: This article contains mentions of topics that may be upsetting to some readers, including death, hazing, alcohol abuse, and sexual assault/rape. If reading about these subjects will affect you negatively, please return to our homepage to select a different article.

Eighteen Penn State students are facing charges [in the February 4th death of 19-year-old fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza]: eight for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; four for reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; and six for evidence tampering. The Beta Theta Pi fraternity — which has since been barred from Penn State — is facing charges including involuntary manslaughter and hazing. (Emily Shapiro, Good Morning America)

Any American who watches the news can recall at least one incident where a fraternity chapter has come under fire for doing something offensive or unacceptable: hazing, alcohol abuse, and the all-too-common sexual assault; yet these organizations remain staples of college campuses nationwide. Greek Life organizations, as they are called, have a significant presence at all eight Ivy League schools, as well as at all of the United States’ top universities, which is cause for concern for many women. Although fraternities (as national organizations) do not condone misogynistic behavior, they provide young men with an environment where sexism and gendered violence are seen as the norm, making them dangerous for women as well as for men and for the greater college campus.

“Back in October of 2013, the social chair of a fraternity at Georgia Tech sent members an email with the subject line ‘Luring Your Rapebait,’ a brief document outlining how best to sexually assault women and get away with it,” reports Anne Thériault in an article about rape culture for The Daily Dot. This incident was given national coverage, and the Georgia Tech chapter of the fraternity was suspended. However, few people in authority seemed to consider the effect that “Luring Your Rapebait” may have had on women at that school. Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti addressed a frightening statistic in her 2014 article about rape on college campuses: “Numerous studies have found that men who join fraternities are three times more likely to rape, that women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other college women, and that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in four years away at school.” Dr. John Foubert, a researcher who studied the likeliness of fraternity brothers to commit rape, told The New York Times, “Little concern about [my findings] was shown…when I presented this data at national fraternity conventions. There remains a lack of commitment in the fraternity community to meaningful education on rape prevention.”

This is not only a hazard to women, but to men as well. As fraternity-and-sorority researcher Georgianna L. Martin so succinctly put it, “[An unfortunate] byproduct of fraternity membership is ‘groupthink.’” Pledges, or new fraternity members, are immersed in a “hard-drinking and sexually aggressive” culture of hypermasculinity from day one, and feel “pressure…to change in order to earn membership and status within [these fraternal organizations]” to use the words of Nicholas Syrett, author of The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities. And Thériault warns that these group morales will follow brothers through the rest of their lives thanks to Bloomberg’s aptly named “fraternity pipeline”: “[M]en from high-profile fraternities [gain] employment at major corporations through a system of leaked interview questions and resumes that mysteriously find themselves promoted to the top of the pile. This means that frat members find themselves surrounded by the very same enablers when they graduate and start working.” In other words, joining a fraternity is a lifelong commitment to the values and morals of the organization, official (e.g. community service) or unwritten (e.g.luring “rapebait”).

In her New York Times piece “How Fraternities Dominate College Life,” University of Michigan sociology professor Elizabeth A. Anderson explains the hold that these dangerous organizations have on colleges and universities. “Fraternities have considerable power to dictate social relations on many college campuses…[and are] are in part empowered by their status as private organizations,” writes Armstrong. She continues, “Despite these negative influences universities may be hesitant to rein in fraternity party life, as doing so could jeopardize tuition dollars from students interested in Greek life, as well as funds from well-heeled university alumni. It is thus unlikely that universities will ban these organizations altogether.”

When an institute of higher learning depends on the financial support of an organization best known for hosting wild parties and degrading women, it is clear that something must change.

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