A fraternity at Old Dominion University made headlines recently by proudly displaying banners with “freshman daughter drop off” on the front of their fraternity home. Fraternities have been consistently garnering negative press, resulting in academics and journalists to question if universities should ban fraternities altogether. If we shut the doors of fraternities, put an end to rushing and pledging and abandoned this fixture of college social life, what would really happen? Would sexual violence on campuses likely screech to a halt? Would students magically respect and understand one another’s sexual limits?
No one will deny that certain aspects of fraternities must change. Fraternities sometimes promote rape culture and exacerbate systemic sexism. However, banning fraternities is not the solution to these ingrained social ills. This article will discuss the unconventional benefits fraternities bring, as well as three alternatives to prohibiting fraternities: increased education centered on sexual assault and consent, the institution of serious and thorough regulation, and the possibility of banning fraternity housing, rather than fraternities themselves. These changes will increase awareness and promote accountability without sacrificing the benefits of fraternities.
Banning fraternities ignore the many positive effects yielded from fraternities. According to activist Wagatwe Wanjuki, “it’s been shown that fraternities for men of color especially at predominantly white institutions have been really valuable social networks.” An additional layer of networking allows for those who feel disenfranchised to become more integrated into the college network and creates opportunities for leadership development. There are also academic and co-ed fraternities, such as in the case of Delta Sigma Pi, a business oriented, co-ed fraternity at Washington University in Saint Louis. Co-ed fraternities are also often more associated with community service, civic participation and volunteerism. Ignoring the leadership opportunities and significant relationships forged by fraternities, as well as the large donations former fraternity members give universities disregards many benefits fraternities provide.
Eradicating fraternities from universities will not address the culture associated with some of its members, whereas teaching about consent and rape is a successful means of preventing assault by fundamentally altering the social dynamic. According to a study by Christopher Krebs, in partnership with the National Institute of Justice, education decreases the likelihood of sexual assault, especially when targeted to populations at risk. Mandatory, yearly and exhaustive sexual assault seminars for all students, especially fraternity members, will hopefully lead to open and safe discussions and ultimately better decision making. A recent and popular study conducted by Sarah Edwards in “Violence and Gender” found that many male students did not understand what constituted rape and consent. While this is no excuse for students who commit sexual assault, education challenges any blurred lines, forcing students to take consent seriously.
Increased regulation and increased awareness of the potential for strict regulations placed upon fraternities, will promote a system of accountability. When members are aware of harsh consequences, and aware that those consequences apply not only to them, but also to their chapter, this increases incentives for compliance. A better method of showing fraternities that sexual assault is a real punishment is to take the crimes seriously and allow law enforcement to properly deal with them; banning fraternities for sexual assault makes the issue seem like an university specific issue and one not applicable to the real world, when unfortunately this is not the case. If the whole chapter gets punished when one fraternity member engages in sexual assault, but not the individual in a criminal sense, the issue seems as small as the university.
The best solution to the scourge of sexual violence plaguing our campuses is not banning fraternities, but banning fraternity-hosted homes. A study by Mindy Stombler and Patricia Yancey Martin conducted in 1994 found that “gender inequality is institutionalized on campus by a ‘formal structure’ that supports and intensifies an already ‘high-pressure heterosexual peer group.’” The study found that atmospheres such as fraternity parties and bars on campus are a petri dish for sexual assault and sexual violence. There are two ways to look at the results of this study. The first mode of thinking is that wild parties will be thrown on college campuses, whether fraternities exist or not. The second mode of thinking is that we can diminish the likelihood of these atmospheres allowing for sexual assault by removing fraternity houses.
The idea of regulating fraternities is not an opinion held only by researchers.
“There is misogyny and mistreatment of women in fraternity culture, but they should be regulated more, rather than banned,” Chanel Silva-Gomez ’19 said.
Sometimes, the best solution isn’t the most obvious solution. Shutting down fraternities altogether is a faulty fix to a larger social dysfunction. What is likely more effective, is serious regulation and the time consuming toil of dialogue and training about violence, consent, and respect. The main issue fraternities are struggling with right now is sexual assault. Although many believe the way to solving this problem is shutting down fraternities altogether, increased education, more severe regulation, and exploring the possibilities of redefining what a typical fraternity is, may prove to be better solutions.
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