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Campus sexual assault crisis: Is it time to ban fraternities?

For years, I defended Greek life. Here's why I can’t, in good faith, do that anymore.
A college student fills cups of beer. (Photo by Brian Finke/Gallery Stock)
A college student fills cups of beer.

For years, I have defended Greek life. I have proudly worn my sorority's arrow necklace since my junior year of college. Both in public and in private, I have told the naysayers about my positive experience and pushed back on the negative stereotypes levied against me and my fellow Greeks.

But I can’t, in good faith, do that anymore. The way the system is now, the costs far outweigh the rewards.

How can any of us when fraternity men are 300% more likely to rape than non-fraternity men? When sorority women are 74% more likely to be sexually assaulted than other college women?

The deep-rooted problems of sexual assault at the University of Virginia are not isolated. And while it is, in some sense, inherently an institutional-level question -- How are schools adjudicating cases of students who choose to press charges? -- it’s also a question about the Greek community at large -- How long can we keep quiet about the darkness associated with Greek organizations, even when they are not our own?

The brothers of Phi Kappa Psi are front and center in the Rolling Stone story for the alleged perpetuation of an environment where raping, assaulting and treating women as substantially less than human is not only allowed, but encouraged. Also remarkable was the tacit allowance of this behavior from Jackie's -- the victim's -- friends when she told them of her alleged rape and they responded, not just with doubt about her story, but with concerns for their own social standing.

According to Rolling Stone, her friends said, "'Is that such a good idea?' [Jackie] recalls Cindy asking. 'Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.' Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through."

Sexual assault was no foreign concept on campus when I was in college -- and unfortunately, I don’t think that’s changed in the two years since I’ve graduated. The first few weeks of my freshman year were full of fraternity-sponsored parties, each seeking to attract the “hottest” freshmen girls in order to attract a “cooler” set of future male pledges. He who partied with (and hooked up with) the best-looking girls could claim top-tier frat status. And if freshmen boys also happened to get laid at these pre-rush parties, all the better. 

Those fond memories would translate into wanting to pledge that house, with those brothers who were his wing-men. One day that guy would make that same assist for the next generation of brothers. And so on.

Girls were wooed, promised free booze, invited to exclusive parties, and pushed to drink more, have fun, “be chill.” If I drank from the vat, I’d be cool. We all drank from the vat without questioning its contents. Sexual assault and date rape always loomed, though usually laughed off nervously or couched in typical teen thoughts of invincibility and “that won’t be me.”

We all knew which houses were infamous and why. At that time, one fraternity house had risen to somewhat-national notoriety for a hazing incident that involved crab-boiling their pledges. They lost their charter and were kicked off campus. They were technically gone, but not really, and they maintained their reputation on campus as the “date rape frat.” But even with that reputation, freshmen flocked to their parties.

Other houses were known for being into certain types of drugs or for “always putting cough syrup” in their party drinks, which was considered a selling point. It was no secret on campus that fraternities took steps to render women "easy prey" -- and while it was not limited to freshmen women, they were the ones who didn’t know better.

I can no longer tell people that my experience of studying in the sorority house with snacks outweighs the negative things that fraternity and sorority life are currently associated with. The Greek system stands for community service and gives its members a sense of family in a home-away-from-home setting, but it also promotes a booze and drug-filled social scene. It preys on feelings of wanting to be cool and “chill” so much so that in the event of an assault, women lose their voices to a chorus of their peers chanting silently, “Don’t ruin the party for the rest of us!”

It happened at UVA; it happened at my school; and it happens across the country to the one in five women who will be raped or sexually assaulted during their college years. A woman speaking her truth means she does so at the expense of an entire social system that is loathe to believe her; an indescribable pressure falls on victims' shoulders.

When I was in college, my biggest social concern was that my sorority or the fraternities we loved to hang out with would be shut down. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes leaving the bubble to see all of the problems. The Greek system gives rapists a cloak of invisibility, a way to disappear into a crowded party scene while continuing to prey on unsuspecting victims. A noteworthy fact when you consider that 90% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by serial offenders who average about six rapes each. 

Not all men are rapists. Neither are all frat boys. And men who are not in fraternities are every bit as capable of committing sexual assault as their frat boy counterparts. But the sexual assault stories are becoming too frequent, with too consistent a tie to the Greek community. How can we not ask if now is the time to finally put an end to fraternity and sorority life?

I took my arrow necklace off after I read the first two pages of the Rolling Stone report. And I don’t foresee a time when I’ll put it back on again.