Since moving to this country and dipping my toes into what is considered the “American college experience,” there is one thing I still can’t wrap my mind around—Greek life.
Although the idea of a sorority is hilarious to me due to how they are portrayed on social media, fraternities are where my mind really works overtime trying to understand them. They seem like the kind of thing that, in any other scenario other than white guys with money, would be considered illegal, or at the very least something we should move on from.
On paper, fraternities, or Greek Letter Organizations, are defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as exclusive all-male social groups on college campuses that focus on promoting leadership, brotherhood, and philanthropy. They are likely to include membership fees, a residence that members can live in, and self-governance.
Basically, it’s a group of men living together with as much autonomy as possible. What could possibly go wrong?
Frats are built on inequality. Barring mentioning how heteronormative, and weird, it is to promote a group like this only for men, frats are inequal in so many playing fields. Data from Princeton University, one of the few universities with demographic data on its own Greek system, shows that white students are disproportionately represented in the Greek system, with 73 percent of all fraternity members being white.
Currently, though, Princeton doesn’t have actual frats; they have things called “eating clubs,” which are social houses independently run by graduate boards and undergraduates. The school does not allow frats on campus because “in general, they do not add in positive ways to the overall residential experience on the campus.”
Furthermore, with undergraduate tuition averaging well over forty thousand dollars, it is unsurprising that most students come from privileged backgrounds, with 25 percent of members being from the top one percent of Princeton’s student body.
So a group of white, upper-class men operating with as much autonomy as possible, what could possibly go wrong? Well, everything.
Fraternities have often been compared to gangs due to the violent and misogynistic culture that encompasses them. Yet, unlike “street gangs,” frats are not met with nearly as many arrests.
“If sexual violence is a violent crime, then the fraternity of today may be committing as many violent crimes as the gang of the 1990s that spooked fearful Americans into tough-on-crime policies,” Ibram X. Kendi, the director of Boston University’s anti-racist center, wrote in The Atlantic.
According to research from The University of Alberta, both fraternity and gang members are likely to perpetuate gang rape, normally at social events and parties, and during some initiation processes.
For fraternities, this overstimulated emphasis on masculinity and dominance amongst fellow members creates an environment that breeds violence against women.
According to a 2005 study by Bleecker & Murnen, men involved in greek life are more likely to believe in rape myths and engage in an attitude of male dominance over women. Due to the frequency of assaults in party settings, men in greek life, more often than not, see women as sexual objects and use women’s bodies as a way to cement their bonds and brotherhood with each other.
Recently protests have been going on across the country because colleges and universities across the United States do not act with enough conviction if any when students are victims of sexual assault and harassment. Recently, a female student at the University of Delaware alleged that she was kidnapped, strangled to the point of unconsciousness, and assaulted by her ex-boyfriend.
This is just part of the violence that ensues within frat culture. TIME Magazine wrote that fraternities often have an initiation process in which pledges are made to ‘serve’ their superiors and engage in degrading behaviors. They may be made to go without proper sleep or be forced to drink copious, and dangerous, amounts of alcohol. In many cases, these hazing rituals lead to grievous injuries, numerous lawsuits, and dozens of fatalities.
In 2017, Tim Piazza, a Beta Theta Pi pledge at Penn State, was forced to drink a toxic amount of alcohol in an alleged hazing ritual known as “the gauntlet.” He suffered traumatic injuries to his brain and spleen, that would prove to be fatal. Similarly, in 2014, Tucker Hipps died in 2014 after falling from a bridge during a predawn run with Clemson University’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.
Although the federal government does not track hazing incidents, Hank Nuwer, a professor of journalism at Franklin College, has documented 33 hazing deaths involving fraternities nationwide in the past decade.
Frats encourage the kind of behavior that if the police report read “street gang,” it would easily put them in the hands of the law. The hazing that fraternities make their “brothers” go through is made to generate group solidarity, tests the loyalty of new members, and prove one’s manhood, similar to “gang initiation” tactics.
I don’t understand why fraternities are so important to the American college social scene. I constantly joke about this with my friends back home but it just seems like students are stuck in time. There is no reason to force yourself to have a good time in a dirty, sexually transmitted disease-ridden house that looks like a prop for “The Conjuring.” Especially when these parties are hosted by mostly white rich guys who can’t find a beat to save their life, we can do better. Not to mention when you know that these events are propelled by such violence, it seems difficult to enjoy oneself.
So why do groups like these, with such a terrifying reputation, continue to be a very popular part of college campuses across the country? Because those who join, after four years of what is clearly gold star behavior, go out to become the people running this country.
Research by the Century Foundation shows that 80 percent of Fortune 500 executives, 76 percent of U.S. senators and congressmen, 85 percent of Supreme Court justices, and all but two presidents since 1825 have been fraternity men.
These factors indicate socioeconomic and racial disparities within student organizations that have enough political pull to push their members into positions of power.
Even with more and more university campuses promising diversity, Greek institutions are still run through a segregated system that prioritizes privilege and power within colleges based on race and socioeconomic thresholds. Thus, it’s insane to me that colleges still allow these organizations to be such a pivotal part of student activities on campus.