Fraternities, in general, are given special privilege within universities and colleges. This privilege arises from the social status these institutions hold as well as the university’s tendency to turn a blind eye to their deviance. Many universities attempt to educate their student body regarding consent and safe sex, but very few actually punish behavior promoting rape culture. Fraternities have very little regulation from the university when it comes to their social events and even when regulations are in place, they are often as easy to get around as simply saying the party isn’t associated with the fraternity – even if everyone present is a member. These parties often become a showdown for masculinity and competition with women serving as the prizes.
The attitudes displayed by fraternity members toward women are often extremely misogynistic as shown in Beoringer’s 2009 study. A common practice among fraternities is having ‘little sisters’ which are attractive women who socialize with the brothers and attend their parties and events. These little sisters are often used as sexual bait to lure in new pledges; they are used as “examples” of the kind of women that the pledges can ‘obtain’ if they join said fraternity. Little Sisters are pseudo-members of fraternities; they are recruited by the brothers usually when they are freshmen. These little sisters usually pay a small amount of dues and are allowed to wear the fraternities’ letters but do not have the same privileges as the brothers. The power complex relationship between the Brothers and Little Sisters is truly concerning; the men use the women to build up their masculinity and in return give these freshmen a social standing. The reason that Little Sisters are recruited as freshmen is because first year students are new to the college experience, have little social ties, and the idea of high social status is more appealing. Little Sisters usually are not treated well as they only serve as commodity to the Brothers but they are lured in by the promise of a good time and of social standing and consequently trapped by sexual coercion and fear. A classic fraternity date rape study conducted by Martin and Hummer in 1989, goes into depth on the treatment of little sisters in the greek system. This system results in a steady stream of young, vulnerable, naïve women for fraternity brothers to treat as they wish with no consequences.
Fraternity brothers implicitly and sometimes explicitly promise the pledges that by joining their fraternity they will be able to have sex with a lot of attractive women; this creates a power complex in which the fraternities that offer the most commodities (women) are seen as the best or most powerful. This power complex revolving around the objectification of women and their bodies is the core of the disrespect toward women among fraternity members. By viewing women as commodities, fraternity members begin to see their bodies as something that they are entitled to. This entitlement is what allows members to use coercive methods, usually involving alcohol, to force women into sexual activity.
Fraternity members are hand picked to fit specific traits, such as enjoying heavy drinking and engaging in “manly” activities such as athletics. Fraternities tend to associate the consumption of alcohol with being ‘manly’ and are very hesitant to accept non-drinkers. A very publicized example of the effect of alcohol on fraternity rape culture is the Brock Turner case. Although Brock turner was not part of the fraternity the assault did occur at a Kappa Alpha party. The only actions that Stanford has taken after this incident is urging their fraternities not to have hard liquor at their parties.
In order to understand fraternity rape culture and its causes we must keep in mind the attitudes of Greek members toward gender and dominance. Both fraternity and sorority members tend to have more traditional views when it comes to gender roles (Inside Greek U, 2007). This is why fraternity men tend to feel like it is appropriate for them to be manipulative and aggressive to get what they want from women.
The prevalence of fraternity rape culture on college and university campuses is made possible by the pedestal that fraternities are put on by both their institutions and their peers, the higher consumption of alcohol, and the member’s attitudes toward gender and dominance. According to Inside Higher Ed, Fraternity members are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than non-members and women involved in Greek organizations were 74 percent more likely to experience rape than other college women. Greek life is frequently portrayed as the ultimate college experience, they are often looked up to and their actions justified. Many first year male students go into college picturing the fraternity lifestyle as what college is supposed to be like: alcohol, partying, and sex. The consumption of alcohol is definitely a major factor in fraternity rape culture because it is routinely used as a weapon to coerce women into sexual activity. Fraternities are known to plan out their attacks by getting women drunk enough to erase no from their vocabulary, this is done on both an individual and collaborative level.
Rape culture itself stems from the dehumanization of women and fraternity rape culture is no exception.
Rape is about power, it’s about the power to exercise dominance over another person. This power complex can be seen in the treatment of pledges by fraternity brothers. This year a former pledge from UChicago’s Phi Delta Theta chapter filed a lawsuit claiming that he was hazed and sexually assaulted by members of the fraternity.
Brothers usually hold gender normative views regarding masculinity and dominance and multiple studies have shown the lack of respect towards women. Women are viewed as commodities by fraternities which dehumanizes their victims and allows them to feel little to no guilt. This thought process can clearly be seen in the actions of Old Dominion University, Virginia Sigma Nu chapter who hung posters on their house urging parents of incoming freshmen to “drop of their daughters” at their doorstep. With all of these factors in mind, the question is: Are fraternities more harmful than good to the institution of higher education?
We are all aware of the expansion of fraternity and sorority life here a UC Merced, but how are going to make sure that this expansion does not compromise the safety or integrity of our campus? Well, according to Richard Arquette, Coordinator of Fraternity and Sorority Life and Student Conduct, fraternity and sorority members at UC Merced go through extensive programs to prevent sexual misconduct, “All fraternity and sorority members must complete required programming in a variety of topics, including sexual violence prevention. Over the past year, Fraternity and Sorority Life and the CARE Office have observed that expansion organizations have been proactive in requesting these programs. There is no specific research on the number of fraternities on a campus correlating to the number of sexual assault cases.” He seems adamant that UC Merced is doing everything possible to prevent sexual assault on campus and fraternities that violate the student conduct code will be reprimanded accordingly.
It is quite obvious that UC Merced differs from all the other UCs drastically and that it not necessarily a bad thing. As a small, tight-knit university that is relatively new and changing we are able to make our campus what we want it to be. According to student Anthony Miller, who is a member of both a professional and social fraternity, “The media portrays fraternities and sororities in a very negative light, my experience has been very different from what is portrayed… being a part of both of these organizations has been very positive and it’s not about exclusivity but about having a support system.” For many people involved with fraternities and sororities on our campus it may be hard to believe that not all chapters are as welcoming and inclusive as ours but the Washington Post has an interesting article about this internal abuse, “Fraternities and sororities are self-selecting, self-segregating institutions that usually require a little (or a lot of) money, and they are a way to perpetuate America’s increasingly two-tiered society.
Frats have even more downsides. They come with hazing deaths, binge drinking, relentless sexism and myriad rapes. Lives, bodies, and minds forever ruined — and nearly all excused by the brotherhood of silence and privilege.”
As Fraternity and Sorority life continues to grow along with our campus, we must make sure that it evolves in a positive, welcoming manner. UC Merced has the ability to begin the reversal of the negative connotations and actions associated with fraternities and sororities.
Further readings on fraternity rape culture and hypermasculinity:
Photo Credit: Universal Studios, Huffington Post