Earlier this week, a working group on social life at Princeton (my soon-to-be alma mater) recommended that the university put restrictions on campus Greek life, which already exists in a tense relationship with the administration. The working group specifically targeted freshman rush, suggesting a minimum penalty of suspension for any student who participated in or facilitated rush for freshmen. The recommendations were mainly concerned with ending dangerous practices of hazing, which exist mostly within campus fraternities.
This came on the heels of the revelation that a peer institution, Yale, was being investigated by the Department of Education for alleged Title IX violations related to their handling of sexual harassment and assault. The complaints, raised by students and alumnae, are recent, and one of the most egregious infractions occurred when a group of fraternity pledges marched through a residentail college chanting, “No means yes! Yes means anal!”
Last month, an article in my school newspaper claimed that Princeton was also undergoing a Title IX investigation, although this has received far less press coverage. All of these events point to a growing need – and willingness – on the part of universities to weigh the benefits of fraternities, and to restrict their actions if need be. The various arguments for and against fraternity life are explored in a series of short articles for the New York Times. I recommend that you read all of them, but I’ve excerpted some of the most compelling quotes and ideas.
Nicolas Syrett, a professor and the author of a book about the history of white college fraternities, saying that by approving fraternities, colleges tacitly condone fraternities’ “promoti[on of] one version of masculinity – hard drinking and sexually aggressive – fraternities pressure men to change in order to earn membership and status within them.”
Another professor, however, said that we have a tendency to highlight the most horrible aspects of Greek life, without emphasizing the benefits. He cited several examples of positive ways that fraternity bonds had shaped young men, concluding that “single incidents of young people making poor choices seem to be trumpeted and echoed multiple times.”
This perspective was, however, in the minority. Another professor pointed out that fraternity dominance of college social scenes can be extremely detrimental to female students’ safety, although she also expressed doubts about the efficacy of universities relinquishing oversight of fraternities altogether.
Because Greek life is very important on most campuses (at Princeton, unlike most institutions, the fraternities and sororities exist underground, making the situation even more complicated), the stakes are high. Students who are involved in frats or sororities are more likely to defend their benefits than students who are outside them, who may disapprove of Greek life for a variety of reasons. As these short essays show, there is no easy solution – but it’s hopeful to see that universities and the Department of Education are recognizing the need for some kind of action.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.