Different meaning of “Brotherhood”

Stereotypes and mixed values often change our readings of sexual assault crimes at greek chapter houses.
November 12, 2012

 

When you are not part of greek life, it is all too easy to make generalizations about it. Classic American films like “Animal House,” “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Van Wilder” have all embedded a particular fantasy of fraternity and sorority life into pop culture. Typically, this fantasy has two sides. On one is the bond of “sisterhood” and “brotherhood,” replete with letterman jackets, brick and ivy houses and future presidents. On the other is a cesspool of hazing-induced deaths, sexual assault and the perpetuation of 1950s “old boy’s club” ideologies.

It is hard to say exactly how much truth lies in these stereotypes. I only went to fraternity parties during my freshman year, and even then I only attended a small handful. Some of them were exactly what I expected: Playboy posters adorned every wall. Many rooms were filled with intoxicated students. Random people flooded through the doors. Fights broke out. Then again, most of the fraternities I went to were not like that at all. The friends I have that are fraternity or sorority members joined for the leadership, networking and service-learning opportunities — not for the partying. While I have never been interested in joining greek life, I can certainly understand why others would be.

It’s always upsetting when a fraternity faces sexual assault allegations, especially when it is at the school you attend. Just two years ago, University of Minnesota fraternities were home to three separate sexual assaults in the span of three weeks. Currently, the University chapter of Sigma Chi is facing two sexual assault allegations relating to incidents on Sep. 15. While warnings were issued and preventative measures were taken, it does not change the fact that every allegation leads more and more people to believe that the entire greek system should be removed from universities. To many, the very foundation that fraternities in particular are founded on is one of misogynist, androcentric values. This belief was described in a Nov. 7 letter to the editor titled, “Surprised by frat-related sexual assault?” While I agree with the author that fraternities need to be re-examined within a greater social context, I do not believe that “fraternities are in many ways like a perfect storm for sexual violence” — at least not all of them.

It is unfair to label all fraternity members as womanizing, alcoholic rapists. Over the years, many men have redefined what it means to be in a fraternity. Realistically, very few men join fraternities to fulfill the fantasy of a brotherhood solidified by binge drinking and preying on women. However, it would be extremely idealistic to say that absolutely none of them do. The importance of greek life varies from place to place. On Ivy League campuses, for example, fraternities in particular are part of the traditions of the campus.

In 2010, a YouTube clip of a Yale University Delta Kappa Epsilon pledging ritual went viral on campus. It featured pledges marching through Old Campus — home to many freshman women — chanting “No means yes! Yes means anal!” A female Yale student later wrote an article that stated, “Yale women are not new to fraternity misogyny, nor are we a stranger to our administration sitting on their hands and doing nothing absolutely about it.”

In late March of this year, Rolling Stone ran a feature titled “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth’s Hazing Abuses.” In it, a former Sigma Alpha Epsilon member named Andrew Lohse exposes not only the horrific hazing practices that still actually happen — eating vomit omelettes, sitting in a box and being continually puked on — but also the high prevalence of sexual assault and the willingness of the administration to just let “boys be boys.” The author of the article states, “Nearly every woman I speak to on campus complains of the predatory nature of fraternities and the dangers that go beyond drinking.”

Unfortunately, these attitudes are not confined to the Ivies. Last December, the University of Vermont’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity came under fire for circulating a survey asking fraternity brothers whom they would like to rape. This fall, a former Wesleyan University student filed a lawsuit against the administration for failing to protect her after she was sexually assaulted at the Mu Epsilon Chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity — otherwise known around campus as the “Rape Factory.”

There are many, many more similar examples out there. It is a sad fact that all fraternities tend to get clumped together when things like this happen. It’s not fair to condemn all chapters for the actions of others. However, it is also unfair to ignore or excuse the problems that are obviously there for the sake of the houses that do not participate in horrifying practices. For every fraternity that rejects the frathouse fantasy, a story surfaces that suggests quite a few still work to embody it.

There is a wide discrepancy in fraternity sexual assault statistics. Some sources say 10 percent of college rapes happen in fraternities, while others go as high as 90 percent.  These varying numbers correspond to the inconsistencies in fraternity culture. Some use greek life for good reasons, while others use it as an excuse for terrible behaviors. Some administrations punish accordingly, while others turn a blind eye. Some fraternities exist for community and opportunity, while others are entrenched in a tradition that endorses misogyny and sexual assault. Not all fraternities are the same, but this is perhaps the biggest problem. The greek system is based on kinship and a set of core values, but it is clear that these values are not shared by all. 

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