I don't know if we need to ban fraternities, but this is certainly a abysmal statistic - and some people still try to reject the notion of "rape culture."
It is pretty clear, however, that when young, traditional men come together in large groups, their collective IQ drops considerably and their moral compass gets completely derailed.
The stats on campus sexual violence are pretty stark.
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When I was at Tulane University, girls were warned about the “bad” fraternities: the ones that spiked the punch at parties with Everclear and maybe drugs, the kind of frats where girls got hurt. During my first week of class 18 years ago, rumours circulated about a girl on my floor who had been sexually assaulted by multiple men at a frat party. These issues were always discussed with a certain nonchalance – as if having at least one rapist around was an inevitable part of fraternity life.
Not much has changed.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee police are currently investigating a fraternity after several women were found labeled with red and black X’s on their hands after they had to be hospitalized with memory lapses from intoxication at a fraternity party. Last year, three sexual assaults were reported at one Texas fraternity – within just one month. At Georgia Tech, a frat brother sent around an email guide called “Luring your rapebait”. Wesleyan had a frat that was nicknamed the “Rape Factory”. In 2010, fraternity brothers at Yale University marched through campus yelling, “No means yes, yes means anal.”
These are not anomalies or bad apples: numerous studies have found that men who join fraternities are three times more likely to rape, that women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other college women, and that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in four years away at school. So it seems only natural to ask: With all of the current efforts, from the White House to college towns, to curb campus sexual assault – using “yes means yes” as a standard for consent, holding administrators accountable, touting bystander intervention – why haven’t we addressed perhaps the most obvious solution?
It’s time to talk about banning fraternities.
When sociology professors Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton conducted an intensive, landmark five-year study on college students – by living amongst, following around and interviewing students in one dorm at an anonymous Midwestern public university – they reported that two women living on their floor were sexually assaulted at fraternity parties within the first few weeks of the semester.
Armstrong, who turned the results of the study into a well-received bestseller about college inequality and a paper on sexual assault, tells me that while anti-sexual violence programs are doing all the right things, they may not be doing enough.
“I was just at University of Massachusetts and at Wesleyan, and they were talking about bystander intervention programs and that’s great – people should try to engage,” she said. “But what it leaves off the table are the organizations that put people at risk on campus.”
Armstrong reminded me of what I hear on campus visits myself – that fraternities are hotbeds for all sorts of risk beyond sexual assault: there’s also alcoholism, alcohol poisoning, people falling out of windows and dangerous hazing incidents. She insists that frats “vary tremendously” in terms of how sexually dangerous they are – traditionally African American frats, gender-inclusive frats and multicultural frats are not as threatening as those populated by mostly-white, economically-entitled students, for example – but when you look at the overall risk fraternities create for students on campus, “reforming or preserving these organizations doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Armstrong said.
And while probably not all fraternities are hunting grounds for rapists and
not all men who join frats (or varsity sports teams) are predators, when so much sexual violence is centered around one area of campus life, something has to be done.
For Wesleyan – home of the “rape factory” frat – school administrators decided that means mandating that women be admitted to fraternities. The school announced this week that all frats must go co-ed within the next three years. While I applaud what seems a theoretical move towards equality, I don’t much like the idea of women as a “civilizing” force for men’s bad behavior.
Why try to fix something that’s irrevocably broken? Better, instead, that we take an honest look at the statistics and stories coming out of colleges and act accordingly. I realize banning frats is likely a pipe dream – the organizations are deeply embedded in college culture, they generate student programming and are supported by powerful alumni. But if we’re ready to take on college administrators, sue under Title IX, or carry mattresses on our back in protest, why not this? Why not now?
~ Jessica Valenti is a daily columnist for the Guardian US. She is the author of four books on feminism, politics and culture, and founder of Feministing.com.