Since the autumn semester started, college students at almost 20 schools have protested what they describe as a tradition of sexual assault and drug abuse at fraternity events.
The surge of anger towards predominantly white campus Greek life is hanging. Hundreds of scholars have turned out to protest at some universities — in some instances as a response to a single sexual-assault allegation.
What’s extra, college students aren’t simply calling for reforms. They’re demanding that particular person fraternities, or their campus’s total Greek-life system, be shut down completely. They’re demanding the reshaping of who holds energy over the campus social scene and what it appears like.
The query is whether or not this motion will result in extra change than previous ones have.
Sometimes it looks like increased ed is having the identical conversations over and over about hazing, sexual misconduct, and racism in Greek life.
“Today people are asking whether fraternities have fallen out of step with the times,” The Chronicle reported in 2015. “A string of ugly incidents has reinforced the image of entitled white men egging each other on to behave badly: chanting racist songs, sharing pictures of incapacitated women, hazing their pledges.” The headline was, “Do Fraternities Have a Place on the Modern Campus?”
Six years later, the overwhelming majority of fraternities are nonetheless proper the place they have been.
Recent consideration on fraternity issues has tended to be cyclical. After a pupil dies at a fraternity occasion or issues spike about sexual assault or racist incidents, the faculty’s leaders promise to take swift motion. An investigation ensues, and the offending fraternity is banned — typically for good, typically for a couple of years.
Criminal convictions and prison sentences are extraordinarily uncommon. Even in essentially the most horrific instances, a couple of college students may face low-level legal prices. Usually, nobody is punished in any respect. After a yr or two, the deal with fraternities fades.
Advocates for Greek life say that the majority chapters aren’t rife with hazing and different points, and that the majority college students have optimistic experiences within the teams. Fraternities are additionally highly effective, inside each campus social scenes and schools’ alumni and donor bases.
The leaders of Wesleyan University and Trinity College each tried to pressure Greek-life organizations to turn into co-ed. Wesleyan was sued over the policy; Trinity leaders gave up. Harvard University tried to impose an identical coverage a couple of years afterward its fraternities, sororities, and single-gender closing golf equipment; directors backtracked after a lawsuit.
‘The End of Greek Life’
Still, as school leaders have wrestled with what to do about their Greek-life issues over the previous few years, the nationwide temper has turn into progressively, grudgingly much less tolerant of fraternity misconduct.
In 2017 4 college students died at fraternity events inside a yr, and several other universities nationwide suspended all of Greek life for weeks or months. College officers, led by the presidents of Pennsylvania State, Louisiana State, and Florida State Universities, got here collectively and tried to create a extra sustainable motion for reforming fraternity tradition.
Eric J. Barron, Penn State’s president, mentioned on the time that “the end of Greek life” was doable if the organizations didn’t clear up their acts. “If new rules can just be ignored, or behavior just goes underground, and if there is no willingness to recognize the adverse impact of excessive drinking, hazing, and sexual assault,” Barron asked, “then is there any hope?”
Penn State and different schools began to publish “scorecards” about misconduct inside fraternities, in addition to educational outcomes and the variety of community-service hours for fraternity members. New legal guidelines in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and some different states sought to extend the legal punishments for college kids who dedicated hazing. The North-American Interfraternity Conference banned laborious alcohol at its organizations in 2018.
Some directors tried to take a extra lively function in regulating fraternities, reshaping the method for initiating new members, growing spot checks at events, and requiring extra coaching on the prevention of sexual assault and hazing.
As directors cracked down on fraternity misbehavior, a rising variety of fraternities determined to chop ties with their schools and go underground, which some consultants name a harmful development. “Rogue” fraternities aren’t subject to any college oversight.
Many school officers continued to say that, typically, their capacity to police Greek-life organizations was limited. But such statements have been more and more ringing hole. “The old bargain with students and families, who have mostly accepted that fraternities are private organizations that colleges have limited powers to regulate, is under increasing national strain,” The Chronicle reported in 2019. “Pressure is mounting on colleges to either make fraternities safe or shut them down — before someone dies.”
In the spring of 2019, pupil activists at Swarthmore College occupied a fraternity home after an impartial pupil newspaper obtained and revealed internal hazing documents that have been full of sexist and racist memes, pictures, and tales. The school’s two fraternities voluntarily disbanded in response to the protests.
And this previous spring, two extra college students died in alleged fraternity-hazing incidents. Last week, 11 college students have been arrested within the dying of a Virginia Commonwealth University freshman.
No Signs of Slowing Down
Amid the pandemic and the current racial-justice motion, many college students have lastly had sufficient of Greek life.
The critics have grown to incorporate fraternity and sorority members themselves, who’ve concluded that membership isn’t appropriate with their newfound need to dismantle oppressive techniques. The Abolish Greek Life motion has gained steam at dozens of faculties.
As college students returned this fall to campuses the place Covid-19 had muted social life for the previous yr and a half, some consultants had fearful that fraternity events could be particularly wild. Pent-up power would end in heightened rates of binge-drinking and hazing among students. Moreover, statistics present that greater than half of sexual assaults happen between the beginning of the autumn semester and Thanksgiving break.
Those elements have coalesced into the wave of action in current weeks, with college students leveraging social media to end up massive crowds. Many college students have publicly informed their tales of being sexually assaulted at fraternities.
“How do we create an American college system where girls are not going in with the knowledge of, I could be raped in the four years that I’m at this university?” a University of Nebraska pupil told The Chronicle.
Most protests have been peaceable. But one gathering, on the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, turned violent, with individuals shattering home windows and flipping over a automobile. Complicating the matter is that the outrage towards the fraternity got here in response to an assault accusation that was made anonymously on social media however that has but to be reported to the college. Last week, the nationwide fraternity group called on UMass-Amherst’s chancellor to defend the chapter.
Some college students, in the meantime, have continued to name for reform of fraternities, not abolition. That’s additionally the place that nationwide Greek-life leaders have taken, advocating for concentrating on the misbehavior, not the organizations.
Gentry McCreary, a guide who works with fraternities and sororities on threat administration, believes that pushing for change from contained in the Greek-life system is the best method. “Self-takedowns of a handful of chapters didn’t really change much,” McCreary informed The Chronicle in August. “I think students picked up on that and realized if they do want to promote meaningful change, the best way to do that is from within, and not trying to walk out en masse.”
But for the second, the protests towards Greek life are displaying no indicators of slowing down.
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