Should We Ban Fraternities? Or Just Watch Them Destroy Themselves?
At this point, we probably shouldn’t bother pretending that we’re shocked by the news coming out of Penn State. (Which is unfortunate, as shock makes great fuel for Internet opinion pieces. Outrage, thankfully, is still on the table.)
It’s not as if fraternities have much of a reputation to uphold lately. Just two weeks ago, we got a peek behind the scenes of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma, which apparently has absurdly racist and violent sing-alongs when they think no one is looking. Now, police are investigating Penn State’s Kappa Delta Rho for allegedly operating two private Facebook accounts that included nude pictures of unconscious women.
And yet, there is a part of me that’s surprised, if not shocked.
Not that I thought fraternities were terribly progressive or welcoming places — I went to Penn, where the entitled boat shoes were plentiful. But I did like to think that most of what goes on is benign enough, and that some of the more questionable incidents could be chalked up to a combination of immaturity and garden variety douchiness.
Even the infamous Christmas picture that circulated around my alma mater — in which the members of Phi Delta Theta posed with an inflatable sex doll that was supposed to resemble Beyonce — struck me as more out-of-touch than malicious. Did it reflect a troubling, possibly unconscious undercurrent of racism and misogyny? Yes. But, I reasoned, these are things you occasionally have to spell out to people whose last names are plastered across buildings, who put down-payments for condos on daddy’s credit card.
The idea that these organizations are methodically, pathologically misogynistic and racist is uncomfortable. But, unfortunately, it’s an idea that — considering recent events — we should probably start getting used to.
There is no need for a discussion about the lack of diversity at Sigma Alpha Epsilon after that video. Why is the University of Oklahoma chapter so white? Because the members openly, proudly, gleefully chant that there will never be an African-American member, and suggest that you “hang him from a tree” instead. (It should be noted that at least one woman was present for the chant, and her casual clapping along is something I will remember when deciding whether to bring children into this world.)
Similarly, there’s no real need to dig into the Kappa Delta Rho case. This isn’t a case of blurred lines, which I’m actually willing to grant when there’s large amounts of alcohol and inexperienced young adults involved. No, the students at Penn State are alleged to have knowingly violated these women, and then further humiliated them by sharing the images through forums they were “smart” enough to make private, but not smart enough to make private for long. In the words of police: “Some of the postings were of nude females that appeared to be passed out and nude or in other sexual or embarrassing positions. It appears from the photos provided that the individuals in the photos are not aware that the photos had been taken.”
Incidents like these force us to look at the University of Pennsylvania incident differently, at all reports of fraternity misconduct differently. We can no longer pretend that it’s just “boys being boys.” No, thanks to iPhones and Facebook, we now know that it’s more accurately “scary groups of hateful, dangerous, cult-like men being scary groups of hateful, dangerous, cult-like men.” (For more on why the term “frat boy” doesn’t work, read Maya K. Francis’ extremely tidy explanation.)
Should we ban fraternities? There are certainly plenty who think so, and if I were Penn president Amy Gutmann, I’d entertain the idea — if not for student safety, then for the enormous amount of bad press they will continue to generate now that it’s getting harder and harder to sweep these incidents under the dusty Good Ol’ Boy rug.
Personally, I’m more inclined to let fraternities destroy themselves. Prosecute the crimes and disband chapters that pose a risk, but sure, let’s watch the Greek system try to survive like this for much longer.
Because I have bad news for all of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon members in that video, for all of the Kappa Delta Rho members who allegedly shared those pictures, for all of the Phi Delta Theta members who don’t know what that blow-up doll symbolized: Out here in the real world, you’re not running the show anymore. Contrary to what you were told, a pair of legacy khakis doesn’t cement your status in 2015. This little thing called the Internet can be used to exploit women who are naive and trusting enough to attend your parties, sure, but it can also be used to connect people and start conversations.
The verdict? We’re pretty freaked out by you. Good luck with all of that hate and insecurity.
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