We Need to Break the Cycle
The phrases “Sexual Assault” and “Greek Life” seem to show up together time and time again. This pattern is not a coincidence… organizations within Greek Life need to take a stand and change the behavior that continuously allows sexual assault to occur to their own members and those that associate with them. The social systems that fraternities and sororities utilize create a culture that enables cases of sexual assault to continuously transpire, and rather than prohibiting Greek life organizations entirely, the procedural ways that college students handle sexual assault need to change.
Unlucky Odds for Members of Greek Life
Statistics have shown that college students involved with Greek life have a much higher chance of encountering a case of sexual assault than college students who do not associate with fraternities or sororities. Women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience sexual assault on a college campus than women who are not involved in Greek life. Fraternity men are 3 times more likely to commit rape than their non-Greek peers. A specific case at the University of Oregon demonstrated that 40% of sorority sisters on their campus had been subjected to rape or attempted rape during their college years. These numbers beg the question, what about Greek life leads to rape?
The Culture of Greek Life
The social structures of Greek life are in the hands of the fraternities. Fraternities are responsible for hosting events and parties, providing drinks, and offering other necessary means for the event (music, games, etc.). Fraternities have the power to check in or turn away girls at the door, leading the boys to feel a sense of power in the fact that they pick and choose who is allowed to fraternize with them.
The nature of Greek life solely allows fraternities to throw parties and events that entail drinking, as sorority houses are prohibited from containing alcohol. This means that if a sorority girl wants to attend a party, she has to go to a fraternity house, bringing nothing but herself. This makes the fraternity brothers feel entitled, as they so generously provide the party environment and alcohol. It also makes the sorority sisters feel as if they owe the boys a “good time” in return. As a member of a sorority myself, I’ve felt the pressure to socialize and be as fun as possible with the fraternity hosting an event. However, problems arise when fraternity brothers misinterpret girls’ friendliness…
By the very nature of Greek social life, fraternity brothers are made to feel that they deserve whatever they are after. Junior girls at the University of Virginia described attending fraternity parties as feeling like they were the “subjects of the male gaze and desire.” In cases of sexual assault, fraternity brothers can be more intolerant of a girl changing her mind or saying no because he feels that she owes him something. This mentality is unacceptable, but the failure to address these cases of sexual assault only enables this behavior again and again.
Although the sense of entitlement that exists among fraternities needs to be addressed, the covering up of rape cases by both fraternities and sororities truly encourages the behavior to continue. When a case of sexual assault arises in Greek life, it’s protocol to keep it hush hush because if news broke out, the social calendar could fall apart. By keeping it a secret, the fraternities are still able to host parties, and the sororities still have events to attend. This presents an utter lack of respect for the issue at hand. Fraternity brothers are consequently taught that they can get away with such behaviors. It also invalidates the victims and says that members of the Greek community don’t care enough to make a change. Sororities hiding reports of sexual assault from their own sisters lead the victims to feel shame in what happened to them, and also creates an aura of fear around coming out and speaking one’s truth if another member of the sorority is sexually assaulted.
It’s sad to think that sororities sacrifice the well-being of their sisters to make sure that they can attend a fraternity event the following weekend. However, the overall attitude among members of Greek life pressures sorority members to prioritize their social lives. Whether a sexual assault case arises or not, sorority members are pressured to attend fraternity events as it as a central component to their college experience as a member of Greek life. The sororities’ lack of compassion for their sisters comes back to the mentality that they must please the fraternity brothers at all costs.
Is Banning Greek Life the Answer?
In light of all Greek life’s negative associations with sexual assault, many people feel that banning Greek life from college campuses entirely is the only solution. Fraternities bring many risks to college campuses, including alcohol poisoning, drugs, dangerous hazing, and hazardous activity on campus, while fraternity members are intoxicated. Some argue that getting rid of Greek life would eliminate these risks.
However, college students are college students. Whether they are members of an official fraternity, a club, or a sports team, they will find ways to socialize and create social hierarchies at school, most of which will involve partying. Banning Greek life would only encourage the formation of underground fraternities, which would be held to no standards as they would exist as unregistered organizations that would be unaffiliated with the school or a national fraternity. I am arguing that this would cause even worse implications for sexual assault victims, as it is much more difficult to hold an organization that is ‘underground’ accountable.
Greek life on college campuses also brings benefits to student life outside of partying. Greek life provides students with leadership opportunities, such as joining certain committees or even running for a position within the sorority or fraternity. Sorority and fraternity members engage in community service, and the inclusion of philanthropy within Greek life provides a way for students to give back to the community and recognize the needs of others. Greek life also provides academic support by holding its members accountable in their studies; it also provides members with access to career networking opportunities, and its alumni relations opens many doors in the long-run.
Why Systematic Change is Necessary
Rather than banning Greek life and taking away these beneficial qualities that it possesses, it’s imperative that the methods with which fraternities and sororities handle sexual assault change. Fraternities and sororities need to observe the structure of their social gatherings and prioritize the safety and health of their brothers and sisters at every one of their events. They also need to start advocating against acts of sexual assault and take a stand when instances occur, rather than silencing their members.
In regards to making sure that all members are safe at each fraternity event, some schools have implemented a no-hard liquor policy to prevent members from becoming too intoxicated (and prevent poor decision making.) Another way to ensure that those attending a social event are both safe and comfortable would be to appoint sober brothers for the night who would be responsible for monitoring the event. These sober brothers would be introduced to everyone attending the event upon arrival, so that if anyone needed help or assistance throughout the night, they would know who to call.
At my own school, the fraternities are planning to add a “Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention” chairmen to their chapter council team, which is a step in the right direction. This means that each fraternity will have a specific councilmen, along with a committee that focuses on preventing sexual assault and making people aware of when it occurs. Fraternities need to take such actions to demonstrate their support in the fight to stop cases of sexual assault.
The sororities have a responsibility to take action as well. It is the responsibility of the sororities to stand up for their sisters and make sure that their voices are heard. Overall, the emphasis on the social aspect of college life needs to be minimized by all members of Greek life until the way that sexual assault is handled is changed for the better.