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Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17: Introducing frat-sororities

By
Opinions Columnist

Why join a fraternity?

To identify with one’s masculinity. To display this manliness to others. To take part in a brotherhood. To network. To live in a house with dozens of other men. To throw parties in that house. To throw parties and get drunk in that house. To throw parties and get drunk and … sexually assault the female guests?

The last item is not typically on the average college guy’s list of reasons for pledging a frat, because not all 20-year-old men are misogynistic predators. Adding young women to offset the brotherhood would not necessarily solve the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, because lack of female socialization is not the problem.

Encouraging frat brothers to interact with women in a setting free from the party vibe would not change the way alcohol affects their decisions in the party atmosphere and would not stop them from craving close communities of men.

On Monday, Wesleyan University ordered in a mandate called Resolution B that its fraternities become co-ed. This means the frats have to completely reform to admit and represent both males and females, and swallow the ramifications in the process.

Incidents of sexual assault and rape, along with other indicators of rowdiness, prompted the university to demand that the frats be co-ed. One student wrote in a Wesleyan Argus opinions column that the fraternities were accused of “perpetuating rape culture, harassment, alcohol and drug abuse, and excessive partying.”

Earlier this semester, a student fell out of the third-floor window of the Beta Theta Pi house during a party. The university has previously had to deal with multiple rape cases at this same house that ended in expulsions of the offending men.

So the university found a correlation between excessive drinking and dangerous behavior — what a revelation! Welcome to an issue that colleges nationwide have been grappling with for ages, something that is to be blamed not exclusively on fraternities but rather on young college kids doing young college kid things.

I doubt the addition of women into this mix will magically inspire the frat brothers to stop playing the young college kid role at parties. It isn’t as if they are misogynists who take advantage of nearby women and will be cured by having females in their daily interactions. There will not be a dramatic difference between how college men view their female peers now and how they view them as cohabitants. Incidents of sexual assault usually are a result of inebriation and a raunchy party ambience, which won’t change even with women balancing the fratty component.

When explaining the decisions, the Wesleyan administration used the terms “equity” and “inclusion” as the basis for their decision. The brothers are irked at the school’s distrust. Their attitude toward women should not automatically be assumed as the reason for sexual assault, but it is being treated that way.

What effect will an imposed gender balance have on a fraternity?

Perhaps the fraternity atmosphere kindles the tight-knit hierarchy that is the brotherhood — one where boys are competing against other boys to emanate masculinity. This constant presence of overwhelming amounts of testosterone may lead to the reckless behavior with which many colleges struggle. Does adding females into the equation really combat these issues?

Men will still seek channels through which they can be men. Interacting with women in a setting that is not a rowdy party will not change the fact that they will still party. They will still get drunk. They will still do relatively dumb things they would not do if they were sober. They will still make mistakes. I don’t believe giving women a place in the house will necessarily solve the issue.

One Wesleyan student proposed a possible solution: Several students — both males and females — could be designated to stay sober and act as overseers. They would monitor the scene for situations that look unpromising or like they might lead to sexual assault. The student who suggested this idea also discussed small payment as an incentive for students to volunteer for this position. While there may be room to flesh out this proposition, I agree with the student that it would be more effective than making fraternities co-ed.

One of the posited positive outcomes of this process would be the development of young men to be amenable ­­and receptive, particularly on the subject of women. But rather than encouraging the frat brothers to be open-minded, the inclusion of women may make them even more eager to identify separately as a brotherhood. This is one of the main attractions of fraternities. It can’t just be taken off the table.

Aside from losing the treasured quality of brotherhood and the cohesiveness of a 150-year-old tradition, the three Wesleyan frats are also losing their houses. Seeing as “there are no nationally recognized co-ed chapters of either fraternity,” as the Argus column put it, they will lose their on-campus houses and will be rendered vagabonds. This will be an inconvenience, but more importantly, students are saying it will encourage the frats to seek out new homes that are out of the administration’s controlling reach — “more underground and possibly more dangerous,” the Argus columnist wrote.

According to a New York Times article about the topic, one of the displeased Wesleyan fraternity members said, “How is making the frats co-ed going to solve anything? We’re doing all the right things, yet we’re not trusted. And bringing girls in here to live, that’s going to fix it?”

 

Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 can be reached at megan_grapengeter-rudnick@brown.edu.

  • Co-ed fraternity member

    Instead of speculating about what may happen at another university, you could’ve looked at the successful co-ed fraternities here at Brown!

    • Rape is an all of us problem

      Yeah, Zete never has any issues with sexual assault, especially not assault of its own members by members! (/sarcasm)

      • Wile E. Coyote

        I was an active member of Zete and graduated a long time ago, after it became co-ed. I continue to be an informed elder. Yes, Zete has had a few issues relating to sexual assault, but far fewer than statistics would dictate given the campus average. I believe the same is true of our fellow co-ed, ADPhi.

        Nobody and no organization is perfect and we can’t police everyone all the time. Bad eggs periodically get through. But to say that a coed house breeds sexual deviants is ridiculous. In my experience, which is over 20 years of involvement with a coed house, I have seen just the opposite. We looked out for each other. We learned to respect each other.

        Living and running a house with members of the opposite sex taught me a lot. I learned life skills that have been incredibly valuable both at work and home. I would never have joined a single sex house. I’m glad I joined zete and these brothers remain my best friends some 20 years later.

        Most importantly, though, I’m glad I had the choice. The choice to live in a coed house or go single sex. I’m glad AEPi, the predominantly Jewish all male fraternity, was not on campus when I rushed or I would have joined them by default. I wouldn’t have become best friends with men and women, straight and not, minorities, internationals, conservatives, and like minded individuals.

        • Rape is an all of us problem

          “Most importantly, though, I’m glad I had the choice. The choice to live in a coed house or go single sex.”

          You won’t find any disagreement from me in that regard. You will find disagreement from the editorial’s author who thinks we should get rid of single sex houses though.

    • Was that gal

      I’d like to reiterate everything Wile E. said and add only this: it’s a fine line between having some random female student help monitor a party and having a respected female “brother” in a role of authority to which you elected her be on guard during both official parties and casual gatherings.

  • Greek Alum

    “Why join a fraternity?

    To identify with one’s masculinity. To display this manliness to others.”

    Which made for TV american pie movie gave you this answer because you clearly didn’t speak to a single person on campus in a greek house if this is the article you churn out.