Asker ’17: How sororities can fight derelict frats and rape

Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On Monday, New York Times journalist Alan Schwarz reported on a creative idea that might help curb sexual assault on college campuses: getting sororities to throw house parties.

Most sororities across the nation do not host parties because of longtime bans on alcohol in houses that aim to maintain tranquility and keep insurance premiums down. Implicitly, too, there is the desire to forestall underage drinking. But in reality, the prohibition doesn’t keep sorority members from drinking; it just diverts their drinking to frats. In addition, sorority members’ frequent participation in frat parties suggests that they want temporary breaks from quiet. The only argument for the ban with any validity is the fear of rising insurance fees, which according to the article, might rise because parties increase the likelihood of injuries from fights or accidents. But this very mild downside is dwarfed by the benefits a reversal in policy would engender.

Since most fraternities do not have alcohol prohibitions, they have a virtual monopoly over the college party scene. But frat parties tend to create atmospheres that are conducive to sexual assault.

Schwarz cites a 2007 study financed by the U.S. Department of Justice that concluded that women who frequently attended frat parties were much more likely to be sexually assaulted than other students. He also mentions other studies that found fraternity members were significantly more likely to have committed rape than independent men. But what about frat parties make them so conducive to sexual assault?

It is a truism to say that frat parties are popular because they indiscriminately serve drinks and thus appeal to students under the drinking age. Since it’s against the law to serve underage guests, parties are forced underground and can create dangerous environments because they are usually dimly lit, loud, crowded and hectic, and have layouts that may be unfamiliar to party guests. Under these conditions, cries for help, dubious behavior or even blatantly predatory actions can go unnoticed, and victims may have little means of escape.

But it would be impractical to expect college students to sacrifice the things they deem essential to a good party — loud music, drinking and large groups — in order to stamp out sexual assault. Fortunately, parties featuring these conditions do not have to be unsafe like they are currently. They are dangerous now only because the right precautions are not being taken.

What really makes the current system unsafe is not the preferred ambient conditions of partiers. The real problem is that fraternity brothers tend to be irresponsible and immature with regard to sexual assault. Many of those who are not directly facilitating or participating in it still do not take the threat as seriously as they should.

A culture of irresponsibility pervades frats and their parties in that obvious and basic measures to prevent sexual assault and accidents from happening are ignored. For example, sober party monitors are seldom present, and when they are, they seem more concerned with people stealing the frat’s expensive bottles of alcohol than anything else. Instead of trained bartenders serving alcohol, free-for-all access to kegs and jungle juice is a frat trademark, and alcohol can easily find its way into the cups of people already drunk.

In this sort of environment, it is impossible to say that frats make combating sexual assault a priority. Perhaps this is because they value having a good time over everything else to the point of recklessness. Or maybe, because brothers are not usually the victims of sexual assault, they are not as concerned or vigilant as they should be in preventing its occurrence.

More should be done to educate frat members on the real possibility of sexual assault occurring right under their noses in an environment that they create. Even if it is not their intention, they are morally culpable when sexual assault occurs on their watch if they do not implement reasonable safeguards and, most importantly, actually enforce these policies. Creating an atmosphere in fraternities that is both fun and safe is definitely possible: It is only a matter of education, policy change and resolute execution. But it will take time to change mindsets and precedents.

In the meantime, Schwarz’s article suggests that sororities might be able to curb sexual assault by experimenting with less-restrictive alcohol and party policies. If sororities hosted parties, sisters could control the doors and decide whom to let in and whom to kick out. They might take special care looking out for their fellow sisters and other women and make an effort to be better, more sensitive monitors. They would certainly be more inclined than frat members currently are to protect women from predators. Women bartenders would be able to decide what’s in the punch, whom to serve and when someone has had too much. In fact, Sigma Delta, a Dartmouth sorority with no national affiliation that allows alcohol and parties, provides evidence that sisters can take on these roles and host safer parties. According to a social chair, female students have regularly said they prefer the sorority’s parties to fraternities’.

Perhaps most importantly, women would be able to create rules that regulate the scene, and they could fine-tune the balance between fun and safety. They would no longer have to trust the frats that have proven themselves incompetent. Women could regain control over a party scene that has been irresponsibly run and caused immeasurable pain to victims of sexual assault.

Sororities would be wise to run the cost-benefit analysis, juxtaposing higher insurance premiums with the safety that would come from hosting parties on their own property. It might be the best way to curtail sexual assault and prevent more suffering while long-term solutions like sexual assault education policies are being developed.

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  1. Panda D. Patch says:

    Irresponsibility and immaturity “regarding sexual assault” must result in jail terms for the rapists and the college administrators who aid, abet, and protect them. The article above contains much affectation and no useful analysis.

  2. … curiously, many of the previous incidents at Brown had nothing to do with greek life: Sclove, the raped PC student…. yes we had phi psi, but that was the minority.

  3. Actually Phi Psi has been proven not to be guilty of any misconduct regarding sexual assault or drugging party goers with ghb. The tests on the women who accused the house were negative for one and actually (upon further review) inconclusive for the other. No date rape drugging actually occurred at Phi Psi.

    • What do you mean, they’re not guilty? There was a hearing and an appeal and they were suspended for four years. They might be waiting to confirm the results of one test, but the frat is certainly guilty, otherwise their appeals wouldn’t have been denied.

      • Naive comment above about the appeal process. The appeal was denied so the administration could show they were cracking down. The process did not even consider the tests which are the only method to prove or disprove that a ghb spiking occurred. The test whose results are being challenged was the positive one, not the negative one. Watch – the university is going to lessen the sentence because it will be proven completely that no drugging occurred.

        • Greek Alum says:

          Came back to look at this because of Asker’s new column. Just have to point out that you (assuming this is the same guest) have been an amazing source for the rest of us. Here you are, 3 weeks before it happened, saying Brown will reduce the sentence for Phi Psi.

      • They were found guilty of holding unregistered parties that “facilitated” an assault. Literally you would be found guilty of the same thing if you had people over to your room and one person – maybe someone you didn’t even invite stopped by and then later raped one of the other guests somewhere else on campus.

        Well, you would be found guilty if Brown didn’t have an agenda against the greek houses. Since they do – you would certainly not be found guilty if said situation actually happened. Just like no one outside of greek houses will get in trouble for having an event with alcohol service in the dorms this semester.

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