While fraternities have been at the center of several recent campus scandals, some are advocating for a solution that is far too simplistic — and actually unfair to men.
Over the weekend, an article titled, "Shutter Fraternities For Young Women's Good" ran in the Wall Street Journal. In the piece, Caitlin Flanagan argues that closing all fraternities across the country is the first step to ending the problem of women being sexually assaulted and subjected to sexual discrimination on campus.
The piece starts with a disturbing story about Liz Seccurro, who was raped at a University of Virginia fraternity party in 1984. It ends with Flanagan's description of how she decided to leave UVA during her first semester after other female students warned her about going upstairs at a fraternity house. "That I could be raped by a fellow student and that the event would somehow be my fault was an idea I found alarming and intimidating," she writes.
Both of these are good examples of how a "hostile sexual environment" can prevent female students from having the same educational opportunities as male students, as the Yale Title IX suit charges. However, the actual evidence Flanagan provides on why this means all frats should be closed is thin. She writes:
The Greek system is dedicated to quelling young men's anxiety about submitting themselves to four years of sissy-pants book learning by providing them with a variety of he-man activities: drinking, drugging, ESPN watching and the sexual mistreatment of women.
So men are the only college students who are interested in partying and socializing, and it's all driven by their feeling that studying is for sissies? Do sororities exist because women feel learning is too hard?
Flanagan says that a 2007 National Institute of Justice study found that frat members are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault, and a quarter of sexual-assault victims who were incapacitated report that the attacker was a fraternity member. Those statistics show there's a serious problem in many frats, but they don't prove that frats shouldn't exist. College women are sexually assaulted at frat parties, during parties thrown by members of sports teams, and by men who have no affiliation to any club.
The undertone in Flanagan's article is that there's something sinister about men gathering together in a group. Plenty of men are capable of existing in a club, living together, and partying together without turning into rapists. If we're dealing with anecdotal evidence, during college I was warned not to go to a certain frat because the brothers regularly drugged women's drinks, which was definitely "alarming and intimidating." I went to many events at another frat where the members enjoyed hanging around and watching South Park and throwing the occasional Animal House-like toga party. I managed to spend two years in a sorority (though my college called them "societies") without being another member's "slave" or having my "problem areas" circled with a marker, though some made-for-TV movies have led me to believe this is de rigueur in all-female clubs.
The problem is that on many campuses, as in society as a whole, people are too permissive of rape and tend to blame the victim. Some frats contribute to that environment by encouraging brothers to mistreat women and providing a social situation that enables sexual assault. If there are crimes committed at a specific frat, it should definitely be shut down. Men who are guilty of rape should be prosecuted fully, not slapped on the wrist by a campus disciplinary body. We'll start to reduce rape on campus when we show that sexual assault won't be tolerated, whether it's committed by a frat brother or any other student.