I just finished reading a recent article by Julia Ryan in The Atlantic.
“How Colleges Could Get Rid of Fraternities” looks at the various ways academic institutions can and can’t get rid of male Greek life on campuses across North America, and as Ryan says, “It’s not that easy to banish the Greeks.”
Ryan brings up concern about fraternity’s seemingly innate ability to “create environments that seem to breed hazing, binge drinking, and sexual assault.”
While this may be very true, this also sounds like almost any group of college age guys. As a girl who had the (un)fortunate experience to live on a self-titled ‘Party Floor’ in my first year of University, I have to say that the more minor of these activities -and I do include light hazing in that, as anyone who has been involved in a prank war will understand- can be applied to the guys (and girls) from my floor.
College is the primary opportunity for young guys -and girls- to get together and find themselves without the guidance and parental discretion that many of us feel at home. Despite drinking ages that are certainly higher than the age of many freshmen, namely 21 in the U.S. and 19 in Canada, alcohol is commonplace. Almost everyone has at least one night of their university or college career that they can barely recall. Or, if they can, they can barely recall it without grimacing at the though of too much tequila/whiskey/pick your poison.
This environment breeds foolish mistakes and indulgent behaviour, and the lack of parents and family ties means that students look for a natural way to connect with each other. In many cases this results in connections as ‘floor families’ or finding friendship in clubs, but for some it lies in the Greek community.
This connection is essential to anyone moving away from home, or to anyone entering the post-secondary community. It can seem big and strange, but to find oneself in a group you feel comfortable can make or break the experience.
The issue with the activities of fraternities lies not in the evil-nature of the guys who join these exclusive groups, but the sheer number of guys in a single ‘frat’. By bringing together that many guys who are all doing what everyone else is at that age -drinking way too much and looking for a good time- mob mentality takes over and incidents occur. The chance of incidents in a group is increased every time you bring someone else into it, and having that many guys in one house with alcohol is a breeding ground for poor decisions.
I am not in any way saying that this makes sexual assault, bullying, hazing or any other negative activity associated with fraternities okay. Stupidity in groups is not justification for stupidity as an act. There is no excuse for carrying out these activities in any form.
That being said, these events do happen and are especially prevalent on campuses. They occur more often in groups, and fraternities seem to be the major culprit. The problem is that people find it easier to point fingers to people that are officially grouped and designated as such, when such crimes and acts are done by many groups outside that aren’t recognized by an academic institution.
Fraternities, being subject to rules and provisions that govern all university-associated clubs and bodies, are a group that can be singled out and used as examples. Pointing instead at a group of guys that wander around campus and do the same doesn’t have the same effect. We can thank movies and TV shows for the gravity that comes with saying a fraternity broke the rules, they have a negative connotation. Other random groups of male students aren’t as widely recognized, and don’t have ‘rules’ to break.
Take for example the recent charges laid against members of the University of Ottawa’s varsity men’s hockey team. The entire team was suspended and a group of players were believed to be involved in a sexual assault. Ashley Bowen, staff at the Draft Pub at Lakehead University said the young men were “like a family.”
The team is a body governed by the university, and it is much easier to say the university’s hockey team, than ‘a group of Ottawa students’. The shock that comes with attributing a crime to a school-associated group is hard to beat, but in reality these are just groups of guys doing stupid things together.
Greek life is not the problem. I know many people that are involved in the Pan-Hellenic community here at Carleton University, and they are all fantastic people. Fraternities and sororities offer opportunities for individuals to establish a family away from home, and to get involved with charities and activities in school and out.
Any group of people is capable of committing harm against one another, and the diffusion of responsibility only makes it easier in larger numbers.
The argument should not be how colleges should get rid of fraternities, but how they should be regulated and how the activities that are deemed problematic should be stopped. All it takes is one bad egg to spoil the dozen, and in the case of a fraternity, all too often is the exceptionable individual taken to be the rule. Ryan looks at this too in the article, and brings up some ideas of how fraternities can be ‘taken care of’.
Some are a bit extreme, but many of which would be great ways to ensure that the power of fraternities and the so-called ‘brotherhood’ is used for good and not bad.
I’m not saying I have an answer or that there is a definitive answer, I’m just saying that there’s much more to brotherhood that booze and boobs.
Maybe we should instead try to combat the problems of binge-drinking and sexual assault on campuses as a whole. Manage the environment, not the groups produced by the environment, could actually make campuses safer and better places for students and faculty alike. Who knows, the Greeks may even help.