It happens from an early age. Little boys are told they cannot play with dolls unless they are G.I. Joes. They are scolded for crying. They learn they should grow up to be tough men. During this socialization toward “manhood,” they are implicitly taught to reject characteristics, attitudes and behavior traditionally associated with being a woman. By the time many young men arrive on a college campus, they are aimed to perpetuate the systemic sexism whether or not they know it, believe it, or acknowledge it. Focusing on the removal of fraternities avoids the root of the problem, which is the whole campus culture. Fraternities are one outlet on a college campus where male students engage their peers, their university and the larger community. I have worked with many fraternity members who genuinely care about the values of brotherhood, scholarship, leadership and service their organization espouses. Unfortunately, another common byproduct of fraternity membership is "group think." There was no excuse for the lewd, disrespectful and offensive behavior exhibited by members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity at Yale, nor is there an excuse for any aggressive, violent or harassing behavior perpetrated by a fraternity member or any individual toward another. However, to presume that non-fraternity members are immune from such behavior is misleading. In the recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the writer Caitlin Flanagan posed and answered a question, “Can the mere presence of slur-chanting fraternity men really create an environment that robs young women of equal opportunity to education? Yes, it can.” I agree with her. But football players, all-male floors in a college residence hall, and male fans or spectators at any college recreational event can and do exhibit the same behavior. Focusing on the removal of fraternities from university campuses fails to address the root of the issue -- that sexism persists and is part of the fabric of university campus cultures. Does this mean fraternities are not culpable for their behavior? Absolutely not. Universities have a responsibility to hold fraternal organizations and all campus associations accountable for their actions, especially when that behavior creates a hostile climate for a particular group of students. *While a university has a responsibility to hold fraternity members accountable for their actions, I argue that the lasting cultural change that must occur within these organizations will only come about through a sustained partnership and commitment to change among institutions of higher education, national fraternal offices, alumni advisers, and undergraduate fraternity members. Efforts to cultivate responsible and principled fraternity leaders should be a priority for national fraternity offices and for professionals working with fraternities on college campuses from the moment a student joins. If we wait until a student is elected president of his fraternity to teach necessary leadership skills, then we are too late. Also needed is a renewed commitment to the espoused values of brotherhood, leadership, service and scholarship on which most fraternities were founded. Fraternities that cannot or will not accept the call to align their enacted values with their espoused values must inevitably face becoming irrelevant as higher education and college campus life evolve.
First, let me note that I am not a member of any fraternity or sorority. I did know a number of guys in fraternities in college (though our campus was not a terribly “Greek” campus, in the way that some are) and I’ve had students in fraternities at my current institution (also a campus in which affiliation with Greek organizations is marginal at best). I am not saying that the problems that you note, or that Nick notes, aren’t real problems at many institutions, and that the Greek system doesn’t provide an alibi for those problems. But. In my experience (n=1), fraternities (and sororities) are very...
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