“Our frat isn’t like the others!” said every frat bro ever. This is just one aspect of the absurd communal-denial of the harmful culture of Greek life in which the entire Union community is complicit.
But this article isn’t addressing members of Greek life — most Greek students are so profoundly unable to listen to criticism that they simply aren’t worth addressing (just look at the inevitable tirade of comments at the end of this article). And they know that the Greek lobby is so powerful that Greek life is impervious to criticism.
It’s not that any individuals have genuine malicious intent; rather, the culture is based on such deep insecurity that its weak edifice is simply not allowed to be touched. But more on insecurity later.
This article is for three groups of people: people considering joining a frat, people who aren’t and faculty.
So, you’re thinking of joining a fraternity? I hear ya! You’re a year into college, and you’ve got some good friends, but the friendships don’t feel quite the same as the ones back home. These frats look kinda fun … and all the cool kids do it … and hey, who doesn’t want to be cool? Well here are seven reasons you shouldn’t give in:
1) Greek culture is based on insecurity. In a sentence, the message of fraternities is: Play by our rules and you’ll be accepted. And since it’s such a dominant part of the campus community, it seems like the only way to be truly accepted is to join a fraternity. The trouble is, the rules aren’t always worth following. The rules are often damaging to the individual, moral and intellectual character of students.
2) Fraternities homogenize interesting people. Fraternities haze pledges for a reason: to produce bros who identify strongly with the group. If you go through hell to join a frat, chances are you’re going to convince yourself it was worth it. The result is a group of people who all act, speak and think similarly, and who are totally fine with that fact.
3) Fraternities perpetuate misogyny and homophobia. Studies show that frat bros are more likely to commit sexual assault. Studies show that sorority girls are more likely to have eating disorders. And who can honestly say this surprises them? When has separating groups of people ever led to mutual understanding? In fraternities, girls are objectified. Pornographic posters cover bedroom walls. Who hooked up with whom is the perennial question in the mind of the frat-bro. And dancing is almost entirely a matter of boys grinding their crotches on girls’ behinds.
It’s never boys on boys or girls on girls, by the way. In fact, have you ever seen two guys hooking up in a frat? No? Isn’t that a bit odd? Ten percent of Americans are gay, yet we never see homosexual behavior in fraternities. That’s because of the culture of fraternities. If you’re part of a frat, you talk about which girls are hot; which girl sucked you off; how gay that professor is; you insult people by calling them faggots. Or if you don’t, then you don’t challenge people when they do. Who’s seriously going to feel comfortable being gay in that environment?
4) Fraternities’ exclusivism is gross.
5) Hazing is disgraceful. The U.N. defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering … physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted.” Torture methods include force-feeding, force-drinking, forced sexual encounters and sleep deprivation, all of which are used in frats, and everyone knows it. Sure, it’s not as bad as Guantanamo torture, but is that really a measure that frats wish to be considered by: ‘not as bad as Guantanamo?’
Also, the way ‘pledges’ are treated in day-to-day life shows utter contempt for human decency. They’re ordered about like slaves. And bros just laugh it off: “We also had to go through it.” “They can pull out if they want.” “They’ll be one of us soon enough.” None of these defenses justify this behavior.
Contempt for human decency is a direct result of hazing. Pledges become desensitized to this kind of cruelty. So when they deny that there’s a problem, they’re being sincere; they genuinely can’t see the issue.
6) It costs loads of money. Like hundreds of dollars! WTF?! First of all, why would you pay for this? Secondly, it excludes students who are financially less well-off.
7) The façade of charity is farcical. Criticize the frats and you’ll get the age-old reply: “We raise so much money for charity!” Well, great. No one’s complaining about charity. But if you want to do charity work, join a charity organization. Nobody faults frats for their charity work. We fault them for everything else: the hazing, the sexism and so on. Plenty of charity organizations get on just fine without being terrible in every other respect.
If you’ve decided not to join a frat, there are some things you can do to challenge the norms of Greek life.
First, challenge your Greek friends’ attitudes. Ask them if they think it’s OK to treat pledges as they do? Does the fact that pledges agree to it really make it OK? Or are they just agreeing because of social pressures?
Secondly, encourage your Greek friends to spend time outside of frats.
Thirdly, don’t be afraid to speak up against frats. I’ve spoken to lots of people who agree with me but they think there’s no point saying anything. “The frat lobby is so strong that nothing ever changes.” Well, nothing changes because people rarely speak up. If you think bros objectify women, say something. If you think pledges are mistreated, say something. I know it’s hard to speak up. Every time someone says something, they’re met with a tirade of abuse. I’m sure I’ll get the same. But the more people speak up, the easier it will become.
Fourthly, don’t go to fraternities. By going to frat parties you endorse Greek culture. Plus, there’s a reason that everyone there is so inebriated: because they’re shit parties. I’m no puritan, but it’s worth considering why frat parties are invariably such drunken affairs. It’s because they’re necessarily so. It’s not actually a good time to grind your crotch against someone’s behind while they look sort of awkwardly into the distance, avoiding eye contact with anyone. It’s empty and masturbatory.
The last group of people I’d like to address is faculty. I’ve spoken to a number of professors who agree with me but for a number of reasons won’t speak up. One told me they were warned not to speak up because they wouldn’t get tenure; such is the power of the Greek lobby. If this is true, it’s very damning. It’s unjust and opposes everything for which academia stands.
Other faculty members have told me they oppose Greek culture but don’t know how they can challenge it. Well, here are a couple of ideas. First, be open about your disapproval and speak up. If for nothing else, do so to show support for non-Greek students. Secondly, encourage the deans to do more. They’re the regulators of campus life, and they can affect this culture.
If you’ve gotten this far and you agree with me but think I’m being a bit polemical … well, you’re right.
I don’t think we should end Greek life; it has potential for a lot of good.
The imagined communities of Greek life reach far and beyond college campuses and could be invaluable in the wider world. The only reason frats exist in their current form is inertia. Nobody would propose the creation of a fraternity system like the one we have now.
Also, fraternities were originally designed as organizations where people discussed books censored by the government. How cool is that?! And Union is the mother of fraternities. So it would be a travesty for Greek life to end. It just needs to change.
One huge step might be for fraternities to go co-ed. It’s happened on other campuses and unsurprisingly, it profoundly undermines the misogynism.
Another step would be to end pledging. To me, it’s obvious that the way pledges are treated is horrible. It’s simply indecent to command other human beings as pledges are commanded. It’s one of the reasons that I think bros are impervious to criticism; if they can’t see that they’re mistreating pledges, they’ve been desensitized to human value in a way that one can’t argue with.
Anyway, let the tirade of abuse commence.