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Fraternities under fire: Is it time to limit Greek life on campus?

In the last few weeks, fraternities have come under fire for hazing, alcohol abuse and sexual assaults, raising questions about their continued presence on college campuses.

Ten days ago, West Virginia University suspended all Greek activities on campus after a freshman found unconscious at a fraternity house died two days later. Police are still investigating what happened to 18-year-old  Nolan Michael Burch.

The most recent campus to sanction its frats is the University of Virginia. But that suspension may be lifted. The decision by UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan came after a searing Rolling Stone about a brutal rape during a frat party two years ago.  The story, “A Rape on Campus,” depicted a culture where sexual assaults are downplayed to protect the UVA brand.

Now, however, Rolling Story is expressing doubts about the reliability of the young woman "Jackie" who is the source of the allegations.

In a note to readers, the magazine said:

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

In an attempt to change the nature of  frats, two Connecticut campuses, Trinity College and Wesleyan, now require fraternities to allow women to join, following the lead of Swarthmore, which adopted the policy last year. Dartmouth eliminated pledge term .

Several elite New England campuses, Middlebury, Colby and Williams, have no frats on their campuses. Amherst has now banned its students from joining fraternities.

Several studies have found frat members are more likely to commit sexual assaults: (Bleeker & Murnen, 2005; Boeringer, 1999; Foubert, Newberry & Tatum, 2007).

Writing about his study in the NYT , researcher John Foubert said:

In my research, I found that the fraternity experience itself makes men more likely to commit sexual assault. While this finding needs replication -- it was one study on one campus -- there is cause for much concern. Little concern about such findings was shown, however, when I presented this data at national fraternity conventions. There remains a lack of commitment in the fraternity community to meaningful education on rape prevention.

This indifference extends to other issues involving fraternity members: compared with their male peers, fraternity members are more likely to believe, for example, that women pretend not to want to have sex but want to be forced into it, and that women enjoy being physically “roughed up.” (Boeringer, 1999.) Fraternity men have also been found to have more pornographic posters hanging in their rooms (Bleeker & Murnen, 2005).

There is a lot of research on drinking and Greek life. In "Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America's Colleges and Universities," the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found fraternity and sorority members are far likelier than non-Greeks to binge. Sixty-four percent of Greeks report binge drinking, compared with 37 percent of their classmates.

But in his research, Jeffrey DeSimone suggests frat members would likely drink with or without the fraternity; it is the prevalence of alcohol in frat life that attracts pledges in the first place. “Students who join fraternities presumably perceive that membership will facilitate desired binge drinking by matching them with students who share these preferences,” wrote DeSimone.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.