Following a Nov. 19 article in Rolling Stone magazine that exposed the gross mishandling of a gang rape that took place at a 2012 frat party, the University of Virginia has banned all fraternities and fraternity-related activities until Jan. 9. The tradition of Greek-letter fraternities in the United States dates back to 1825, when the Kappa Alpha Society was established at Union College. Since then, fraternities have become an enormous part of the social landscape at most American universities, but many seemed to have strayed from their original tenets of fellowship and scholarship. Various scandals over the past few years prove that the fraternity system needs to be seriously overhauled and amended, or perhaps be abolished entirely.
Some of the biggest problems on college campuses — rape, sexual abuse, substance abuse and dangerous hazing rituals — have become nearly synonymous with the culture of fraternities. The behavior is prevalent all across the country, even at the most prestigious American universities. In 2012, a Dartmouth undergraduate student published an op-ed in the school newspaper asserting, “Fraternity life is at the core of the college’s human and cultural dysfunctions.” Yale fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon, which counts both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush as alumni, was suspended in 2011 due to their sexist hazing rituals. In November of this year, Johns Hopkins University placed a fraternity on interim suspension for underage drinking after an investigation into a rape that occurred at the fraternity house. The list goes on and on.
This is one of many reasons that President Barack Obama assembled a task force in January to raise awareness and propose solutions for eliminating rape on college campuses. Ninety colleges are under federal investigation for violations of the sexual conduct policy Title IX as of November — NYU is not among them. While not all sexual violence on campus is a result of fraternity culture, there is an evident correlation.
Despite all of the recent negative press, fraternities do have redeeming factors. They support charitable causes, boost school spirit and can provide a sense of community and belonging for members within a large university. It is unfortunate that whatever good fraternities do is dwarfed by some groups’ undeniable darker qualities. There are simply too many examples of drug- and alcohol-fueled fraternity culture resulting in sexual violence and other dangerous, illegal behavior. While NYU’s Greek life has a good reputation, it also forms a significantly smaller portion of campus life than fraternities at other universities that have had issues.
I am uncertain as to what the correct approach is to reforming fraternity culture, or if that is even possible short of eliminating all Greek life. However harsh that seems, it might be what is necessary in order to ensure the well-being and safety of college students across the country.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 4 print edition. Email Annie Cohen at [email protected]