Will Banning Frats Cut Down on Assault and Destructive Partying?

Slate's Culture Blog
May 13 2014 9:07 AM

Will Banning Frats Cut Down on Assault and Destructive Partying?

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The No. 1 movie in America picks up on the anti-frat zeitgeist.

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Last week, Amherst College announced an official crackdown on unofficial fraternities, whose presence the prestigious liberal-arts school had tolerated in the past. However, in the wake of Greek-related sexual assault scandals that landed Amherst in the 55-school Hall of Title IX Shame, any student now caught engaging in even “fraternity-like” behavior after July 1 could be suspended or expelled.

Rebecca Schuman Rebecca Schuman

Rebecca Schuman is an education columnist for Slate.

Presumably, the crackdown will prevent not just assaults, but other unacceptable behavior (such as distributing t-shirts depicting a woman roasting on a spit). As a bonus, the ban might also sideline a few of the other trappings of #GreekLife: destruction of property; alcohol poisoning; falling out of things; impromptu homemade sex-toy fundraisers in the midst of escalating prank wars with the reluctantly uptight Gen-X neighbors. (OK, I’m not sure if that last thing happens outside of hugely popular new movies.)

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Although the college’s frats proudly skew more Lambda Lambda Lambda than Alpha Beta, the name of the game, according to the administration, is inclusion. “We’re trying to create spaces and opportunities for students to get to know each other,” Amherst chief student affairs officer Suzanne Coffey told Inside Higher Ed. “There’s a lot of things going on [at Amherst] that are aimed at the entire student body and not a subset of the student body that’s underground.”

On the surface, this seems like a responsible move from a college that cares about student well-being, and I have no reason to suspect anything cynical. However, the cynic in me—a cynic who has had many students in Greek systems nationwide—knows that the quickest way to get a college student interested in something is to ban it. (You think I really want to “ban” essays? Shhhhh, it’s working!) So I wonder, sincerely, if putting the entire school on Double-Secret Probation won’t backfire.

I have little love for what historically white fraternities are often associated with, namely cliquish, sometimes bigoted, exclusivity. I have even less love for what happens at some of the parties: not only falling out of things and hazing, but also depressing reifications of gender stereotypes, abhorrent racism, and, yes, sexual assault. The Title IX scandal—and the preponderance of awful racist theme parties that make the news—should be occasion for one hell of a Panhellenic introspection moment.

But even a frat-skeptic such as myself—who was, of course, probably just too much of a fat feminist bitch to get into parties anyway—sees Amherst’s extra-taboo frats as even more enticing. At the same time, their ultra-underground nature will make it even more difficult for students who are injured, sickened, racially terrorized or sexually assaulted at their events to seek help, for fear that they will get expelled for engaging in prohibited behavior.

If I were being really cynical, I’d go so far as to say that when a college officially takes a hard line on something like this, the result is an Orwellian sort of plausible deniability, and indemnification against official association with events that make colleges look bad. It might be messier for an admin to deal with, but the right thing to do—as Amherst student Jasjaap Sidhu told Inside—would be to allow those frats to be official. It is my hope that the Title IX scandal will force universities to hold students who commit sexual assault officially and publicly accountable. And to help them do so, all student organizations should be official and public.

Rebecca Schuman is an education columnist for Slate.

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