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Debate: Should colleges ban fraternities?

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Background and context

Fraternities have been a source of partying, binge drinking, rampant sex, accidental deaths, and rape. They have also been a source of brotherhood, career development, community service, and academic development. Yet, with a constant litany of bad
incidents related to frats reaching the headlines of local and national newspapers, universities are frequently pressed to consider whether to ban a single frat or scrap the entire system all together on their campuses. A particularly notable example surrounds a Yale frat in May of 2011. The frat, Delta Kappa Epsilon, was suspended for five years by the university for having its pledges chant the following slogan: "No means yes, yes means anal!" and carrying signs reading, "We love Yale sluts." The school found that the frat was in violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act that protects women against gender discrimination. Many have responded to the incident by calling for a wider ban of all frats at Yale as well as at other campuses. This is but one example of a debate that continues to make headlines every semester. The pros and cons are considered below.
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Sexism: Will banning frats help reduce chauvinistic culture?

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Pro

  • Most fraternities are openly hostile toward women. Nicholas Syrett. "Schools Are Culpable." The New York Times. May 6th, 2011: "In the 20th century some fraternities became quite organized in their hostility toward women, with protests against coeducation, and coordinated ostracism of the first classes of female students; one 1960s California fraternity sponsored “Hate Women Week” on campus. [...] Do all fraternity men behave this way? Of course not. But have fraternity men, as a group, been the most organized and vocal in creating a hostile climate for female students on campuses? The historical record says yes."


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Con

  • Banning fraternities won't end masculine domineering. Charles Eberly. "Unfairly Singled Out." New York Times Room for Debate. May 5, 2011: "The hegemonic masculinity widely reflected in current American society and embedded in contemporary undergraduate men, including many who are members of college fraternities, was thoroughly examined in 'Guyland,' a 2008 book by Michael Kimmel. Banning college fraternities will not eliminate the underlying hegemonic masculinity in American society, nor will banning fraternities end college student sexual assaults."
  • Fraternities are unfairly stereotyped by opponents. Some frats have bad apples. But, in general, they are filled with good young men that are respectful to women, engaged in their academics, and concerned about finding a good future profession. The stereotyping of frats is way overblown.
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Rape: Are frats particularly culpable of sexual assault?

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Pro

  • Fraternities organized around sexual exploitation of women. Nicholas Syrett. "Schools Are Culpable." The New York Times. May 6th, 2011: "By the 1980s, a number of studies have shown that there was a widespread movement among fraternities toward alcohol-fueled sexual aggression and assault, whereby victimized women are understood as vehicles for men's pleasure and bonding. While statistics on the incidence of sexual assault are notoriously unreliable, over the past 30 years psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists and educators have continued to document alarming trends in pressure to have sex among fraternity men, coerce it from unwilling women through the use of alcohol, and report about it afterward to the assembled brotherhood. While statistics on the incidence of sexual assault are notoriously unreliable, over the past 30 years psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists and educators have continued to document alarming trends in pressure to have sex among fraternity men, coerce it from unwilling women through the use of alcohol, and report about it afterward to the assembled brotherhood."
  • Frat members most likely to perpetrate sexual assault. Caitlin Flanagan. "Shutter Fraternities for Young Women's Good." Wall Street Journal. April 23, 2011: "A 2007 National Institute of Justice study found that about one in five women are victims of sexual assault in college; almost all of those incidents go unreported. It also noted that fraternity men—who tend to drink more heavily and frequently than nonmembers—are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault than nonfraternity men, according to previous studies. Over a quarter of sexual-assault victims who were incapacitated reported that the assailant was a fraternity member."


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Con

  • Rape culture needs changing; frat ban is no fix. CHLOE. "Caitlin Flanagan calls for the end of fraternities." Fleministing. April 26th, 2011: "The problem here is rape culture, which is particularly pronounced within fraternities. But rape culture exists in many places on college campuses. Again, this is not to excuse it or to argue that many wrongs make a right. Rather, I propose that the more productive solution of keeping fraternities intact, while working to change the particularly egregious rape culture that they so often foster, which is simply a more concentrated version of the rape culture that exists on so many campuses – even those with no Greek life at all."
  • Shuttering frats creates false sense of security. CHLOE. "Caitlin Flanagan calls for the end of fraternities." Fleministing. April 26th, 2011: "my concern is that shutting down the frats would leave us with a false sense of security. Does frat culture need to be changed? Yes, frat culture desperately needs to be changed. Will scape-goating fraternities, and imagining that by closing them down, we can eradicate rape culture, help in the long run? I don’t think it will."


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Alcohol: Are frats a damaging source of binge drinking?

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Pro

  • Frats control supply of alcohol to minors and social scene. Elizabeth Armstrong. "How Fraternities Dominate." The New York Times Room For Debate. May 6th, 2011: "While concerns about legal liability have led colleges and universities to vigilantly police alcohol consumption and public intoxication in university-owned housing, fraternities have mostly been spared such scrutiny. As a result, these organizations often monopolize the supply of alcohol to under-aged students. Fraternity dominance of the social scene of many campuses heightens risks for young women. As party hosts, fraternity men often control the space — establishing party themes that encourage women to wear provocative clothing, making and distributing the drinks, controlling the door, and sometimes even preventing women from leaving."
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Con

  • Alcohol, not frat-membership, is main culprit Jeffrey DeSimone. "The Role of Drinking." The New York Times. May 6th, 2011: "My research shows that fraternity membership does indeed contribute to increased binge and frequent drinking and intoxication, including consequences such as hangovers, forgetting or regretting actions, missing classes and arguing with friends. [...] However, for most types and effects of alcohol use, only a small fraction of the gap between fraternity members and non-members is actually caused by fraternity membership. Specifically, for most drinking behavior, only 10 to 20 percent of the difference between members and non-members is plausibly attributable to being in a fraternity. Most of these differences, therefore, would persist even in the absence of fraternities, to which many pledges are attracted precisely because members engage in alcohol-related behavior in which pledges already participate."


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Exclusion: Are frats based on exclusion?

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Pro

  • College fraternities are based on exclusion Nicholas Syrett. "Schools Are Culpable." The New York Times. May 6th, 2011: "College fraternities are built on exclusion. For nearly 200 years fraternities have been exclusive organizations for men who want to spend time with others like themselves: usually straight white men. Men in these organizations have identified with what sets them apart from those they exclude, their manhood. Fraternal masculinity has, for at least 80 years, valorized athletics, alcohol abuse and sex with women, while disdaining intellectual inquiry for its own sake (colleges’ ostensible purpose)."


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Con

  • Would academic and cultural frats be banned too? CHLOE. "Caitlin Flanagan calls for the end of fraternities." Fleministing. April 26th, 2011: "when Flanagan says 'fraternity,' she’s talking about a particular kind of fraternity, one in which membership is bestowed according to wealth, social connections and general likeability. She doesn’t mention social justice fraternities, academic fraternities or religious fraternities, which, though not immune to the endemic cultural problems she describes in this article, are a different breed of animal and should be treated as such."


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Academics: Are frats bad for academics?

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Pro

  • Fraternities can rob women of their education. Caitlin Flanagan. "Shutter Fraternities for Young Women's Good." Wall Street Journal. April 23rd, 2011: "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. [...] My fourth night at school, I went with some friends to Rugby Road, where the fraternity houses are located. [...] they seemed sinister, to stand for male power at its most malevolent and institutionally condoned. I remember standing there thinking I'd made a terrible mistake. It wasn't worth it, I decided. The next day I withdrew from the university. [...] I went back in the spring, and while few things have had as a profound an effect on my life as my UVA education, my deep mistrust of the fraternities limited the ways I engaged in life on campus and almost robbed me of the education itself. If you want to improve women's lives on campus, if you want to give them a fair shot at living and learning as freely as men, the first thing you could do is close down the fraternities."


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Con

  • Fraternity membership can boost academics and salaries. Jeffrey DeSimone. "The Role of Drinking." The New York Times. May 6th, 2011: "fraternities might actually convey benefits on members and even their host institutions. While fraternity membership has been associated with cheating on exams and poor academic performance, other evidence suggests that fraternity members declare majors earlier, obtain higher-paying entry-level jobs and donate more to their alma maters. Anecdotally, simply requiring a higher G.P.A. to permit membership than simply to remain academically eligible might boost school performance among current and would-be fraternity members."
  • Controversy hides all the good coming from frats Charles Eberly. "Unfairly Singled Out." New York Times Room for Debate. May 5, 2011: "negative consequences surrounding the actions of fraternity and sorority members seem to be highlighted with far greater frequency than the positive outcomes associated with membership. Typical of the latter are examples from a fraternity chapter I counsel at Eastern Illinois University. One member who is graduating with a master's in school counseling developed a program on healthy men's development that is presented to all new members of the college's fraternity system each year, and another brother created a charity to support a local children's advocacy center. Yet a third is running marathons in all 50 states to support suicide prevention in memory of a brother who committed suicide in 2008. The chapter is planning a fund raising drive to construct a wishing well on campus in coordination with another fraternity chapter that lost brothers in a bus accident, with the contributions going to the children’s advocacy center."
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Ban? Is ban appropriate or are there better options?

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Pro

  • Frat problem has risen to a level that invites ban. Frats have become so problematic on many campuses - with deaths, rapes, violence, and constant binge drinking - that colleges may be justified in taking the extreme step of banning them all together. When a trend of misbehavior lasts for decades without end, a ban becomes the appropriate step.
  • Colleges culpable if they allow misogynous fraternities. Nicholas Syrett. "Schools Are Culpable." The New York Times. May 6th, 2011: "if colleges support organizations promoting these attitudes, they tacitly condone them as well, encouraging men to believe there is a place for such beliefs on campus. The colleges themselves are thus culpable, which is precisely the point of the suit lodged against Yale."
  • Universities protect frats to preserve donation dollars. Elizabeth Armstrong. "How Fraternities Dominate." The New York Times. May 6th, 2011: "Despite these negative influences universities may be hesitant to rein in fraternity party life, as doing so could jeopardize tuition dollars from students interested in Greek life, as well as funds from well-heeled university alumni. It is thus unlikely that universities will ban these organizations altogether."


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Con

  • Couple bad apples shouldn't cause blanket frat ban "Mistakes of one group shouldn’t ruin image of all." Cardinal Points Editorial. May 6, 2011: "Theta Kappa Beta, commonly known as Beta, lost its appeal to stay recognized as an organization at Plattsburgh State, and quite frankly, other members of Greek life should be happy they're gone. As we see it, this fraternity was bringing the rest of fraternity and sorority life down, causing a mass generalization of what it means to be a part of Greek life on this campus. But don't let this one organization take away from Greek life as a whole. Joining a fraternity or sorority has proven to be a source of better academics for some. Four fraternities and one sorority showed a positive differential between pre-pledging and post-pledging GPA."


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Pro/con sources

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