The Power Lies in the Party
I sit in the cold and stark white lecture hall dressed in a “move in day” outfit I spent weeks picking out, giddy to start my new life in college. With a beaming smile on my face I begin looking around the large room full of 18 year old girls who in just one week might become my sorority sisters. I sit and imagine all of the fun themed parties we will go to together, helping each other do our makeup for formals, and participating in the fun philanthropy events all over campus. My daydream is cut short when I hear “Look around the room, seven of you in each row will be raped or sexually assaulted before you graduate in four years”. That was my welcome to college and to Greek life. Where sexual assault is the norm and everyone turns a blind eye.
Sexual assault is a large scale problem on many college campuses if not all. The numbers have been increasing in the last few years but few university administrators want to acknowledge them. Acknowledging their campus has a problem would be subjecting their establishments to ridicule they deem unnecessary. A research novel written by Ronald Flowers states that “most rape victims are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. This group, representing most females in college, is four times more likely than any other to be the victim of sexual assault” (64). Every few minutes a college woman is being sexually assaulted. What I have come to learn is that aside from college women in general a smaller group of women is at an even higher risk. Those within Greek communities. I wondered why for a while until the answers started to present themselves.
After a few weeks of school, classes, and parties with fraternities I started to realize why women in Greek life are at a higher risk of being assaulted. On most college campuses fraternities rule the social scenes. Sororities are not allowed to have alcohol or parties within their chapter houses so those who are underage are forced to turn to fraternity row for parties, alcohol, and social status. Every weekend night sorority women can be seen walking to fraternity houses on all campuses in skimpy outfits and lots of makeup in hopes of being rewarded in alcohol or attention from the fraternity members. In an article written by Jennie Shulkin titled “Why Women Take a Backseat in the Greek System” she addresses this begging for inclusion. “A Greek woman must strive to play a role in the fraternity community. She must receive invitations to exclusive fraternity events, be asked to date parties, and be viewed as sexually desirable in the eyes of a fraternity” (Shulkin). This emphasizes the role in social control that the fraternities have on women. “Those with less power almost invariably dress up for those who have more” according to Jessica Bennett an author for Time in her article “The Problem with Frats Isn’t Just Rape”. The women are inevitably dependent on the men’s acceptance of them. The problem with this social structure is not that women are trying hard to fit in or be accepted into parties and are thus subjecting themselves to sexual assault. The problem is how much dominance is given to fraternity men that they may believe this dominance extends beyond just who walks into their parties but also who leaves and when, and who they want to use for their own pleasure.
The rape culture that has been created in Greek communities is much more dangerous than non-Greek social circles. Non-Greek student groups attract far fewer participants, are more sparsely funded, and provide less of an all-encompassing way of life (Shulkin). This protects non-Greek students from experiencing large parties with extensive amounts of alcohol and skewed gender ratios. Greek parties are parties on a much larger scale. A study conducted by A. Ayres Boswell and Joan Z. Spade of Leigh University zoned in on why fraternities are more dangerous for women. Spade and Boswell observed Greek men and women’s behavior in three different settings, low risk fraternities, high risk fraternities, and bar scenes. High risk fraternities were deemed so by 40 women who were asked to identify the most dangerous chapters to party in. The results showed that high risk fraternities had a more skewed gender ratio, the men were more disrespectful to women, jokes of abusing women swirled around the room, and almost every male tried to pick up a woman at the end of the night. “Fraternity men are three times more likely to rape in their college careers than non-Greek men” (Bennett). This statement also supports the findings in another study where nearly half of all the victims assaults occurred inside a fraternity chapter house as opposed to apartments, homes, dorms, etc (Flowers 70). This once again comes back to the aspect of having control and assuming power extends farther than it should. On the contrary, the bar scene had a much different atmosphere where students were seen simply sitting around having educated discussions and most left with the same sex friends they arrived with. The low risk fraternities were the middle ground between high risk and bar scene (Boswell,Spade 136–139). The lesson to be taken away from this study is that Greek culture provides fraternity men with their own power. Fraternities have complete control of social gatherings and have created this idea that because they provide the alcohol, party location, and boys that they need to be rewarded in sexual favors. The biggest factor in this assumed control? How these men are taught.
The chapter of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity at Georgia Tech in 2014 was put on probation for referring to women as “rapebait”. The social chair Matthew Peterson, an upperclassman of the chapter, sent an email to all pledge members including tips, tricks, and signals to pick up girls at parties. An article covering this issue stated the “charming subject line “Luring your rapebait” provided younger frat members instructions on how to bang chicks at a party” (Ryan). When administrators at Georgia Tech took a deeper look into these emails they found a handful of songs and chants that degrade women including lyrics about members abusing their female partners (Ryan). New pledge members of fraternities come into a new world of Greek life not knowing what to expect. They are vulnerable and most often times dying to fit in and be accepted by the older members. This means they are easily influenced and controlled. It is the assumed authority and superior attitude towards women that they learn from older members in the years ahead of them that is this concerning issues. An attitude that those older men picked up from the gentlemen who came before their time.
Another part of fraternity involvement that feeds into this issue is one that begins the moment a college freshman begins his rush(fraternity recruitment) experience. During rush, fraternities are supposed to find men who fit in with their ideals and values. These conversations of fraternity taught ideals take place in the chapter houses and at private event locations. Now how do some fraternities guarantee they recruit the cream of the crop pledge class? Women. At many universities sorority women are used as servers dressed in lingerie at rush events. This is how fraternities try and convince possible new pledges that they have the access to the hottest and most willing girls on campus. There are an endless number of things wrong with this process but it all comes back to fraternities need for control and social influence. A Greek affiliated women was even quoted saying “‘Men are dominant; they are the kings of campus. It is their environment that they allow us to enter; therefore, we have to abide by their rules’” (Boswell, Spade 140).
Now all fraternities are not like this. Not all fraternities across the country objectify women to the same degree or encourage rape or assault, not all men are monsters. Fraternities raise lots of money for the organizations they support, help raise the all campus GPA, and many fraternity alumni are the biggest donors back to their alma maters. Most do a lot of good for a large number of people. Many fraternity members are the future wall street business men. “Fraternities have graduated plenty of brilliant Silicon Valley founders: the creators of Facebook, Instagram, among others”(Bennett). This is an important fact to acknowledge. What I find interesting is that the men on wall street and company CEOs all share one same thing in common. They thrive when in control. Something they may have picked up from their fraternity days. Another argument against this statement would be that it is only a small percentage of chapters nationwide that run into these sorts of problems. However, college sexual assault is incredibly underreported especially in Greek communities. “Less than 5 percent of completed or attempted college student rapes are reported to campus or law enforcement authorities” (Flowers 68) so it is too difficult to judge what Greek chapters are actually involved in sexual assault violations or are just getting away with it.
In a court case where the assault was reported a young women named Tracey Johnson said she had been raped inside of the Delta Tau Delta house at the Indiana University of Bloomington. Johnson said that a young man locked her into a room with him and then sexual assaulted her. The question in the case was if Delta Tau Delta as a chapter was responsible for the assault because it happened inside their house after a party that they hosted. The chapter suffered loose punishments after the incident as a whole and were required to educate their members about rape. Many fraternities would argue that just because they supplied the alcohol and atmosphere they aren’t responsible for one single member. That is what Delta Tau Delta’s argument was in this case. However, I believe that the control over the party and what guests come in lies within the chapter. Making a women feel unsafe and then actually hurting her in a chapter house means there is something wrong with the privileges that are assumed by the members of that house.
Ultimately, I think it is important to realize and take fraternities for what they really are. They are great organizations that positively build relationships between college men and give them the opportunity to network. They can do a lot of good things with the power that they have. However, with this given power they also run the risk of embracing social control and teaching other men that it is okay to control others. The older gentleman and current fraternity members who create traditions and rituals within chapters need to step up and take a stand against sexual assault and rape in their homes. Fraternities also need to educate members of positive control and influence and teach each other that using their social dominance just to receive sexual favors in return from women is not what fraternities are all about. Along with furthering fraternity education college administrations need to take a stand. No longer can they trust the fraternities to educate about sexual abuse completely on their own. All fraternities nationwide should be required to attend an educational session hosted by their university’s administration. This problem has existed for many years and will still be prevalent in the coming few, but with a few mandated changes I hope that soon 18 year old girls will be welcomed into college and Greek life without having to be warned about the men who walk beside them.
Bennett, Jessica. “The Problem with Frats Isn’t Just Rape. It’s Power.” Time, 3 Dec. 2014. Accessed 25 Nov. 2016.
Boswell, A. Ayres, and Joan Z. Spade. “Collegiate Rape Culture: Why Are Some Fraternities More Dangerous Places for Women.” Sociologists for Women in Society, PDF ed. Originally published in Gender & Society, vol. 10, no. 2, Apr. 1996, pp. 113–47.
Flowers, Ronald Barri. College Crime; a statistical study of offenses on American campuses. McFarland & Company Inc, 2009.
Ryan, Erin Gloria. “Infamous ‘Rarebit’ Frat Disbanded for Being Entirely Too Rapey.” Jezebel, Gizmodo Media Group, 4 Apr. 2014. Accessed 23 Nov. 2016.
Shulkin, Jennie. “Why Women Take a Backseat in the College Greek System.” The Huffington Post, 9 June 2015. The Huffington Post. Accessed 24 Nov. 2016.
United States, Supreme Court of Indiana. Johnson v. Delta Tau Delta. 12 July 1999. 712 N.E.2d.