Frat Lifestyle Site Responds To “The Cost of Sexual Assault At USC,” Gets Everything Horribly Wrong
By Dan Morgan-Russell, Guest Contributor
This morning, I woke up to text messages from Nathaniel Haas linking to an article from Total Frat Move attempting to rebut Haas’ recent article, titled “The Cost of Sexual Assault at USC.” The long-form piece discussed how sexual assault is proliferated on campus as a result of university inaction and harmful institutions within Greek life.
Haas’ article was thoroughly researched, well-written and carefully edited before publication. I cannot say the same for TFM contributor Harrison Lee’s take, “Rebutting The Columnist Who Called Out USC Fraternities for ‘Perpetuating Rape Culture.’” The first thought that came to me while reading Lee’s post was that Lee clearly did not read Haas’ article before penning his profanity-laden and capitalization-heavy response.
Look Lee, I get it; Nathaniel Haas exhaustively researched this topic and has an affinity for polysyllabic words. Reading it all takes some time. But the article was neither verbose nor obscure, so Lee had no excuse for not reading it carefully and in its entirety before writing a response.
Thorough reading is an important skill that numerous individuals hone while in college. It allows readers to digest the entirety of an article and to see how the evidence presented fits together to support the author’s point. If Lee had done it, a thorough reading of Haas’ article would have allowed him to see the elegant manner in which Haas ties together evidence to support his point.
Because Lee did not read Haas’ article before penning his own response, let’s take this time to go through Lee’s article piece by piece and examine how Haas already addressed each and every point Lee attempted to make.
Lee first states that society and Haas should not demonize fraternity members because they “shun acts of sexual deviancy, rape, and assault just like any upstanding member of society with a half-functioning moral compass would.” The first point that Haas makes after the lede is that a majority of college rapists are serial offenders, and a small number of serial rapists commit a majority of rapes at colleges. Haas cites Dr. David Lisak and President Obama’s Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault as evidence. His claim is that the problem lies with a small number of serial rapists who are supported by their fraternal institutions, but Lee misses that point entirely.
Lee then goes on in the fifth paragraph to question evidence on the relation between “creepiness” and fraternity status that Haas reproduced from USC graduate Sean Hernandez’s masters thesis, “Sexual Economics: An Econometric Study of a University Greek System.” Of course, Hernandez responsibly defined “creepiness,” and both Haas and Lee quoted the definition in their pieces. Lee questions whether readers should believe Haas and Hernandez because Lee does not think “creepiness” can be quantified, despite having just reproduced the definition himself. At this point, Lee is patently sticking his head in the sand and refusing to consider a new paradigm of Greek social interaction.
In fact, the point Lee attempted to make in this section was originally so misguided, involving a complete misreading of Hernandez’ graphs that Haas had to take to Twitter to draw a trend line on the graph for Lee, after which Lee admits in a tweet that he “misread that part… but the rest of the argument still stands.” Lee has since deleted (not retracted, because that would involve him noting that a change was made) that portion of his article as well as his tweet admitting to the error.
Subsequently, Lee mocks the expertise of University of Michigan professor Elizabeth Armstrong, specifically her statement that “fraternities have a domination of the party resources, which basically contributes to sexual assault.” Lee calls this a “pretty drastic leap…I don’t even know how this professor came to this conclusion.”
Of course Lee does not “even,” because he did not read Haas’ article. Haas quotes Professor Armstrong repeatedly and cites her book Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, in which she lays out the sexual culture of fraternities. All the information Lee needs is in Haas’ original quotations. He could have examined Armstrong’s book if he wanted more information, but given that he failed to read Haas’ article, I doubt that he would consider taking the time to check out Armstrong’s work too. A cursory glance at a book review by Inside Higher Ed, discoverable by a simple Google search for “Paying for the Party review” reveals that Professor Armstrong has, indeed, researched the topic and did not, as Lee alleges, “jump…from point A to point Q with no proof” — but again, Lee’s flippant tone shows that he did not even try to consider the validity of any other conclusions but his own.
Lee then moves back to the realm of bad math to belittle statistics. He brings up the 2014 University of Oregon study Haas cites on the frequency of sexual assault against Greek versus non-Greek women. Haas writes, “the study found that Greek females (38 percent) were two times more likely than non-Greek females (15.3 percent) to experience rape or attempted rape.” Lee, ignoring how statistics work, argues that “the numbers in that study were also percentage-based” and “anti-Greek people…use these percentage-based numbers because they’re trying to scare people.” He does a series of calculations and arrives at the conclusion that “THE NUMBER OF GIRLS WHO AREN’T IN GREEK LIFE WHO WILL EXPERIENCE SEXUAL ASSAULT IS ALMOST EQUAL TO THE TOTAL NUMBER OF GIRLS IN GREEK LIFE [sic].”
It’s unclear what Lee means by that capitalized statement, because he is comparing two things that are not alike and have no bearing on each other, apples to oranges. TFM reader SlipperyPete was able to add some common sense by pointing out in the comments section that “there’s nothing logically or statistically wrong with the way they used percentages.” The fact remains, according to the study, that any woman in Greek life is more than twice as likely to be raped or to experience attempted rape than a non-Greek woman. Lee is the only one trying to confuse readers in this situation.
Lee moves to Haas’ recommendations, examining Haas’s first idea that sororities should host parties. He scoffs, “Good luck getting Panhellenic on board with that, chief,” ignoring Haas’s nuanced point that indeed, getting the National Panhellenic Conference to reverse its ban on alcohol in sorority houses would require top-down change in reversing a decades-old tradition, which might prove difficult. If sororities care about their members, they should push for hosting their own parties to eliminate the advantage that rapists in fraternities receive when hosting parties at their houses.
Lee attacks Haas’ second suggestion that all parties should happen at public venues. He dismisses this point, arguing that parties already happen in public places, but are expensive. “So in a sense, his plan already happen [sic].” Except Haas already acknowledges that some parties do take place at outside venues, and contends that those parties are less dangerous for women than ones in frat houses. Lee continues, arguing for fraternities to continue serving alcohol. “If you have a wet house, you have an advantage in recruiting because you have a place where you can get drunk knowing that you can pass out on the couch if need be.” Similarly, if you have a “wet house,” then predatory men can serve alcohol to women until the women get drunk, pass out, and become ready targets for rape. Haas addresses all of this when discussing the safety that sororities could ensure by allowing women to drink in sorority houses and “pass out on [their own] couch.”
Finally, Haas suggests that concerned parties should better educate parents to the dangers of Greek life and discourage them from paying for their children to be a part of it. In response to this, Lee makes the one logical point to be found in his entire article when he states that he will raise his children to be upstanding citizens and act responsibly. “Listen,” Lee writes, “when my future kid gets to college, he will be an adult.” The parents Haas interviewed also said that their adult child could make his own decisions, but Haas noted that the endless blame-game and finger-pointing means that the problem is never addressed. Certainly, parents have the right to pay for their child’s membership in a fraternity or a sorority, but the violence continues as long as parents pay for the party. Lee is free to let his future child make his own decisions, but that decisions might have hefty consequences.
Lee concludes that Haas is trying to “damn… the entire [Greek] system.” But in contradiction to his absolutist third paragraph, he writes, “Sure, there are bad apples in the Greek system just like there are bad apples in society as a whole. That doesn’t mean you shut the whole fucking thing down. You get rid of the bad apples, better the system, and move on.” Haas made the same points in his article. A few predatory fraternity men cause serious harm to countless women. Haas does not want to shut down the fraternity system any more than Lee; he wants to reform the system to make it better and safer for all involved. Again, Lee would have learned that if he had taken the time to read the article instead of allowing his indignation to stifle logical reasoning.
As a solution, Lee suggests “educating sororities, and fraternities, on the dangers of sexual assault.” The notion that mere education can eliminate rape is one of the first ideas that Haas addresses, quoting President Obama’s statement regarding the White House sexual assault task force. “We know that the majority of rapes are committed by serial rapists, and those folks are very unlikely to be reached by any prevention messages that we’re going to be sending out or education about rape,” Obama said. Lee’s conclusions were refuted in the first section right after the lede.
I feel like a broken record. Lee had a responsibility as a professional commentator to thoroughly understand what he is talking about before spewing out his own opinions and spreading misinformation around the Internet. Every single point he made was already addressed in the original article, and he would have saved himself a lot of time, effort and embarrassment if he cared even a little about understanding an opposing viewpoint.
Reach Guest Contributor Dan Morgan-Russell here.