BY AMER G. ZAHR
The Progressive Pen
Published November 26, 2001
I must say I was quite disturbed. As I was walking through the Diag in the beginning of the school year, during the first waves of the fraternity rush period, I saw an interesting banner. It encouraged rushing for Chi Psi, a campus fraternity, using the attractive slogan, "Chi Psi, The Gentleman"s Fraternity." Better yet, the black banner with white writing also included a white cutout of both the Playboy bunny and the Dj Vu logo (a "gentleman"s club" chain).
What we had here was the laying of a foundation for a fraternity culture that is, at best, passively encouraging male dominative roles or, at worst, outright misogynistic. Should we be surprised after seeing such a banner, embodying such an attitude, that campus women have reported being raped at the local Beta house a few weeks ago? Should we be surprised that Scot Boeringer, in a 1996 article titled "Influences of Fraternity Membership, Athletics, and Male Living Arrangements on Sexual Aggression," asserts that there exists more significant use of intoxicants and non-physical verbal coercion in obtaining sex by fraternity members? Should we surprised that the journal Gender and Society published a study in which interviews with fraternity members found a tendency to give alcohol to women on the theory that women who were drinking would be less resistant to sexual advances? Should we be surprised that Peggy Reeves Sanday, in her book "Fraternity Gang Rape," argues that alcohol is a tool that men in fraternities are taught to use to "work a yes out" of unwilling women? Should we be surprised that in their article, "Fraternity and Sorority Membership and Gender Dominance Attitudes," Linda Kalof and Timothy Cargill found a substantial difference in dominance attitudes among Greek and non-Greek students. Concluding that affiliation with Greek organizations is associated with traditional male dominant-female submissive attitudes?
Colby Nordheimer, a woman who was raped at a fraternity party at the University of Arizona, gave an interview to the Arizona Daily Wildcat in 1996. When asked how much fraternity culture played into her being assaulted, Nordheimer replied, "I am a Greek I don"t think all fraternity men are rapists necessarily, but I do think that at times, there"s a certain disrespect for women. It becomes a game, and sometimes they cross the line without necessarily knowing they"ve crossed it."
So what exists here is a number of studies and personal accounts showing that an overall American rape culture is highly and disproportionately prevalent in the campus fraternity environment. But this must concern us here in Ann Arbor to an even higher degree. Our university, unfortunately, holds the fraternities to no standards and to no accountability. Our university almost pretends like the frats don"t exist, except for, of course, the Office of Greek Life. The office is located in the Michigan Union, and like other organizations, reapplies for office space every year. They are, however, unlike other groups, in no danger of ever losing their space. They employ a director, an assistant director and an administrative coordinator. They also house the four governing boards of the Greek community. It is a quite sophisticated operation. One would think that if such an organization were so prevalent in the Union"s student organization office space, and such a visible presence on campus and in many students" lives, that our administration would hold them to the same types of standards as we hold other students and other organizations.
In my own view, the fraternities perhaps create as much benefit as other entities, while creating much more trouble. They are comparable to no student groups. A fraternity, to me, actually, is much more like a bar. They are cut from the same cloth. Frats encourage social interaction between members. Bars do the same (have you ever seen Cheers?). Frats cater to students. So do bars. In fact, I would suppose that many more students visit bars than ever visit frats. On the side of vice, frats are a hub for underage drinking. Bars house underage drinking, but much less, since they check identifications and use stringent standards since they are actually held accountable for allowing underage drinking. Back on the side of benefit, frats, like other students groups, carry out many community service activities, helping the local community. Bravo. Well, bars do the same thing. In fact, bars help the community not only by creating a social outlet, but also by creating a countless number of jobs for students as waiters and waitresses, line cooks, hostesses, bouncers, etc. That"s community service if I ever heard of it.
In the end, frats=bars. The Union houses an Office of Greek Life. For fairness" sake, it should also house an Office of Bar Life. Greek Life representatives visit resident adviser training sessions to explain how they will relate to students" lives. Representatives from local bars should be afforded the same privilege. I don"t see why not.
My proposal is that we treat the bars as we treat the frats. Now, another idea may be to treat the frats as we treat bars. In other words, we could treat the frats as if they don"t exist. Sure, students can join them, and participate in all their virtues and vices, but not on the University"s penny. Close down the Office of Greek Life. Let them seek private space to lease.
Or, finally, and probably most practically, our administration should create standards and regulations that the fraternities must live up to. And it must create real sanctions that make frats think twice before they create the kind of environment they are currently encouraging. Unfortunately, in the current context, it does not seem we are making any progress in stopping fraternities from egging on a dangerous misogynistic attitude, and viewing themselves as an untouchable "gentleman"s club."
Amer G. Zahr can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.