Joel Danilewitz: The IFC suspension is a time for introspection

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 - 6:04pm

When I arrived at the University of Michigan this past fall, the decision to rush felt preconceived.

I am a student surrounded by those of similar backgrounds; a Jewish boy from the suburbs of a big city, anxious to make friends with similarly identified people. Everyone I knew was doing it. It would make sense for me to rush, right?

At fraternity parties during Welcome Week, I met different brothers who’d ask if I was rushing. I would say yes in a voice that felt somewhat contrived, the octaves in my throat tumbling down. I strained to contain a part of myself that seemed close to spilling out.

I then realized how rushing was desultory with respect to my character. I still felt that I deviated from the stock “frat boy” image the media conjures. I am openly gay. I identify as a progressive feminist. I am actively seeking to dismantle a constricting gender binary. Aren’t the tenets of Greek life, an inherently heteronormative and androcratic institution, antithetical to those values? Would I be morally bankrupt for buying into a system where fraternity members are three times more likely to commit rape than non-greek students? 

With a guilty conscience, I nonetheless conformed. I did what all of my friends were doing.

After touring several houses and meeting dozens of older brothers, I chose a chapter where I felt I belonged. I could tell these were people I could be myself around, and they were nothing but welcoming, warm and inviting. I can truly say that I feel like a member of a brotherhood in which people care for each other. Rarely do I feel uncomfortable being open about my identity.

Yet, the implications of Greek life still weighed me down. As I became active in my pledge class as social chair, I was encouraged to invite girls to parties as part of the job. I thought about themed mixers and how they often objectify girls with titles such as “Office Hoes and CEOs.” Isn’t there a link? Isn’t objectification almost always the first step toward justifying violence against someone?

Furthermore, it wasn’t as though I resisted these objectives. I sent out messages to GroupMes saying how “lit” the night would be and that they should “come thru!” We would discuss which sororities we wanted to come and made group chats with them.

Then suddenly, the Interfraternity Council suspension on socials shook Greek life to its core, leading events to a standstill. In the wake of numerous sexual assault and hazing allegations, the governing body of fraternities shut the doors on parties. Social schedules and mixers were canceled and initiation term was halted. To some, it seemed as though the world was ending.

However, considering that this coincided with a period in our country where sexual harassment scandals roil the news with disheartening regularity, it seemed like an opportunity to engage with each other about our actions. What led to all of this?

Shouldn’t we have used this time to talk about what is inherently problematic about a system that devalues both women and men based on tiers? Or the ways in which hegemonic masculinity contorts our understanding of consent?

It appears as though on the whole, instead of harnessing this period as a time for introspection, the IFC suspension became an inconvenience waiting to pass. I heard groans about not having parties to attend. Even I became increasingly agitated waiting for Greek life to return to normal.

But then I recall what brought this on. I think about the girls whose lives have been disrupted and, in many cases, ruined by the sexual assaults they have experienced.

I even remember that I have been complicit in this system. My words become mired in socially unconscious terminology, talking about wanting to mix within other “tiers,” as if girls are any more or less worthy of respect based on an arbitrary rush process. Even coming up with mixer themes that place women in self-degrading positions was something I considered. Though girls should dress however they want, they shouldn’t feel compelled to do so by a sexist themed party.

Upon my fraternity’s executive council elections, I was appointed to be “Sorority Relations Chair.” At first, this prospect excited me. I love talking to girls and scheduling parties. It felt as if there was nothing more fitting. Although I’m enthusiastic to take on this role and help our fraternity get to know new people, I’m a hypocrite and I submit myself to exploitation. I have zero sexual intentions with any of the girls, and I am lucky to be part of a fraternity with many brothers who feel similarly. However, I recognize that, in most fraternities, this would not be a situation; when unchecked, they become bastions of objectification that festers into assault.

It’s time to scrutinize the roles we seem inclined to put women in. Disallow complacency and speak up in every situation. Perhaps then Greek life can return safer and more accommodating than its previous incarnation. 

Joel Danilewitz can be reached at joeldan@umich.edu

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