Speak Out

Given their role in the conversation about sexual assault, should all-male fraternities be banned?

"Guyland" can perpetuate view of women as sex objects
By Peggy Reeves Sanday

During the last four decades of writing about acquaintance rape, I have not suggested that all-male fraternities be banned, believing that some (by no means all) young men need a same-sex place to mature as they transit from adolescence to adulthood. However, the fact that the rates of acquaintance rape and alcohol- or hazing-related deaths have remained the same suggests that fraternities are not taking the leadership that is so important to stem the tide of irresponsible behavior.  

Due to the seductive pulls of “guyland,” fraternity social life in some cases still evolves into a powder keg for alcohol abuse and sexual assault. This is made worse by the tendency for some all-male spaces to include females either as “little sisters” or as potential sex objects—in other words, second-class citizens. Sexual segregation in college fraternities tends to prevent a person of the opposite sex from being understood as someone to know and perhaps to love.  

Today’s world requires achieving an adult understanding of one’s sexuality and an ability to negotiate friendships and work relationships not only with the opposite sex but with those who choose same-sex relationships. For both men and women, sexual experience in college should be based on open discussion and agreement, as opposed to “getting drunk and going for it.” Sexual maturity can only be achieved in an atmosphere of sexual equality.  

Graduates must also face vast changes regarding sexual equity in the workplace. More women are working and holding positions of leadership; all students must be prepared for that reality.

If fraternities are to be permitted on college campuses, they must abandon the testosterone-infused culture of men dominating women. For starters, if national sororities and fraternities allowed co-ed housing on the local level, young people would have the opportunity to regard one another as equals rather than as sexual prey. Without steps like coed housing, all-male fraternities are likely to continue to provide a haven—and even a breeding ground—for unacceptable behavior.

Peggy Reeves Sanday is professor emeritus in the University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology. Her book Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus is a widely regarded contribution to the field of sexual assault prevention.

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Fraternities are valuable crucibles for leadership
By Pete Smithhisler

To remove all-male fraternities from college campuses would be to remove an essential resource and community that has helped men grow and become leaders for generations. Fraternities have never been more relevant to a generation of students than they are today.  

Membership in a fraternity helps young men identify their values, passions and interests. Fraternities also provide an environment that helps members establish personal and organizational goals and learn from mentors, friends and brothers.
Unfortunately, recent public discourse has been shaped by Hollywood stereotypes and media coverage that portray all fraternity members as out-of-control partiers, hell-bent on criminal activity and destruction. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are nearly 400,000 fraternity men at U.S. universities and colleges today, and the vast majority are proving themselves to be leaders on their campuses and in their communities. These men collectively raise tens of millions of dollars each year for charity. They volunteer millions of hours annually to serve their communities. They achieve higher grade-point averages and graduate at a higher rate than their at-large counterparts.

Evidence shows fraternity members are more successful after college as well. They not only fare better in their careers, but also are more likely to thrive in other facets of life that affect well-being. The Gallup-Purdue index, a survey of 30,000 university graduates of all ages taken in April 2014, illustrates the correlation between membership in a fraternity or sorority and higher levels of satisfaction in critical areas that promote lifelong success.

Belonging to a fraternity teaches men valuable skills in leadership, skills they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Yes, some fraternity members abuse the system and behave badly (as do some students at large), and those who do should be held accountable for their actions. But fraternities also provide the structure and support network to help reduce this behavior through continued education and strong mentorship from alumni and national headquarters.

When we strip away the misperceptions, the question should not be “Should all-male fraternities be banned?” but rather “How can colleges and universities work with fraternity leaders to improve the overall campus culture?”

Pete Smithhisler is president and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, which represents 74 member organizations, 5 million alumni and 800 campuses, advocating for enrichment, collaboration and growth among fraternities. He has worked with college students for more than 25 years.


AFT On Campus, Spring 2015 Download PDF (3.75 MB)
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