Do fraternities need reform in wake of deaths?

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What’s happening

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In the past several weeks, five young men have died in incidents related to college fraternities. Although the exact circumstances are unclear in some cases, each death involved a student who died either while in a fraternity house or after attending a frat party.

Some of the universities involved have taken action in response. San Diego State University suspended 14 fraternities after the death of 19-year-old Dylan Hernandez, who was found without a pulse in his dorm room after reportedly attending a fraternity event the night before. Penn State also suspended one of its frats following the school’s second fraternity-related death in the past two years. 

For decades fraternities have been, in the eyes of many, synonymous with a dangerous atmosphere rife with underage drinking, sexual assault and risky initiation rituals. Research suggests men involved in “Greek life” are more likely to commit rape. At least one person has died as a result of fraternity hazing each of the past 20 years. Some fraternities have also been criticized for fomenting a toxic culture and promoting racism

Why there’s debate

The spate of deaths and other incidents have reignited a longstanding debate about whether the fraternity system needs to be drastically changed — or even eliminated entirely. Attempts to reform Greek organizations have been going on for decades with little evidence of meaningful change, some argue, suggesting the best way to solve the problem is for universities to ban them. 

Others make the case that fraternities can be fixed without a major restructuring. Many fraternities and sororities have worked to change their cultures from within by promoting safe drinking practices, banning hazing and teaching members about appropriate sexual conduct. Legal pressure on fraternities and their members — such as laws making hazing a felony and the potential for financial liability — are seen as ways to force change on individual chapters that won’t adjust on their own. Three former Penn State fraternity brothers were sentenced to jail time in a hazing-related death earlier this year, though that was later reduced to house arrest.

What’s next

The circumstances surrounding some of the recent deaths, including the one at San Diego State, are still under investigation. If any of the deaths are found to be connected to hazing, fraternity members involved could face criminal charges. On Tuesday nine people were charged in connection to a death that occurred during an alleged hazing incident at Ohio University last year.

Perspectives

Fraternities have had the chance to change but failed

“The time for patient waiting for reform is over. If fraternities and sororities … cannot grasp the need to reject dangerous binge drinking and other hazing rituals, college officials must do what they can to keep students safe and boot those groups from campuses.” — Editorial, Toledo Blade

The culture of exclusivity in Greek life needs to be changed

“Bonds of friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood can be a powerful force for good. But in college Greek life they are tethered to exclusion, privilege and secrecy that too often yield bad results. Schools have to learn how to change the culture or consider moving on.” — Editorial, Columbus Dispatch

The benefits of fraternities can be had without the Greek system

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live in a house with your friends. There’s nothing wrong with male bonding and brotherhood. But you can do that without auditioning for exclusionary organizations that have, across the country, become synonymous with violence, hazing, entitlement and misogyny.” — Jill Filipovic, Guardian

All fraternities and sororities should be closed

“All Greek rows everywhere should be shut down. We’ve outgrown the system.” — Candy Harper, My Northwest

Fraternities can be a positive force in the lives of young men

“Eliminating all of them could deprive good people of important social resources that many schools otherwise do not provide. Women's, multicultural and LGBTQ centers admirably facilitate valuable opportunities for many students. However, college men -— whether racial minorities, LGBTQ, or straight and white — need supportive, inclusive communities, too.” — Alexandra Robbins, CNN

Greek organizations should allow both male and female members

“Greek life needs to change. In its current form, it fosters not just fun and friendship but also inequality. … Fraternities and sororities must make a number of changes to ensure their survival, starting with going coed.” — Kiley Roache, New York Times

Young people need to be given the tools to protect themselves and others before they leave for college

"We have too many people today who have not been taught limits. They think all will be fun and not any bad circumstances. … Look at the admissions scandal. Parents want to show their love by giving everything — everything but old-fashioned lessons in self-restraint." — Hank Nuwer, fraternity history expert, to Insider

Fraternities need to be part of the solution

“Changing the culture of Greek Life could have a huge reverberating impact on our culture-at-large — and in the wake of #MeToo, more of us than ever are ready and willing to facilitate radical structural changes to the systems which make sexual assault and harassment normal, ignorable and pervasive. Bringing #MeToo back to campus requires that fraternities invest in being part of the solution — and that we hold them accountable to that pledge.” — Veronica Irwin, Ms. magazine

Hazing needs to be treated as a crime, not a playful rite of passage

“Call hazing by its name. Call it what it is. Assault. Battery. Manslaughter. Murder. For many the word hazing connotes some kind of college prank. If any of these hazing incidents happened outside of a college context, they would be serious crimes.” — Walter Kimbrough, Nola.com

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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: via Facebook

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