Vulnerable freshman girls victimized by frats

My legs are freezing.

My feet hurt.

My bra is too tight.

I am not, as you might have thought, walking on hot coals in Antarctica while wearing a training bra, but am in fact standing by a makeshift bar at one of Yale’s myriad fraternities. I’m a freshman, and the friends I came over with went upstairs to play beer pong, still a sport that’s completely beyond me. So I’m trying to make conversation with the bartender — a cute upperclassman dressed casually in khakis and a nice T-shirt. I feel overdressed, but all the other girls are wearing something slinky and a little bit fancy, too.

He won’t tell me what’s in the punch I’m drinking. But he does let me know who the other guys that live here are, where his bedroom is, and that they’re all juniors and seniors in the same fraternity. I can’t wait to move off campus so I can throw parties like this of my own. Oh well, at least there are frat parties for now — where nice, male, upperclassmen will hang out with me until they take me home (how do I get back to campus again?), tottering in my new heels.

This scene, all of which is true, and all of which I remember clearly from my freshman year at Yale, seems completely innocuous. However, here’s another way to look at it.

Parties with booze on Old Campus aren’t allowed — and even if they could host one, most freshmen wouldn’t be able to buy the alcohol. Most are only 18 or 19 and don’t have fake IDs.

Fraternities are all-male organizations that usually own the houses in which their members live. They advertise their parties almost exclusively on Old Campus. The posters publicize outlandish themes and require — or at least strongly encourage — a certain mode of dress. Their unwritten offer is free booze without the barrier of a valid ID in exchange for eye candy, and maybe more. (I should note that Yale does not publicly release the number or location of rapes that occur off-campus every year.)

Frat parties make up the majority of parties that are on a freshman’s radar. They are not regulated explicitly in the University’s rules, and in the face of increasing restrictions elsewhere, they have become an ever more appealing option for underage drinkers. Let me be more explicit. Frat parties, to my understanding, are put together by an organization of male upperclassmen who target younger women. As a freshman, I thought frat parties were just one more option for a Saturday night. I didn’t even notice that — at least on Old Campus, and especially to freshman women — they are the only option so heavily advertised and so seemingly all-inclusive.

The availability of alcohol may be what lures people to these parties, but alcohol is not the reason for the atmosphere brought to mind by the words “frat party.” The houses and fraternity chapters we see at Yale are only the fingernail of a much larger beast. Fraternities can operate the way they do — throwing large parties despite the threat of new Connecticut laws and providing the location for those large parties — because they are fueled by a network of wealthy, well-connected alumni and current brothers. Their scale and scope put them in a unique position of power.

A fraternity’s existence is not reliant on the University or even on its Yale chapter. Its national scale ensures that any changes initiated by current chapters at Yale will be short-lived. A fraternity’s bylaws, code of ethics and the majority of its members exist outside of Yale. The administration must step in and create a clear set of regulations specific to the conduct of fraternities and it must also provide a realistic alternative Saturday night scenario. If not, fraternities will continue to operate in the same way, and the young women of Yale will, once more, find themselves with seemingly limited possibilities on the weekends.

Hannah Burnett is a senior in Trumbull College.


  • alumnus

    This is a ridiculous opinion piece that is a waste of space in the paper and a bigger waste of time to read. Does Ms. Burnett think she has uncovered some information here that was previously unknown? Yes, Fraternity parties are for drinking and they are for guys to try to hook up with girls. It takes but one solitary visit to one single fraternity party to know this fact. Last time I checked, no one forces freshman girls to go to these parties, no one forces them to drink at these parties, and certainly no one forces them to get drunk at these parties and do things they may regret when they sober up. If girls don't want to be noticed at these parties, why do they dress in slinky clothing, drink (sometimes excessively), and flirt? If you don't like what goes on at these parties, simply don't go. And certainly don't make it seem like these fraternities, with their well-connected alumni, have the sole agenda of forcing freshman girls to do things they don't want to do.

  • ForYale

    You're coming to get the free booze without the barrier of a valid ID. Anyone at a frat party can do this, including a guy. There is no onus upon you to provide eye candy or sexual favors. You could come wearing a conservative skirt, comfortable flats, or something that didn't reveal half of your chest. You'd still get the alcohol. You could still dance. You could still play beer pong. What you wouldn't get is the attention from guys. But what did you do? You dressed up nicely to play the little game that frat-party-attending girls always play - compete with the other girls for the attention of every guy in the room.

  • Anonymous

    Goodness! As a helpless little thing without any autonomy of my own, I sure do appreciate that someone out there is looking out for my best interests. Just think how many students go to these parties and think they're having a good time with their friends and fellow Yalies - they probably don't even know they're being victimized! Does the author have any other suggestions for ways that Yale could protect me and my impressionable young mind??

  • Anonymous

    So, it's the frats' fault that freshman girls want to go their parties?
    Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

  • lamb chop

    Good God! The editorials in this paper are getting so bad that I don't even know if this is a satire or not. Why was this printed?

    "As a freshman, I thought frat parties were just one more option for a Saturday night. I didn’t even notice that — at least on Old Campus, and especially to freshman women — they are the only option so heavily advertised and so seemingly all-inclusive."

    What a confused sentence--and what a confused person. Yale is not in the business of regulating social life. Thankfully, that ended a long time ago. No matter who you are, you are always going to feel vulnerable or threatened or uneasy in certain places.

    Someone needs to start writing editorials about how Yale should choose our friends for us--and maybe they could like create an Excel spreadsheet to make sure that there is a normal distribution of races, prejudices, income brackets…

  • Anonymous

    Ms Burnette -

    I found your column most distressing. Why were you not grateful for the attention of upperclassmen?

    Dammit all, woman. There was a day when men held doors open - when women couldn't read - when all were happy. Why must you and your band of so-called "feminists" spoil what remains of the patriarchy?

    Please. Just tell me. I beg of you.

  • Frat boy

    Oh my … oh my.

    Will you blame The Commons staff when you pack on 10 pounds? Or maybe you should just eat better.

    If you object to the practice, don't go. You can't go to the party, drink the drinks and then say it's wrong! You are part of the "problem" you are ripping because you walked through the door and drank the punch. (Why would someone who is so "smart" take a drink from a stranger and not know what's in it?)

    When you do move off campus and through your own parties, I hope you ask everyone for ID at the door. Until then, stay home.

  • M Landau

    As an alumnus of Yale (SM '07) and a member of Sigma Chi, I was very disturbed upon seeing the infamous "We Love Sluts" photograph. Such behavior is extremely offensive and, in my opinion, inexcusable.

    At the same time, however, Ms. Burnett's article runs to the opposite extreme. Several of her statements are broad generalizations which, I feel necessary to point out, are simply factually wrong.

    For example, Ms. Burnett writes that fraternities are tied into larger networks of wealth. While this is certainly true for many chapters on campus and for most fraternities as national organizations, Sigma Chi at Yale counts among its members an extremely diverse group of young men, many of whom are first generation immigrants to the United States and others who have grown up without any access to wealth whatsoever. I will always remember, for example, when a friend from Sigma Chi told me about the first day his father -- a mechanic -- put on a shirt and tie to go to work. Or when I learned that the parents of one of my closest friends at Sigma Chi had been blacklisted for several years in their country and that he had attended secondary school abroad to escape civil war and NATO bombing at home. I myself am a former campus activist, an aspiring graduate student, and a union organizer -- at my last job, organizing home daycare providers in New York City, I earned approximately $210/week. Ironically, another brother in Sigma Chi is a co-founder of Yale Men Against Rape. Ms. Burnett would have done well to speak to at least a handful of fraternity members before setting pen to paper -- because it is painfully obvious from her article that she must have few, if any, friends or acquaintances involved in fraternities on campus, and probably none in Sigma Chi (which, I should also note, is among the most diverse organizations on campus after the International Students Organization; at last count, our members' nationalities included American, Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, Bulgarian, Turkish, German, Swiss, English, Serbian, Mexican, Peruvian, Israeli, among others).

    Those of you who read this and know me will, I hope, understand my comments. Most people are surprised when I tell them that I was in a fraternity in college -- but why shouldn't I have been? Ms. Burnett should ask more questions and make fewer judgments; she has alienated more than a handful of sympathetic fraternity members and potential allies. It is not too late, however, for all parties to come together, set the record straight, and work to create an environment on campus in which women are always treated with respect -- in class, in the colleges, at parties, and everywhere else. I hope the Women's Center will adopt a cooperative, rather than antagonistic, attitude in working toward this goal.

  • Alumnus

    As a former social chair of a fraternity, I can say with absolute certainty that Ms. Burnett's article is absolutely ludicrous on all points.

    Firstly, fraternity parties are advertised on old campus infrequently at the start of the year for recruitment purposes for the brotherhood. This has NOTHING to do with freshman girls. It has to do with getting young men to a respective house, talking to the brothers, and possibly rushing.

    Secondly, fraternity parties are advertised to everyone and are for everyone. That upperclassmen will have other opportunities to go to other parties is irrelevant. That freshman come to the parties is also irrelevant. Fraternities are offering a venue, at great risk (you would be surprised how many times things are broken, or stolen from brothers who live in the house), for the Yale community to have a good time.

  • Anonymous

    Utter nonsense!
    Were you ever forced to go to any of these parties?
    Geez what ever happened to personal responsibility in America?

  • Yale Senior

    While I think this article is poorly written/argued, I don't think this issue is that innocuous. Frats do advertise parties vigorously on old campus, and they throw themed parties that encourage girls to dress like complete sluts? Pajama parties? Catholic schoolgirls? Isn't there enough pressure already?

    Plus, all you commenters are using the same argument, one that misogynists have been using for years. If a woman dresses in x way, or behaves in x way (maybe she'd under the influence, perhaps?) she's asking for it.

    NO WOMAN is EVER asking to be sexually harassed and it's time that that argument stopped being made and MEN started taking some responsibility for their actions!

  • Anon

    If feminists want women to be equal with men, they must accept the same personal responsibility as men.

  • M Landau

    I'm sorry, but all of you guys pulling out the "personal responsibility" line are absolutely, 100% wrong. As I said before, I was in a fraternity at Yale, and I would NEVER adopt the logic which many men on this list seem to have taken up.

    Women at Yale should feel free to dress and behave however they would like -- and should absolutely, always have the right to say, "F*ck off," to any guy providing unwanted attention. An attractive girl dressed in a revealing fashion will of course draw attention -- it's quite possible she wants the attention -- but this does not mean that she is "asking for it" or that she does not have the right to tell guys (or girls, for that matter) to take a hike. Guys need to do more to understand the ways in which they often put girls -- especially younger girls -- under pressure and make them feel like they can't say "No" or "Screw off" or whatever the occasion calls for.

    At the same time, I think that those of you from the Women's Center reading this would a) do well to realize that in many cases guys might not be aware of the pressure which their behavior can place on younger women whom they meet at parties, etc.; and b) that rape, victimization, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and mistreatment of women in general are not the exclusive domain of fraternities and fraternity members. If we focus exclusively on fraternities and fraternity members in this discussion -- which is precisely what Ms. Burnett has done in her article -- we risk losing sight of the fact that mistreatment of women is a systemic problem, ingrained in our culture, and abuses such as rape can occur anywhere and be perpetrated by anyone, including by men who self-describe as feminists. Discussion of rape used to be limited to violent incidents, but today we also include in the discussion date and acquaintance rape; in the same way, I think we need to rethink our understanding of the places in which rape (and general mistreatment of women) occurs, and the men by which it is perpetrated, to go beyond the fraternities and also include other places and other men. Otherwise we risk scapegoating fraternities and fraternity men and, in the process, overlooking other sources of mistreatment of women on campus. Athletes and frat guys are not necessarily sexists, just as "hipsters," activists and self-described feminists do not necessarily exhibit in their behavior the ideals of gender equality which they profess.

  • Cynthia W

    It is excruciatingly worrying, both that the women are described in this column as vulnerable victims (a self-fulfilling prophecy, I fear) and that the members of these fraternities do not see the intrinsic danger in creating SUCH an environment.

    That 'poor, little' freshman 'girl' has no-one rooting for her except, even more ludicrously, herself.

  • br2007

    Why does nearly every U.S. or Yale policy suggestion on the YDN opinion page require some central body to heavily regulate everybody's behavior? Is the assumption that no one at Yale, or more generally in society, has the intelligence or will to govern their own behavior? If frats were walking around kidnapping women, that would be very different. However, it would appear that many students are exceedingly eager to get into some frat parties, so much so that they wait in line or pay to get in.

  • Justin Bowen

    I was optimistic and surprised when I read the first several comments about this atrocious editorial. Unfortunately, I was soon ushered back into reality as I read several comments about the woman's right to dress as revealingly as she wanted while still having the right to expect not to be harassed or raped.

    I believe that it was Dave Chappelle who made the most sense about this subject. It's true that women have the right to dress any way that the want and still expect to be treated as women. It's true. But, it's confusing as hell. It's also ignorant as hell. I have the right to walk around in public in a Ku Klux Klan costume and not be assaulted. I have that right. I would be stupid to expect that. Likewise, a woman who dressed up in revealing clothing went to a party with a bunch of drunk and horny frat boys had the right to do so without without the expectation of being harassed or assaulted. She has that right. But she would be stupid to expect that that wouldn't happen.

    At some point, all of you people who feel that you are intellectually superior to everyone else need to take your heads out of the clouds and realize that you are in fact responsible for how you portray yourself. You need to realize that there are people who, when seeing your breasts popping out of the top of your turtle-neck, are going to assume that you have no respect for yourself or don't care what happens to yourself. Is it really worth it to prove that you have the right to be as ignorant of reality when you've been raped, harassed, or assaulted? Is it really worth it to you to prove that other people don't value your safety as much as you do? I'm so tired of the "I have the right to do what I want" attitude that you women have. Guess what? It's 2008. Stop being a victim and start being proactive. There's a woman running for the presidency of the US. The time for ignoring reality is over. Get into the real world where people are responsible for the bad choices that they make.

  • thiskidsucks

    What a douche.