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.