This column is part of the Up For Discussion on Greek life at Yale. View the other columns in the discussion here.
Greek life has long been identified as part of the problem of sexual violence on college campuses.
When I was an undergraduate in the early 1990s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, no one had to tell me that frat parties were sexually dangerous places. We all knew which fraternities were particularly notorious for predatory behavior. When organizing our Take Back the Night marches, we always made sure to march down “Fraternity Row” and to linger in front of the houses that were rumored to have a rapist or two inside.
Like so many who read the Rolling Stone article about rape at UVA, the story did not surprise me. In fact, it is difficult to ignore that the Greek lifestyle, especially the “housed Greek life,” poses a range of risks for college students, from rape to alcohol abuse.
Experts argue that large-scale parties at fraternity houses, fueled by alcohol, are the ideal setting for sexual assaults. One study found that fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses, and that women in sororities are 74 percent more likely to experience rape than other college women.
While these studies focus on national Greek organizations and their applicability to Yale’s campus can be debated, there is still reason for concern. In 2010, pledges of the Yale chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon marched through Old Campus chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal!” Nonetheless, I do not want to over-generalize.
Yale has 12 fraternities and sororities, comprising only 10 percent of the student body. Moreover, we know that not all fraternities are sexually dangerous. Traditionally African-American fraternities, gender-inclusive fraternities, multicultural fraternities and academic fraternities do not fall into the category of groups that are sexually dangerous.
Thus, we might ask what can be learned from fraternities that achieve a safe environment. It seems to make a difference when they are racially diverse and co-ed.
We also know that the problem of sexual violence on our campus extends well beyond Greek life. On many campuses, much effort has been put forward to change the parts of Greek culture that make their parties unsafe for all students.
Universities are taking a range of actions from forcing frats to go co-ed (Wesleyan) to requiring fraternities to commit to a variety of safety measures. According to UVA, the new regulations “seek to achieve a safe environment at fraternity events by addressing high-risk drinking, sexual misconduct and unhealthy power structures.”
While Yale’s Greek system hardly compares to UVA’s, I suspect we can learn much by establishing our own baseline of safety for certain events on campus (such as screw and Spring Fling) where the overconsumption of alcohol and sexual misconduct create unsafe environments.
Crystal Feimster is an assistant professor of African-American Studies, American Studies and History. She is the author of “Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .