This column is part of the Up For Discussion on Greek life at Yale. View the other columns in the discussion here.
When people think of fraternities, one image that comes to mind is a group of guys wearing a uniform of neon tank tops and American flag shorts who throw rowdy parties with kegs and loud music in dark basements. Thanks to recent headlines, people now also immediately associate fraternities with sexual assault and, consequently, many want fraternities banned.
I sympathize with their outrage. However, as a member of a fraternity, I am both sad and frustrated that this has become the perception of my group. I am sad because, as a Communication and Consent Educator, I see that fraternities are capable of being excellent places to combat misogyny and sexual violence, despite many chapters contributing to those problems. It frustrates me that so many fraternities have contributed to dysfunctional and unsafe environments for so long that very few people see this possibility anymore.
Fraternities are social groups that are meant to develop their members into adults of high integrity. At least that’s what they’re supposed to do. As groups with social power, fraternities need to constantly assess how they impact their communities. How can an all-male social organization make its house feel like one of the safest places on campus without being patriarchal? What sorts of events can a fraternity host that will be safe and fun for everyone? How does the group ensure that it will consistently uphold values of respect through graduation cycles? How does a fraternity hold itself responsible for upholding its standards? I don’t have clear-cut, neat answers to all these questions, but we’re working on them.
Fraternities throw parties, they provide space for friends to hang out and, above all, they form incredibly strong bonds among brothers who share common core values. With these bonds, brothers more readily make themselves vulnerable to each other when talking about issues of gender equality and sexual assault than they would with most anyone else. That closeness and trust enables a constructive dialogue about these topics. Some of the best bystander intervention discussions I’ve led as a CCE have been with fraternities — a program that fraternities solicited!
Beyond the bare minimum of ensuring safety and respect, members of Greek life — because this goes for sororities too — can talk comfortably about their desires and have highly sex-positive discussions that contribute to their development into healthy adults. On the whole, these conversations need to happen not just within fraternities, but in other spaces across Yale.
Vince Kennedy is a junior in Berkeley College. He is a CCE and a brother of Chi Psi. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.