In 1844, a group of Yale undergraduates met to design a secret handshake and a nifty pin. Their organization stated that its objectives included the cultivation of “Gentlemanly Dignity, Self-Respect, and Morality in All Circumstances.”
In 2010, outside the Yale Women’s Center, Yale Delta Kappa Epsilon brothers seemed to have forgotten their own principles. They chanted, “No means yes, yes means anal” and “My name is Jack. I’m a necrophiliac. I f— dead women and fill them with my semen.”
Today, we’re inundated by increasingly troubling revelations about DKE. Its former president has been suspended for “penetration without consent,” and more than a dozen women claim to have been assaulted at the frat. We have a duty to critically assess what’s going wrong at DKE, especially in the context of the current national conversation about sexual misconduct.
DKE has proven to be an unsafe place for women. The question arises: Why do the brothers at DKE demonstrate a pattern of sexual abuse? I suggest that it’s because the frat valorizes the idea of male control of social spaces and their power.
Men who sexually assault women are repugnant because they take a position of power that hasn’t been given to them. These college rapists disregard women’s humanity and take what they haven’t been granted out of a specious sense of superiority. That members of DKE treat women in a way that they’d never treat other men is thus a testament to how entrenched their belief in male power is.
DKE has asked for another chance to reform, but why do they think they deserve a third chance? Their request betrays little contrition but a good deal of their sense of privilege.
Victims of sexual assault at DKE have suggested that its recent promises to reform are merely PR stunts. This is spot on. After all, DKE could only make good on its second round of promises to reform by integrating women into the group or disintegrating.
Acting like the DKE problem could be solved by merely teaching the brothers to respect women is like trimming a weed instead of pulling out its roots. Imagine if all the DKE brothers miraculously became feminists. This is a confusing thought because it’s hard to imagine a true feminist being a DKE brother. What would motivate these “reformed” DKE brothers to participate in a fraternity, a male-only group committed to throwing parties in male-controlled spaces?
This question doesn’t just apply to DKE, though: It applies to all of Yale’s frats, even if they don’t currently face sexual misconduct charges. What motivates these groups to exist?
I have many friends in fraternities, and every frat star is not destined to become a rapist. The brothers of Yale have, however, acted unreflectively. They’ve tacitly invested social capital in a sexist ideology which often rears its ugly head in the form of sexual violence. The legitimacy of DKE is supported by every frat at Yale because the idea informing and defending the group — that men can, without moral blemish, come together with the sole purpose of controlling social space and social power — is the idea that supports the existence of all frats.
“But frats are good for campus life! They’re dedicated to forming healthy conceptions of male friendship and behavior, performing community service and having fun.”
Sure, frats perform a variety of positive services — but these seem more like acts of penance than expressions of vocation. If frats were about community service, why wouldn’t they just be community service groups — and admit women? If fraternities were just about making friends, then why don’t Yale’s center around common interests — or admit women? And surely men can demonstrate positive masculinity in ways that don’t involve social control or gender segregation.
Don’t fraternities only exist, then, to form a certain mystique around the male control of a physical space associated with social pleasures? Though most fraternities and their members don’t realize or don’t want to admit it, their reason for existence is social and sexist.
Thus, DKE should shut down, and, unless frats integrate, they should close their doors as well. The University should act: Alumni dollars don’t trump students’ well-being.
I’m personally moved to denounce fraternities out of a surprise that this opinion isn’t more mainstream and out of my family’s experience with violent crime. Regardless of political ideology, anyone committed to a very basic feminism should agree that fraternities have to go. I don’t wish to act like this is a novel idea, especially since I’m one man writing about this, and many women and groups on campus, such as Engender, have already forwarded this cause. I also don’t mean to imply that the problem of sexual assault will disappear with fraternities, nor do I avoid questions about sororities and intersectionality in frats out of mere disregard. I demure from these topics to avoid speaking beyond myself.
Still, I see no good reason at present to tolerate DKE or the fraternity system as a whole.
Luke Ciancarelli is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at email@example.com .