It’s a weekend night at Delta Kappa Epsilon. The sound system is blasting country music and a pong table has been set up. But this evening, the guys have cleaned up. They’re clad in suits and ties rather than baseball jerseys emblazoned with “Bush” on the back. Sorority girls have been invited into the house, but they’ve brought guests: their fathers. After this sorority’s annual father–daughter dinner, the women and their fathers head to DKE for some beer pong and … networking.
This mixer is an opportunity for the men of DKE to charm the women’s fathers, many of whom work on Wall Street. They talk shop while the women stand to the side, watching. This scene, described to me by a former sorority member, is an all-too-literal manifestation of the exclusionary networking power of fraternities.
Much has been written about the impact of fraternities on campus culture. While these pieces have generated much-needed conversation on campus about how fraternities exclude women and gender nonbinary individuals, fewer conversations have centered around how this culture continues even after our time at Yale ends.
Fraternities sponsor both formal and informal networking events exclusive to their current members and alumni. Many fraternities have dedicated alumni groups on websites like LinkedIn. These groups provide a brotherhood for life: Simple Greek letters can instantly create a bond with a potential employer.
A fraternal affiliation links you to a plethora of powerful individuals. At Yale, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were famously DKE members. Throw other schools into the mix, and the list becomes even more expansive: Warren Buffett played pong in Alpha Sigma Phi at the University of Pennsylvania, Charles Koch mingled with the men of Beta Theta Phi and John F. Kennedy lazed on the porch of Phi Kappa Theta at Harvard. The list goes on.
This isn’t to say that networking culture is limited to fraternities. Many students join organizations at Yale for future employment opportunities. However, most other organizations that students join are centered around common interests rather than the vague, subjective notion of what a “brother” looks like.
On top of all that, most other organizations do not exclude prospective members solely on the basis of gender. In fraternities only certain students can access the opportunities offered. The implications of this are far-reaching. Fraternities export a culture of hypermasculine spaces to channels of power in a wide net of industries.
One might ask, “Don’t sororities perpetuate this same phenomenon?” While sororities can be exclusive in many ways — socioeconomic status, race, gender identity, etc. — women have been systemically excluded from male spaces throughout history. An oppressed group has the right to assemble based on their identity in a way that their oppressor does not.
In addition, sororities don’t have access to the same alumni bases that fraternities do. This has major implications for women once they make it into the workplace. The social atmosphere is imbued with remnants of fraternity culture, making it more difficult for nonmale people to network. For example, a family friend told me that the men at one law firm she used to work for went to strip clubs after work and flaunted it in front of her, knowing that she “couldn’t hang.” And women shouldn’t have to “hang” in these spaces just to form relationships with their coworkers and bosses that will help them become successful if it makes them uncomfortable.
The effects of networking culture in hypermasculine spaces range from exclusion to outright harassment and assault. Recent stories of sexual misconduct at Yale fraternities have brought to light what has been an open secret between women for years. The fact that brothers are not held accountable for these actions contributes to a culture of sexual harassment and assault that lingers beyond college. Fraternities are not the sole cause of these hostile environments. However, they contribute to the problem by producing global leaders socialized in places where women are viewed as party guests rather than peers.
There are data to back this up. A paper by Stephen Schmidt and Lewis Davis at Union College found that fraternity brothers were likely to have lower GPAs but had 36 percent higher future incomes by approximately. Many students who join fraternities already have socioeconomic advantages. However, these privileged members of society receive additional benefits later in life. The paper found no similar effect for sorority members.
This has frightening implications for current student efforts to disband or integrate fraternities. When many of the most powerful and generous alumni of a university are fraternity members, there is a strong incentive for the university not to sanction fraternities.
In addition, students continue to pay exorbitant dues partially in the hopes that they will reap it back through high-end connections. I’m tired of inclusion on Yale’s campus being sacrificed for the benefits of brotherhood. As long as change stagnates institutionally, and students continue to rush, fraternities will live on.
Ella Fanger is a first year in Benjamin Franklin College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .