Fraternities across the country — which have become somewhat infamous for spreading offensive messages about sexual assault — are now taking steps to reform their policies to join the nationwide push against the campus rape crisis.
This week, eight major fraternities announced that they will work together to develop training programs for their members on the subjects of binge drinking, hazing, and sexual misconduct. The initiative, which was spearheaded by the insurance company that covers campus fraternities, hopes to train college men on how to recognize and intervene in potentially harmful situations. The newly formed “Fraternal Health and Safety Initiative” consortium aims to reach an estimated 35,000 undergraduates during its first year.
CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress
Advocates have long argued that the students who participate in Greek life, who are statistically more likely to perpetrate sexual assault, need additional training that’s tailored specifically to them. While that’s become somewhat more common over the past several years, it’s still not prevalent across the country. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) recently conducted a national survey on college’s existing rape prevention policies and found that just 22 percent of respondents had programs targeted to fraternities and sororities.
Proponents hope that an institutionalized approach to alcohol abuse and sexual violence will help nudge the Greek system toward a culture shift at a time when many students see frats as the root of those problems on campus.
“If you think of the power of having all of these fraternities on a particular campus going through similar programming and similar messaging, it could definitely impact the culture on that campus fairly quickly,” Marc Mores, the executive vice president of James R. Favor & Company, which organized the effort, told the Associated Press. The insurance company is likely also hoping to save money by encouraging their clients to practice less risky behavior.
Some fraternities have recently made headlines for other policy changes intended to make similar changes to the prevailing culture. Wesleyan University — which has come under fire for the conduct of a frat on campus nicknamed the “Rape Factory” — just announced that all fraternities will be required to go co-ed within the next three years. The move is ostensibly intended to foster more “equity and inclusion” in the Greek system, but has widely been received as an effort to address the culture of misogyny that has contributed to an unsafe environment for many students on campus.
“Six years of hearing about high-risk drinking at fraternities and dealing with fallout from highly publicized incidents of sexual violence have had an effect,” college President Michael Roth wrote back in April. “Are fraternities at Wesleyan hostile environments? It was striking to everyone here when so many students said yes.”
Similarly, some fraternities are making a move away from pledging, which can infamously lead to hazing deaths in extreme circumstances. The second largest national fraternity in the United States, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, ended pledging this past March after being declared the “deadliest fraternity” in a Bloomberg News investigation. This week, fraternities at Dartmouth College voted to end pledging terms on campus.
“Greek leaders are mobilizing, trying to find changes they can make to their houses to make their spaces more safe and inclusive,” John Damianos, a Dartmouth student who’s active in sexual assault prevention efforts on campus, told ThinkProgress in an interview this week. “Dartmouth has been facing a lot of negative press in the past couple years about problems with alcohol and with sexual violence, focusing a lot on our Greek system… Now we’re seeing a shift in the dialogue.”
On the other hand, some advocates argue that it may not be worth preserving Greek life if the institution has perpetrated so much harm against students. “It’s time to talk about banning fraternities,” feminist writer Jessica Valenti argues in a column published in the Guardian on Wednesday. “When so much sexual violence is centered around one area of campus life, something has to be done.” Earlier this year, the Atlantic outlined several things that would have to happen in order to abolish the Greek system, including getting students to start boycotting frat parties.