It’s the end of August, which means that college freshmen are leaving home for the first time and moving into their dorms. Their parents are nervous- which is understandable! Their kids are on their own. They don’t need any more added stress, like driving up to campus and seeing banners saying things like “Rowdy and Fun. Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time!” hanging from fraternity houses. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened at Old Dominion University just last week.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Wesleyan University has a fraternity known amongst the students as the Rape Factory. According to a lawsuit leveled by one student against the university, the administration was well aware of this fraternity’s reputation. To give you yet another example, a student who attended Tulane University tells of how girls would be warned about fraternities that were notorious for spiking girl’s drinks. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, police are investigating a fraternity after women were found labeled with red and black X’s on their hands, hospitalized with memory lapses from intoxication.
While some argue that fraternities promote brotherhood and friendship, I’ll argue they promote something different: rape culture. Pledges are urged to have sex with women, even those unwilling to do so. Pledges at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity at George Tech University received an email titled “In luring your rape bait.” Men are told that they must treat women as objects of sexual conquest, because that conquest is essential to proving manhood.
Not only do their actions, like calling themselves the “rape factory” and hanging insulting, sexist banners, promote rape culture, they are responsible for a lot of sexual assault that happens on college campuses. One report states that men who are in fraternities are more likely to rape than men who aren’t, and that frat boys may perpetrate 70 to 90% of college gang rapes. In a time when rape rates on college campuses are soaring, and colleges are struggling to fight these crimes (leaving out the ones who actively cover up rapes), fraternities are only making the situation worse.
This problem can’t be solved by telling women to protect themselves, or dress less provocatively. We have to change the conversation, and get men involved. We need to teach men not to rape. Instead of it being a woman’s issue, it has to also be a man’s issue. This is not to say there hasn’t been any effort. There have been successful campaigns, like the “Don’t Be That Guy” posters.
These are working. But they aren’t enough. This conversation needs to be more widespread. However difficult it may be, we have to seek to change frat culture. It will take time- these old, deeply ingrained beliefs about manhood and masculinity are a part of the problem. Colleges need to teach men that it doesn’t make you a “real man” if you take advantage of or assault a woman- it makes you weak. Ending rape culture on campuses and in society in general may be difficult, but we can start with fraternities.