Content Warning: Sexual violence, domestic abuse
The past few weeks at the University of Connecticut, there has been an ongoing conversation regarding sexual violence, domestic abuse, the university’s treatment of survivors and many other aspects of this complicated issue. Conversations on the subject must include discussions of Greek Life, and the negative form in which it continues to exist on the college campus.
This is visible in a 2007 study published by John Foubert (author of “The Men’s and Women’s Programs Ending Rape through Peer Education” and founder and national president of One in Four) and his colleagues, Jerry Tatum and J.T. Newberry. Their study found fraternity men to be three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses. Moreover, The Guardian noted in 2014 that while one in five women will be sexually assaulted during the four years spent away at school, women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other women in college. Clearly, there is a problem here, and it’s one that lies in Greek Life as an institution.
Sexual assault is an endemic issue at UConn. In 2016, the school ranked first nationally for the most reported rape cases. A recent petition to ban UConn fraternities received more than 1,200 signatures after student protests last week in support of sexual assault survivors. Started by student group UConn Advocacy on Change.org, the petition asks UConn to ban any fraternity after one report of sexual assault or misconduct. The petition claims that while this is a problem across the nation, few colleges are working to stop fraternities because Greek Life makes money. And this claim is not unfounded, as fraternity and sorority alumni are four times more likely to donate to their university than non-affiliated peers. Thus, universities have a habit of valuing money and reputation more than the well-being of their students, and therefore no changes to Greek Life or campus safety in general are made.
While rape and other cases of sexual violence and misconduct on the college campus do not only occur at fraternities or otherwise within Greek life, it is more likely. This is largely due to the rape culture prevalent in Greek Life, such as ratio rules at parties. These violent practices exist within a larger abusive culture in Greek organizations featuring substance abuse and hazing, occasionally resulting in tragedy. Thus, the systems and overall shaping of Greek Life as they exist at UConn needs to change.
Banning Greek Life altogether may seem impossible, but it isn’t, and university regulation of fraternities and sororities is certainly possible. While Greek Life is very popular in college (in the 2019-2020 school year at UConn, sorority or fraternity membership represented about 13% of the student population), it is not a necessary part of the college experience. Moreover, other universities and colleges such as Swarthmore College, Colby University and Williams College have all formally ended Greek life in the wake of student activism. Other schools have responded to student protests and petitions following sexual assault at fraternities by shutting down chapters, such as at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln earlier this year. Doing so is as simple as banning the organizations by university administration, or stopping future recruitments. Students can also individually drop their fraternity or sorority if they refuse to acknowledge these issues.
Hence, there are things that can be done to control and lessen this issue; UConn just needs to step up and do so. And if Greek Life organizations are worried about their statuses on campus following the recent campus conversations regarding sexual violence, they should address their own issues head-on, rather than their fall back of sweeping things under the rug. Their existence may depend on it.