College Fraternities, Vandalism, and Social Justice

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3 years ago

At my school there is a campaign amongst some students to ban Greek Life, or at the very least male fraternities, from campus. This is not only happening at one or two schools - at this point it is a national movement and news stories can be found of bills in state legislatures, student assembly decisions, and vandalism all in the name of removing the scourge of Greek Life from American higher education.

This article is inspired primarily by two recent events. First, there was a campaign at Harvard to ban "single-sex organizations", which I view as sort of an opening volley in this debate. Second, at my school there have been numerous instances of vandalism against fraternities, and certain activists defending that vandalism.

The justification for these actions and proposed bans is that fraternities are havens for crime - in particular, drug use, alcohol use, and sexual assault. As for drug use, I could (and will...) write an entire article about why drug legalization is a much better policy than throwing people in jail for decades for only hurting themselves. For now I'll just say that prison almost always hurts a person much more than drug use does, especially for drugs like marijuana. When it comes to alcohol, drinking happens everywhere, not just in fraternities or sororities. Alcohol is so easily obtainable in college that there no real way to stop it. People will just go off campus, drink in their rooms with friends, drink in common rooms with friends, or even find rooms in academic buildings to drink with friends. I have seen this all happen despite the fact that alcohol is illegal in the US for anyone under the age of 21 (the drinking age should be lowered to 19 in my opinion, but that is yet another article). Sexual assault is a horrible crime, but there is evidence that it is actually less common on College campuses than in society as a whole. As with most crimes, the solution is education about why it is wrong, prosecuting those who commit the crime anyway, and trying to help people protect themselves with report systems and emergency numbers. If rapists are in a group they would almost certainly be rapists regardless of the group they are part of. It is rare that a group can make a rapist out of somebody who had been pure of heart before they joined.

From any sort of vaguely pragmatic view banning fraternities makes no sense whatsoever. First off, unless an authoritarian government comes in to ban social fraternities in the US as a whole, banning fraternities from a university only forces them off campus. At many Colleges, this will lead them to essentially (or even literally) move across the street from campus. At my school there is a house used every weekend for fraternity parties that is literally connected to our campus by a crosswalk. So what has been accomplished in that case? All that will happen is that now the campus police and University Conduct Code will have no control over what happens there. If anything, it puts people at more risk.

The idea of banning fraternities is based on the odd assumption that reforming them is impossible. This goes back to an old debate - "Reform or Revolution?". I for one am firmly in the reform camp. The fact that many radicals on college campuses, including Anarchists, Communists, and SJWs, are in favor of banning them entirely illustrates this conflict. Some of these activists add identity politics to the mix, only advocating for banning the traditionally/majority white fraternities. Although there are times when revolution or abolition of groups may be necessary - the French and American Revolutions come to mind - that should only be the case when efforts for reform are entirely suppressed. For example if political speech is banned or otherwise violently suppressed.

When it comes to things like a fraternity though, reform is clearly the better option. Is there anything inherently evil about a group of people getting together and bonding over shared values or holding parties? I would hope we all agree that there is not. Given that there is no inherent problem with fraternal organizations, abolishing them is unjust. Not to mention, reform almost always has a significantly higher chance of success than trying to totally overthrow a system.

The problem of some specific groups having toxic cultures and tendencies should be solved by addressing the actual problems, not banning the groups as a whole. For example, universities can ban hazing and create rules, regulations, and punishments to ensure that changes actually take place. If a specific organization has a cultural problem, than that particular one could be sanctioned or banned. Ironically an all-out ban would lead to these groups simply gathering informally and/or at a different location where such rules, regulations, and punishments would not apply.

These are just some quick thoughts on this issue for tonight and it is quite likely that I will revisit this issue when some new scandal arises. Ultimately, I believe that most of the people who want to ban fraternities have their hearts in the right place, but very few actually understand the consequences of such actions and how the problems they see in fraternity culture would simply continue despite any ban. I think it is also worth mentioning that these bans and reforms are often suggested by people who have no understanding of the varied types of Greek Life, including music, social, honor, and services fraternities. Let's also not forget false scandals at Fraternities like the thoroughly debunked UVA Rape Scandal. Finally, some people only want to ban male fraternities, indicating a degree of hostility towards traditionally masculine behaving males, and seem to ignore issues that might be more unique to sororities. Greek Life should not be banned - it just doesn't solve the actual problems.

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