On Feb. 19, the University of Wisconsin released a statement announcing the year-long suspension of the Theta Chi fraternity. The suspension comes as a consequence of three major code of conduct violations.
The first violation involved a high school girl who became incapacitated from alcohol consumption after attending a Theta Chi party and ended up going to detox. The girl’s friends also reported that she had Rohypnol in her system. The second incident involved a party that grew out of hand, at which the fraternity was found to be serving alcohol to an underage woman again. The third violation occurred when a Theta Chi member asked a woman to write “rush” and “Theta Chi” on her breasts and send him a photo.
In 2012, UW suspended Delta Upsilon fraternity after two women reported an incident of taunting by members of the fraternity. The women were walking on the fraternities property when members began yelling racial and class-oriented slurs, and one member threw a beer bottle at the women.
In 2015, UW terminated Chi Phi fraternity after reports of hazing rituals deemed to be “egregious in nature” and that “demonstrated severe organizational misconduct.”
In 2016, UW terminated Sigma Phi Epsilon following multiple conduct violations, including failure to follow protocol with serving alcohol and neglect of attendees at their parties who became highly incapacitated. A Cap Times article cited an incident in which the fraternity unfurled a banner that read “dump ‘em out,” encouraging women to expose their breasts.
It’s no secret that Greek life is known for its party culture, particularly at schools such as UW, where party culture permeates the campus. But the culture within fraternities moves beyond college kids getting a little too drunk — time and again, we see stories of fraternities allowing (requiring, rather) that pledges, members and outsiders to engage in dangerous, life-threatening behavior.
Additionally, one cannot overstate the rape culture within fraternities and gendered implications of many of these violations. Rape culture is rampant across all spaces on college campuses, with one in four women at UW experiencing sexual assault within their undergraduate career. But two individual studies have found men in fraternities commit sexual assault crimes at a rate three times higher than that of non-Greek affiliated men.
People join fraternities for all kinds of reasons. Many members cite the brotherhood and friendships they are able to build, the opportunities for philanthropy, leadership and resume building experiences and chapter alumni connections, which are invaluable in career development.
These aspects are indubitably positive, valuable and important. In 2014, the Virginia Tech Greek community raised more than $350,000 and logged more than 30,000 community service hours. Alumni of Greek life have impressive track records in their careers, with 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives having belonged to a fraternity. Those who have been involved in Greek life frequently cite the close relationships with their brothers and sisters they have developed as a result of joining the association.
But to put it lightly, the positive aspects of fraternities fall short of the negative impact they have on their communities. The philanthropy and camaraderie simply do not justify the oppressive, misogynistic and recalcitrant party culture.
There are many other ways to gain the benefits boasted by proponents of Greek life. Joining one of UW RecSports’ many athletic clubs offers the same opportunities for social events and development of friendships, and many clubs even partake in some kinds of service. UW has an alumni office that can help facilitate connections between recent graduates and alumni in relevant career fields. Badger Volunteers offers hundreds of ways to get involved in community service.
UW is home to more than 1,000 different Registered Student Organizations, which provide opportunities to foster relationships built on productive and valuable common interests. The fact that many students forgo these opportunities in favor of joining fraternities show these benefits aren’t actually the priorities of rushing. Once members can re-examine their motivations for joining, only then can the issue begin to be resolved. But for now, maybe we should encourage men to pursue their philanthropic goals without the distractions of drugs, alcohol and girls.
Cait Gibbons ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in Chinese and statistics.