The recent Rolling Stone article about the situation at the University of Virginia has brought the issue of sexual assault on college campuses back into the national spotlight. Despite Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s poor journalistic methods (she hardly attempted to seek a response from the men accused in her article of gang rape, she unnecessarily railed against UVA’s honor code and Jeffersonian heritage, etc.), she has rightly exposed the issue of sexual assault as something too frequently kept in the dark and something that must be addressed by college administrations across the country.
In the wake of the article, however, many have jumped to conclusions by claiming that Greek organizations are to blame for the spread of sexual violence in college communities. In fact, Erdely seems to imply that such “no-holds-barred misogyny” that was practiced by a few guys in one fraternity at UVA has now become the norm. Accordingly, many pundits have asserted that rape, objectification of women, drug-abuse and violence are now pillars of an exclusive and arrogant fraternity culture.
In an article by MSNBC journalist Ali Vitali published a few days after the Rolling Stone story, Vitali goes as far as to argue that it is time to ban fraternities and sororities nationwide.
Yes, ban them.
Keith Parsons of the Huffington Post agreed, arguing that “it is hard to see what place fraternities should have on 21st century campuses.” They both cite the misleading statistic that fraternity men are three times as likely to commit rape than non-fraternity men.
As scary as this statistic is, it does not surprise me. Sexual assaults are so frequently driven by the combination of alcohol and heavily concentrated men trying to prove their masculinity. Fraternity parties are only one vehicle for this combination to occur. If colleges were to somehow collectively ban Greek life nationwide, students would still congregate, alcohol would still be present and sexual predators would still exist.
Fraternity chapters that condone abusive behavior should obviously be severely penalized and the individuals involved should be prosecuted legally. The problem with the idea that rape is a part of Greek culture, however, is that many, and I would venture to say most, Greek chapters do not condone such behavior. More often than not, rape and sexual abuse is a delicate and individual issue that should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. After all, serial offenders commit 90% of all sexual assaults. To get to the bottom of sexual assault, universities should investigate these individuals and the small groups in which these individuals congregate, often smaller than whole Greek chapters.
In a clear concession to the growing fervor against Greek organizations, UVA President Theresa Sullivan rashly banned all fraternity activity on campus for the rest of the semester after the Rolling Stone article came out. UVA faculty is now trying to extend this ban to the end of the academic year and possibly further.
Instead of throwing the blame onto the entire Greek system, the university should work to weed out those individuals and specific chapters that are spreading the egregious rape culture on their campus. By making such a sweeping statement, Sullivan is taking the easy path so that the university appears to be doing something. Many will praise her for this action. But, by banning fraternities, brushing the dust off their knees, acting as if the problem is solved, colleges will only sweep the real issue under the rug yet again.
When it comes to sexual assault, fraternities are not the issue. People are.