The Airing of Grievances
Sunday, January 09, 2005
You've All Been On Double Secret Probation For The Past 25 Years
It seems that Dean Wormer may have lost the battle vs. the Deltas at Faber in 1961, he and his progeny are winning the war.
While the fraternity house and its bizarre behavior were for a long time looked at as harmless fun, in the post-pc environment on college campuses frats have made an easy and convenient target. Fraternities are all-male, seemingly anti-intellectual and (some are)mostly white societies which eat at the liberal craw of many in higher education. A rash of house closings and inhibitions on fraternity behavior has broken out around the country, and it has hampered fraternities so much that the lovable frat boy is now at best a punch-line and at worst an endangered species.
Have you seen this man lately? I think not.
The New York Times Magazine, forever 3 years behind the times, explores the war against fraternities in a long, but interesting article by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, a gay ex-frat boy who gave us NYTM's controversial look at teen hookups. Denizet-Lewis does a good job of tracking some of the absurd logic used to justify the persecution of the Frat Boy.
- That if you prevent college students, even if they are of age, from drinking in in frat houses, they are going to find a way to party and get hammered anyway.
- That statistics on the subject and the impact of the crackdown are laughable at best (My favorite is the Harvard Study that said in colleges with fraternities, binge drinking incidents at frats outnumbered those outside frats 2-1, ever hear of selection bias, chump? - I guess they've quit teaching statistics at the Yaaad).
- That, in direct opposition to their reputation, many fraternities in the 1990s and 2000s are some of the most integrated groups on college campuses.
- That early adult men are going to act like savages, with or without fraternities - however, in many cases, fraternities provide a positive outlet for some of that energy by focusing it on community service and the preservation of traditions.
He even throws in a pretty detailed history of the evolution of fraternities in the United States to boot.
I think, however, that Denizet-Lewis glazes over the most pertinent issue in the war on the Fratboy - insurance and liability lawsuits. Fraternity evens, although responsible for about 1% of alcohol related deaths on campuses, make a convenient target for lawyers as they are institutions sanctioned by the university, and in many cases hold assets in the form of property and endowments. Moreover, the affiliation to a university or college allows the plaintiffs in a case against a fraternity to name its sponsoring college or university as a co-defendant. Liability mitigation is the number one reason for university crack-down of fraternities, as opposed to limiting embarrassment in front of Mayor Carmine DePasto.
The question, then, comes down to, what is a fraternity to do if the what is a fraternity or a fratboy to do if the school is coming after them? While jacking up a 1961 Lincoln Continental and crashing a homecoming parade may have had great success in the past, it seems the answer today is, "Not much". Universities have control over the life-blood of most houses, financial aid money for housing. If the university cuts of the frat house, it's only a matter of time until they become insolvent and disappear completely.
Regardless, he does nail the issue at hand in his last paragraph:
For me, the ideal fraternity would somehow combine the strengths [several Northwestern fraternity chapters], it would stress integrity, character and leadership. But it would also be a place where fraternity boys are allowed to be fraternity boys, however unseemly and absurd their choices may appear to the rest of us. Without that, the redesigned American fraternity may be no more balanced than the one that was scrapped in the first place.Right. Couldn't have said it better myself.