February 7, 2016

EDITORIAL: Re-Examining the Greek System

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Since a female student reported being sexually assaulted at the Psi Upsilon Fraternity on Jan. 31, Cornell has placed the fraternity on interim suspension and police have charged fraternity president Wolfgang Ballinger ’17 with three sexual assault charges. While the Cornell administration and the Interfraternity Council are taking commendable steps to address this incident by mandating additional training, respectively, we believe these are only stopgap measures. The fraternity system must take stronger, preventative actions to address institutional and social structures that enable fraternity members to commit unacceptable behaviors, such as sexual assault.

The structure of fraternity life can preempt effective reflection and action on the issue of sexual assault. The bonds of brotherhood — often cited as a crucial benefit provided by fraternities — can create social conformity and exclusivity. As a vehicle of hegemony, brotherhood can promote groupthink, creating a social environment where sexual assault may become allowable behavior. Fraternity members are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than other college men, according to two longitudinal studies from 2005 and 2007. Specific aspects of fraternity life may uniquely predispose brothers towards less acceptable behavior, and strong measures must be taken to address and combat those structures.

Two years ago, the IFC began requiring every chapter to receive alcohol education, consent education and bystander intervention training, according to IFC President Blake Brown ’17. Immediately following Psi Upsilon’s interim suspension, the IFC mandated further training. However, sexual assault remains a large, unresolved issue on this campus, and such training does not fully eradicate institutional structures and social norms — including misogyny and a lack of diversity — that may allow sexual assault.

Rather than focusing on these reactive measures, the fraternity system must critically examine its place on the Cornell campus. That Ballinger is the elected president of a high-profile fraternity and that the sexual assault reportedly occurred at the fraternity house illuminates the role the Greek system plays in enabling fraternity brothers to commit such crimes. While sexual assault is not a fraternity-specific problem, it is time for the Greek system to show it actually promotes “fraternity for everyone” — men, women, Greek and non-Greek — by addressing many of the problems within the system.

  • Student A

    Date is incorrect in first sentence.

  • Poorly Done

    The IFC mandated such training prior to the sexual assault’s announcement; the Sun just chose to publicize it as a reactionary measure. Secondly, this editorial is vague, grammatically poor, and of zero value add.

  • Fraternity Alumni President

    “the fraternity system must critically examine its place on the Cornell campus.” This sentence implies that fraternities have not been re-examining their place. To the contrary, each fraternity examines its mission and role each year. Unlike the Cornell Sun, each fraternity has faces an annual market test when it must recruit new members. If fraternities cannot offer value to prospective members and fail to maintain the confidence of their national organizations and alumni, they cease to exist.

    For 150 years, Cornell has struggled with the sexual conduct of its students, whether they reside in boarding houses, dorms or small living units. We must be careful to separate individual misconduct from group actions. Would the Sun publish the same editorial if the indicent happened at a sorority or at a freshman dorm?

    • Sorority Member

      Yes, the Sun would publish a similar editorial if the incident happened at a sorority or at a freshman dorm. You mention the need to separate individual misconduct rom group actions; just because this has been the only incident reported and widely discussed does not mean it is the only incident that has occurred. While I understand that current fraternity members and fraternity alumni feel offended by potentially sweeping generalizations that frat boys are more likely to sexually assault, please assess the statistics before you take personal offense. According to national studies, it IS more likely that fraternity members will commit sexual offenses than other college-age men. While there could be many attributing factors, the author of this article postulated a reasonable suggestion: groupthink, also colloquially known as “mob mentality,” that in groups, members opinions’ become polarized. This can be true in any organization, not just in fraternities.

      Instead of taking personal offense, maybe invoke more effort to show that the stereotype can be proven wrong or disbanded: create initiatives to educate young fraternity members about the essentiality of consent and the dangers of blurred lines with alcohol at parties.

      • Sunshine

        First off, Fraternity Alumni President at no point expressed that he was offended. Trying to dismiss his arguments on those grounds is condescending and incorrect. Secondly, I have not seen any convincing studies that show rape is more common among fraternity members than GDIs. The two studies cited in this editorial are jokes. One is about the effectiveness of rape prevention programs in fraternity populations. It never attempted to identify if fraternity members are more likely to commit sexual assaults than GDIs. I don’t have a sign in for Journal of Interpersonal Violence, but it is a Sage Journal which should always be viewed with a large grain of salt. Sage just takes advantage of CV padding post docs. They will publish almost anything (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who%27s_Afraid_of_Peer_Review%3F). Sage did reform their peer review system on account of these types of incidents, but those reforms took place after the study in question was published.

        While I think “offended” may be an inappropriate way to describe how many in the Greek community are feeling, “frustrated” fits just fine. There are, “initiatives to educate young fraternity members about the essentiality of consent and the dangers of blurred lines with alcohol at parties” already in place. The study from 2005 even said such programs are effective. But regardless of any improvement made, all it takes is one incident and everyone jumps in to try and attack the Greek System. There certainly may be a problem, but you cannot reasonably extrapolate this one incident as proof that there is a widespread issue. Yet you do this anyway and reinforce stereotypes in the process. And to insult to injury, you blame fraternities for not doing enough to fight a stereotype that you yourself reinforced.

  • Anon

    Poorly written reactionary article further devalued by its blatantly forced narrative.

    • George Valtom

      ….I’m not hearing a counter-argument.

      • Sunshine

        Calling it reactionary is a counter argument. The entire value of this editorial rests on the question of Ballinger’s guilt. I’m not speculating one way or the other, but if he is found not guilty this editorial will be viewed as an embarrassment. This shows the true purpose of the editorial was for The Sun to be seen publicly condemning Greek life, rather than as an attempt to contribute anything useful to the dialogue. Or in other words, reactionary.

  • Anon

    When you put over 14 thousand sexually active and inexperienced young adults in one place with no supervision, the likely hood of sexual assualt understandably rises. It’s a college problem, and it happens at higher than normal rates at pretty much every university in America. Trying to use Fraternities as an end-all-be-all scapegoat for sexual assault seems like an easy way to ignore the bigger picture and write headlines.

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  • Anon

    Somebody didn’t get a bid!

    • George Valtom

      Thank you for your insightful and illuminating contribution.

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  • Anonymous

    Generalizing sexual assault glazes over harsh realities that many at our university face. By arguing that ‘it happens everywhere’ is no reason to accept it as a given or a constant. We have to support sexual assault victims, not let them think they are chance victims of a normalized coercive institution.
    Seeking to distract the argument from the affect Fraternities and all male groups have on individuals leaves out the’ personal incentive’ the accused may have connected to committing the crime. Why is it that fraternity men are 3x more likely to commit sexual assault and statistically more likely to believe coercive sex is acceptable?
    The fraternity system was initially begun by men who wanted to preserve their threatened masculinity from the more influential and independent women who were getting jobs out of the house. Even the Boy Scouts of America has it’s roots in a similar system where the Scoutleaders attempted to re-socialize the ‘feminine’ boys by getting them out of the household, away from their mothers, and into the perceived masculine, wild, environment to ‘toughen’ them up.
    Today, that system still holds true. As an Eagle Scout, I can affirm that gender plays an enormous role in the socialization of Boy Scouts. Because of this, LGBT community members still cannot be Scoutmasters, and anyone but a Christian would have great difficulty obtaining the rank of Eagle itself.
    Fraternities, Athletic teams, gaming sites, and any male dominated/exclusive group are havens for men actively performing their gender roles free from female influence. (Hyper)Masculinity has aspects of anti-women and sexual coercion embedded deep within its discourse. Studies have shown that men will inhibit their gender performances in the presence of feminine acquaintances and friends. The only reason this would be true is if what they were saying was verbally offensive to those performing a different gender.
    Fraternities have a problem where the recruits aren’t all that different from the members already in the club. Typically, the recruits already perform the ‘pro-sex’ masculine characteristic (meaning that having sex somehow makes you a better person in the eyes of other men), and they may already be performing the hyper masculine (anti-female, anti-LGBT, dominating, coercive sex is acceptable) gender role. The former characteristic is a partial explanation for why men (typically) don’t sexually reciprocate their partner’s needs and desires before, during, and after intercourse. Initially, college aged young men who partake in this gender expression have little interest in their partners needs and desires. Their only focus is on ‘nailing, drilling, screwing, fucking’ their female partner(s). Note the absence of an equivalent word for women dominating their partners.
    Not all Fraternities are plagued by that lack of gender diversity within the walls of their houses, but those who are lack the perspectives of the female and non-binary genders/experiences on campus. Removing the individual from the institution takes away all potential for future solutions to the campus-wide (and nation-wide) problem. What needs to be done now is break down much of the exclusive climate in the Greek Life institution, increase gender diversity, education, and awareness within the fraternity system, and somehow encourage or incentivize sororities to throw parties themselves– be that a bottom up challenge to the National Chapters or a top-down rule change.

  • concerned parent

    If fraternities fail to implement structural changes, insurance companies will fail to insure them. So, they can either do a few things on their own, or they can be shut down by insurance companies. Cornell should make sure that these groups are adequately insured because no doubt plaintiff’s attorneys can easily concoct a claim against Cornell as well. Among the many fraternity policies that could be implemented are requirements for security at events, where departing guests must state with whom they are leaving, where they are headed and that they possess the ability to consent. If security feels a departing guest isn’t sober, they can arrange for a car home. I assume that Uber has arrived in Ithaca.No reentry for people to head to their rooms. It should not matter whether these events are open or closed events. The frat is part of the Cornell community, and if they are putting Cornell’s reputation and finances at risk, Cornell needs to make and enforce some rules. Litigation is a significant personal threat as well; ask the Yalies who found themselves personally named when a brother driving a keg to a football game killed a young nurse when he lost control of the van he was driving. Every member was named personally, which could complicate background checks during job searches.

    Cornell should also take a closer look at why and when students are going Greek. Does it suggest a lack of vibrant social and cultural offerings? Are freshman dorms adequately serving students’ social needs? Are certain schools, such as the Hotel school, associated with significant fraternity misbehavior, so that academic demands should be increased (or their right to participate in fraternities curtailed)?Is University housing limited and inadequate? Are opportunities for social and philanthropic efforts available to everyone without regard to Greek affiliation? Is Cornell doing a bad job of assessing character during admissions so that red flags are ignored? Should rush be delayed until sophomore year so that Cornell identity and obligations to the Cornell community are more firmly embedded? Perhaps Cornell could implement a release to Greek life. In other words, by attending Cornell you would consent to allow Cornell to determine who is eligible for communal life based on first year dorm residence. Perhaps some people should not be placed in a position to influence other Cornell students, and if folks misbehave in the dorms, they are likely to be worse in a frat. Apartment living, and living pursuant to a landlord’s power to evict, may be what some young gentlemen need. Should strict GPA requirements be imposed, so that Greek life could be deemed to be a privilege, not a right? With a new President, this is the time to take a close and clear eyed look.

    Is Cornell also advising students of the legal risk they are taking by joining a fraternity? Does the University circulate and require acknowledgement of lawsuits, hazing and other legal risks posed by Greek membership? Has Cornell or any other institution investigated whether in fact membership provides the business benefits promised through membership? Because as someone who has done much hiring in my career, I have listened to many colleagues who say to avoid Greeks altogether, all apologies to President Garrett. These people believe Greek students lack seriousness and require too much R & R and more frequently lack imagination and do not always operate with the necessary discretion in a 21st Century workplace. They are used to living in highly homogenous environments that do not mirror the 21st Century workplace. The business benefits of Greek membership may be oversold in the 21st Century. What does the research say? Because the research that is cited in this article, that fraternity members are more likely to engage in sexual assault, does nothing to further the reputation of any or all Greek members. Greek members, if you care about your own reputation, you need to be watching and do a better job policing yourselves.

    As a parent, I wonder why colleges continue to allow the Greek system to operate in a business as usual mode. Cornell is somewhat beholden to the Greek system because it has failed to build sufficient, adequate housing, so that many students feel compelled to investigate the Greek system to escape inadequate University housing. Cornell, like many other universities, needs to invest more fully in the moral development of its students. This should come in the form of real discussion and inquiry, though a model and required but diverse freshman curriculum that promotes this moral development, rather than through the packaged, check off the box “training” referred to in the article. That is window dressing, at best, and at worst, an invitation to cynical humor about their right to engage in the behavior that is condemned when lecturing them. Without inquiry and experience by the students, there will be little change.

    • George Valtom

      I wholly agree with most of your statement here. The only alternate perspective I’ll offer, as a student living in Risley, is that there is actually nice housing available outside the fraternity system!

      To be perfectly honest, I’ve grown disgusted with the entire idea of the Greek system. It’s nothing more than a social club for rich prats to network for each others’ parents’ money. Between immature antics to the downright harmful and dangerous behavior we’ve seen just this past week, fraternities appear to only promote reckless behavior. You want socialization? Get some friends together or start a club. You want to do philanthropy? Join a church or, again, start your own organization. The exclusivity of the Greek system, as mentioned before, promotes groupthink and enables worldviews to blossom into perverse ideologies and foul actions. You can see this close-mindedness in several comments here – I’m looking at you, anonymous “Somebody didn’t get a bid!” a few posts above.

      I back this call for harsher oversight over the Greek system, and I personally would not be against seeing it be shut down entirely.

      • greeky

        Being in a fraternity or sorority is similar to being in any other club or group on campus. We go to a very diverse university, where people have vastly different interests. If you are a bio major you probably don’t want to be in in a comm club because you aren’t interested in it… so just because you aren’t interested in greek life doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to others on campus. If you talked to students about why they joined the greek system, so many would say that it has changed their lives for the better. For some, it has kept them from transferring out of Cornell and for others it has given them friends when they had none. It is not exclusive.. anyone has the opportunity to be in a greek house.

        I can’t tell you how much I have grown since joining a greek house. It has taught me how to be a part of a group and work with others, support and love others, work hard, generate ideas, laugh, and to be social (not just partying), but how to have a conversation with literally anyone. Many of the leaders on our campus are a part of greek life because of the skills that are fostered through greek life.

        Also I have $17.50 in my bank account, I’m paying for my own college education, and I’m still in a greek house. Thank you for generalizing, have a nice day.

        • Anonymous_1

          Yes, everyone has the opportunity to rush, but not everyone is accepted into the community. Many recruits have certain looks or characteristics that the sorority (or fraternity for that matter) values for their purpose of self/community image.
          On the subject of sororities there are perhaps more benefits to joining than fraternities. Scholarships, clean house, *more* inclusive, aware, community (not completely because it still relies on the same exclusive standards of admittance– not to mention only certain types of people actually rush in the first place). I am impressed with some sororities and the passion they dedicate to activism, especially the ones who censor their reports to National Chapter because they are too progressive for the conservative base.
          Nonetheless, I still find the exclusive nature of the Greek institution repulsive– particularly the fraternities, who I’ve found to exhibit racist, sexist, and obliviousness to socioeconomic inequality.
          I think you miss the point on Greek leadership in the SA. There is a reoccurring trend in student run governing institutions– like the SA/ student governing bodies, etc– where the winners of the elections do so through lobbying the Greek communities to vote for them– despite the fact that they are less qualified for the job than many other candidates. Last election cycle, winners weren’t as active in previous meetings, didn’t attend pre-election debates to exchange ideas with other candidates, and used resources available to them that no average student on campus has to work with. It had nothing to do with their skills that they earned via Greek Life, it was merely their ability to convince a large population of undergraduates who ‘generally’ don’t attend or care for Student Assembly to vote for them. Completely based on how many people you know and can contact. Meanwhile, more qualified candidates sit at the benches and watch the SA argue over Anabel’s and legislation to let students sit on sexual assault judicial panels (dumb idea).

          Yes, we do go to a diverse university. You should talk more about the diversity in your house and your experiences with other houses w/ respect to inclusion, socioeconomic status, gender identity and sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, and the isms. I’d like to hear more about that instead of the diversity of majors in the Greek system. And for all I know, you may be in a very diverse house, but I question the institution’s inclusivity and diversity. My experiences with Greek life here are tainted with racism, rape culture, and exclusion (and white feminism if I’m in a certain crowd).

          • George

            Fraternity members do not spend all day worrying about economic inequality. Oh the horror!

      • Leetch

        There are many people who are not “rich” in the Greek system; and for you to complain about that is disingenuous since the majority of Cornell students come from fairly well-off families.

        The rest of your post is just ignoring the realities at Cornell. The Greek system isn’t going away anytime soon considering the large alumni base that was in fraternities and sororities (and donate significant amounts of money).

    • Leetch

      This is pretty much speculation based on an apparently lack of research. Some of the stuff (like insurance requirements) are already in place and others either go against the realities at Cornell or would just never happen. A college campus and totalitarian state are two very different things; so is a college campus and a draconian office.

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  • George

    If one fraternity member commits a crime, does that mean that all fraternity members are criminals? That seems to the sentiment of the editorial. If that is the case, then I guess that any crime committed by a black person makes all blacks criminals.

    • your best friend

      never fail to make me laugh, georgie

  • Léon

    This article is a propagandic puff piece. It’s also based on the flawed premise that the accused did in fact commit the crimes. As of today, Ballinger remains innocent until proven guilty.

    “That Ballinger is the elected president of a high-profile fraternity and that the sexual assault reportedly occurred at the fraternity house illuminates the role the Greek system plays in enabling fraternity brothers to commit such crimes.”

    This is just poor, illogical writing of the kind you’d expect from a third tier publication with no standard of editing. The fact that this alleged isolated assault occurred within a fraternity house says nothing more about the fraternity than it would of a random building in college town. Would you even begin to condemn the existence of random buildings simply because assaults occur within them? The primary function of a fraternity house remains housing. Selective housing, but housing nonetheless.

    Also, what about the facts of this case seem to indicate that fraternity brothers enabled these ALLEGED, isolated acts? Absolutely nothing.

    I understand the author of this article is pissed off, it’s evident by the writing. But keep in mind that so long as the Sun doesn’t instruct it’s “journalists” that biased reporting is worthless reporting, it won’t stand as a credible news source.

  • Nikolai

    A cross-sectional study shows zero evidence of any causation. So a greater number of idiots who commit sexual violence end up joining fraternities. These same assholes would probably have committed the same acts had there not been a greek system for them to join.

    Furthermore, arguing that an entire system doesn’t work based on the assessment of a few very elitest groups within it is fallacious.

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  • Chris Johnson, ’96

    “…the fraternity system must critically examine its place on the Cornell campus.” Yeah, that’s been said about a thousand times over the past several decades. While it will always have its problems, the Greek system isn’t leaving Cornell or undergoing any major reorganization, nor should it. A Greek system is an integral part of almost any large university, and not to mention that the persistent housing shortage necessitates it at Cornell.

    I am not one to defend the Greek system – I never had any desire to join any fraternity but I knew plenty of people while at Cornell who considered it a major part of their college experience (as well as my younger brother, also a Cornell alum) and respected their choice to be a part of it. It wasn’t for me, but if it was something a friend or acquaintance wanted to be a part of, I didn’t think any less of them for it.

    In any case, whatever happens in this case should be not result in a shakeup of the entire Greek system at Cornell. As with any organization or group of organizations, it has its troublemakers but a few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the whole bunch or ruin it for those who follow the rules. Furthermore, let’s not forget – innocent until proven guilty.

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  • Cornell alumnus

    When I was a Cornell undergraduate, we took great pride in the fact that Cornell fraternities were not like fraternities at the Big Ten schools or Southern universities. In a similar manner, fraternities at MIT and CalTech are not like Big Ten fraternities. Therefore, I am very skeptical of nationwide studies regarding sexual assault in the fraternity population vis a vis the general male student population. Have there been any studies at Cornell comparing the characteristics of fraternity members to Cornell male students in general?