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.