November 12, 2020

SEX ON THURSDAY | Narcissism and Rape Culture in Cornell’s Fraternities

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Content Warning: This article contains a discussion of rape culture and sexual assault.

Dear Cornelia,

At Cornell, I feel like there is a sense of entitlement and superiority among guys in frats which creates a predatory environment. What’s the deal with that? 

-Frat Freaked

Hi Frat Freaked,

Thanks for your question. While I am no expert, I do have a few theories.  The essence of your question is rape culture in fraternities. And yes, it is prevalent here at Cornell. Anecdotally, ask anyone that’s ever been to a frat party or a date night and they will describe the uneven male to female ratios, the creepy grabbiness of men on dance floors, the pressure to hook-up with dates or the drinking that blurs lines of consent. Cornell even made national news in 2016 when the President of Psi Upsilon was arrested for sexual assault and again in 2018 for the alleged “Pig-Roast” competition of Zeta Beta Tau. But if you don’t believe me, check the data. According to Cornell’s 2019 Sexual Assault and Related Misconduct Survey, 17.3 percent of all reported incidents of nonconsensual sexual contact occurred at fraternity chapter houses and 8.4 percent occurred at frat annexes. 

So yeah, what is the deal with that? 

One theory I share with many researchers is that rape acceptance is institutionalized in fraternities. Multiple studies have shown that men who join fraternities are three times more likely to rape … 300 percent more likely. Plus, experts say that associating with peers who are accepting of sexual violence leads men to be accepting of sexual violence themselves. Perhaps it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

Now let me get real with you. I think we have chronic narcissism prevalent at Cornell, especially in fraternities. There is this thing called collective narcissism — an exaggerated view of the importance or “greatness” of the group to which an individual belongs. Basically, it means that a group (read: frat) thinks they are hot-shit and underappreciated. Groups characterized by collective narcissism have been shown to be more aggressive, insecure and likely to belittle the achievements of others. Men and white people are more likely than other demographics to be characterized by collective narcissism. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Organizations like fraternities which are made up of primarily white men cling to dominance, clout, power and prestige. Sexual assault comes down to power, and perhaps one reason why sexual assault is so prevalent in frats is that they use it as a tool to feel dominant and powerful. 

Ending rape culture on campus will take institutional change from Cornell and Greek organizations. It will also require men in fraternities to take a good hard look at their privilege and power. We need to see radical ownership and concrete steps to address this problem. 

Narcissism isn’t cute, and sexual misconduct is disgusting.

 Do better, frats. 

Sincerely, 

Cornelia 

Cornelia is a student at Cornell University. Email opinion@cornellsun.com with questions you wish to submit to the author. Ask Cornelia runs alternate Sex on Thursdays this semester.