It has been a rough few years for fraternities. In March of 2012, Rolling Stone published a much-discussed account of the supposed hazing and binge-drinking rituals of a fraternity at Dartmouth College. Two years later, Caitlin Flanagan wrote a feature article in The Atlantic, “The Dark Power of Fraternities,” cataloguing their various depravities and concluding that they are a “grossly outdated” institution. In the summer of that same year, Andrew Lohse, the Dartmouth student featured in the Rolling Stone article, released a memoir, Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy, which Publishers Weekly said shed light on the “tribal stupidity of young men.” Then the University of Virginia fraternity Phi Kappa Psi was thrown into the national spotlight, again by Rolling Stone, when its members allegedly gang-raped a woman named “Jackie”—an infamous work of fabrication that has now been thoroughly discredited, but not before further damaging the reputation of frat boys everywhere. To a large extent, the media has been successful in establishing a negative image of fraternities, one that often depicts fraternities and sexual assault as two sides of the same coin.
There are indeed examples of unacceptable behavior by fraternity members. Early in March, a video surfaced of members of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Oklahoma University singing a horrific racist chant that claimed black students would never be allowed to join their fraternity, and also referred to lynching black students.
Some schools have responded to these kinds of behaviors by banning fraternities outright. Others are attempting to reform—some would say “emasculate”—them by utterly changing their character. Greek life leaders at the University of Virginia are clamping down on raucous behavior by regulating how alcohol is served at the fraternities. Wesleyan College has mandated that fraternities become co-ed or lose official recognition from the college. Dartmouth College, my own alma mater, and where I was a member of a sorority, has passed an initiative called “Moving Dartmouth Forward” that aims to reduce binge drinking, hazing, and sexual assault by banning hard alcohol on campus and starting a residential college system to rival the fraternities.
Though writers like Flanagan and Lohse, as well as faculty members—who have historically stood against fraternities and still do—are quick to blame fraternities for many of the problems of campus social life, the issues we see on today’s college campuses are not the fault of the fraternity system, which has produced many great leaders in business, politics, and beyond, and which continues to contribute to college communities in positive ways. The problems on campus arise, rather, from a warped ideal of manliness to which fraternity brothers today aspire, an ideal radically different from the one that inspired the original founders of Greek organizations and that guided fraternity behavior until recent years...continue reading at The New Criterion.