Should UMass still allow Greek life?

By Joe Frank

(Jessica Picard / Daily Collegian)

Earlier this semester, less than two weeks into the school year, part of an Easthampton resident’s ear was bitten off at a fraternity party near the University of Massachusetts campus. The incident occurred during a fight on the parking lot of the Phi Sigma Kappa house, and the fraternity has since been under investigation by the Amherst Police Department and has been placed on interim restriction, according to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. The fraternity next door, Theta Chi, received an interim suspension and, as of Sunday, is no longer recognized by the university because of possible Student Code of Conduct violations (unrelated to the fight at Phi Sigma Kappa). These two fraternities are not unique. Fraternities across the country have been punished by their universities. According to Bloomberg, “In just the spring semester of 2015, 133 fraternity and sorority chapters at 55 U.S. colleges were shut down, suspended, or otherwise punished after alleged offenses including excessive partying, hazing, racism and sexual assault.” After incidents like these, some may wonder if fraternities and sororities are worth the hassle.

While it is easy for some people to point out the faults of fraternities and sororities, the 8.5 percent of UMass undergraduates who are a part of Greek life have good reasons for joining. As noted on the UMass Office of Fraternities and Sororities website, “All fraternities and sororities at UMass Amherst and across the nation were founded based on the ideals of friendship, service, and scholarship. Today the bond of brother/sisterhood is still one that is rooted in shared values, respect and friendship.” One of the appeals of Greek life is that it is easy to make new friends in a community of brothers or sisters. I personally have many friends who would not have met their best friends if not for Greek life. It is no wonder that so many people join fraternities and sororities, especially freshmen looking for new friends as they start college.

Many fraternities and sororities also participate in charity work through fundraisers and volunteering. A sorority that one of my friends is in, Sigma Delta Tau, raised money for the American Heart Association, St. Jude Research Hospital and Jewish Women International. One of my other friends is in the music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and they have travelled to nursing homes to sing to the residents there. After the Blarney Blowout of 2016, around 300 students in Greek life picked up trash around Amherst, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported. Earlier this month, Phi Sigma Kappa, the frat where the ear-biting incident occurred, raised nearly $3,000, and the sorority Tri Sigma raised over $1,000 for March of Dimes by participating in the March for Babies walk on campus. Both in Amherst and nationwide, it is not hard to find examples of Greek organizations giving time and money to charities and the community.

While Greek life makes a positive impact, there is more to the story. Fraternities and sororities have their drawbacks. While it can be argued that college students will party and drink excessively whether or not there are fraternities, many fraternities enable a harmful culture.

Many students each weekend turn to fraternity parties to celebrate and drink When under the influence of alcohol, people are less inhibited and this, mixed with the objectification of women, can lead to sexual harassment and assault at fraternity parties. Objectification starts when frat parties require a high ratio of women to men. The goal of the ratio is to make sure that the number of women at the party is adequate to the number desired by the men. Once women are in the party, some experience sexual harassment and assault. A 2013 paper by Oklahoma State University researchers noted that “Sorority women and fraternity men are more likely than other students to be survivors and perpetrators of sexual assault, respectively.” A poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation “suggested that women at colleges with fraternities and sororities were more likely to be assaulted.”

On campuses in general, there is a problem of sexual assault. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) points out that 23.1 percent of female undergraduates ages 18-24 and 5.4 percent of male undergraduates experience sexual assault, while only 20 percent of those women report sexual violence to police. People are reporting instances of rape at UMass more often, which hopefully will help bring the problem out of the shadows. Still, it is on fraternities to play a role in reducing the number of sexual assaults by making their parties as safe as possible for the students who attend them.

To those who revile excessive drinking and partying, fraternities and sororities may seem like worthless organizations that menace the community with loud parties and drunkenness. To those who enjoy Greek life, fraternities and sororities may be places where you can spend time with friends and have fun. The truth is that while Greek life is not evil, it is not without fault. There does need to be change. It is the responsibility of fraternities to tear down a culture that objectifies women and makes sexual harassment easier. To the fraternities that are better at this than others, thank you, and for those that require improvement, the UMass community needs you to do better. Greek life should be about “friendship, service and scholarship,” not about harassment and hospital visits.

Joe Frank is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]