Fraternities: Racist and Sexist or Merely Exclusive?

By Knickerbocker, Brad | The Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

Fraternities: Racist and Sexist or Merely Exclusive?


Knickerbocker, Brad, The Christian Science Monitor


The bad news about college fraternities just seems to keep coming - the latest at North Carolina State University, where Pi Kappa Phi was suspended this week when what appears to be a fraternity pledge book filled with racist and sexually explicit comments was found at a restaurant near the school's campus in Raleigh.

The book included handwritten references to rape and lynching, some of them signed by names that matched members on the fraternity's website, according to local press reports. Earlier this month, North Carolina State officials suspended another fraternity - Alpha Tau Omega - in response to charges of sexual assault and drug use.

Meanwhile, at Pennsylvania State University this week, President Eric Barron suggested that the whole campus fraternity system might need to be reevaluated following the suspension of Kappa Delta Rho, which had a private Facebook page that included photos of nude and partly nude women, some apparently asleep or passed out.

"This evidence, which is still being gathered by the State College Police, is appalling, offensive and inconsistent with our community's values," Dr. Barron said in a message to the Penn State community. "This is not only completely unacceptable behavior, but also potentially criminal."

"In addition to the shutdown of the KDR fraternity on campus, we are working with the fraternity's national headquarters to determine if the fraternity will have a presence at Penn State and if so, we will help set the conditions for that future presence," Barron said. "It also brings us to a point where we must ask if a re-evaluation of the fraternity system is required. Some members of the University senior leadership believe it is, and we are considering our options."

Some colleges have gone to extremes to address the problems, the AP reports. Colby and Bowdoin colleges in Maine banned fraternities in the 1980s and '90s. Last fall, Wesleyan University in Connecticut ordered fraternities to go coed within three years. Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, which helped inspire the film "Animal House," recently banned hard liquor and is overhauling its housing system.

Revelations about offensive - and potentially criminal - campus behavior have generated a public debate over fraternities and their place in the broader society at a time when the benefits of greater diversity, respect and inclusiveness are being recognized, indeed celebrated.

"Fraternities achieve their prestige through their ability to exclude prospective members based on a hazy set of criteria that bear little resemblance to those that the colleges themselves use to determine whether students are admitted," writes Nicholas Syrett, associate professor of history at the University of Northern Colorado and the author of "The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities," on the Daily Beast. …

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