Safe v Dangerous Fraternities
When a Dartmouth frat brother invited “Lisa” to a house party she felt honored, and eagerly accepted. But after arriving she had just a couple of drinks and passed out.
The next thing she remembers is waking up at a hospital.
Sitting in her hospital bed she noticed bruises on her chest that looked like bites. Lisa told Janet Reitman at Rolling Stone,
To be very honest, I didn’t really want to know what actually happened.
She had been sexually assaulted and then “curbed.” Fraternities make sure that people with possible alcohol or drug poisoning are well outside the frat house before making a “Good Sam” call, so campus security found her unconscious out front.
Nearly every woman at Dartmouth worried about predatory men when they talked with Ms. Reitman about frat culture there. And they do their best to share the names of men considered “dangerous” and fraternities believed to be “unsafe.”
Many men find the behavior revolting too. Stewart Towle de-pledged Sigma Nu over their “dehumanizing antics.”
There are always a few guys in every house who are known to use date-rape drugs.
Safe v Dangerous Fraternities
How are safe and dangerous fraternities different?
Several years ago A. Ayres Boswell and Joan Z. Spade explored an unnamed campus — one that sounds a lot like Dartmouth today — to uncover the differences.
The researchers talked with men who belonged to both types of houses. Here’s what they found:
Guys who belonged to dangerous frats said that they respected women when they were in public or one-on-one. But behind closed doors they felt pressured to disrespect them.
Pressure to disrespect women
Much fraternity disrespect has been made public over the years. A few examples:
- Yale DKE pledges paraded around the women’s dorms shouting, “No means yes, yes means anal!”
- Texas Tech’s Phi Delta Theta posted that same message on a banner
- Dartmouth’s Zeta Psi named and demeaned women the brothers had sex with
- Duke’s Alpha Delta Phi and Sigma Nu invited sorority “sluts, bitches, witches,” to a party
- San Diego State’s Delta Sigma Phi screamed obscenities, threw eggs, and waved dildos at “Take Back the Night” marchers
This sort of thing creates a fraternity rape culture where rape is encouraged, celebrated, and where rapists are not punished.
Dangerous parties can look different
Dangerous fraternity parties also looked different from safe parties when the researchers explored them. At least at this one campus.
Women were interested in hooking up — by which they meant kissing or petting. Some hoped to find a boyfriend.
But the women never found a boyfriend because guys at dangerous frats were discouraged from having girlfriends. These “bros” were looking for women they didn’t know or care about. And the goal was sex — aka “scoring” in a game by which men conquer women by getting them to “sexually submit” (i.e., have sex).
It doesn’t help that fraternities are typically are on one side of campus and sororities on the other, making it harder to see women as people and not objects. As one fraternity brother pointed out:
Segregation is unhealthy for good male/female relationships.
Alcohol was also used to make conquests easier. But the brothers didn’t want to admit that they were facilitating rape.
The guys enthusiastically attended these parties until their junior or senior year.
The women, not so much. When they realized that things weren’t what they’d expected, women quickly stopped attending. In fact, it was hard to find women — other than first year students — at these parties.
Don’t know, don’t care about the women
Looking for boyfriend
Goal: Kissing, petting
Not bored till Jr, Sr year
• Women and men mingle, get to know each other
• Some guys have girlfriends
In the safer frats women were people. Not prey. Not pawns in a game.
Safe fraternities looked a lot different. Women and men mingled together and got to know each other. They asked questions about what classes they were taking, what they wanted to do when they graduated, and what they did for fun.
And guys at safe fraternities had girlfriends.
Is this a good guide for determining whether a fraternity is safe?
It may well be that dangerous fraternity parties don’t always look like this, compared with safe ones. But the underlying pattern of men in safer fraternities getting to know women as people, and not discouraging relationships, versus dangerous frats encouraging games in which women were prey, or mere pawns by which men “score,” suggests something about the mentality of each side.
And if guys are posting banners shouting, “No means yes, yes means anal,” that’s a pretty revealing sign.