In the aftermath of Timothy Piazza's death during a fraternity pledging event, Penn State's president Dr. Eric Barron wrote an open letter to the Greek community expressing his profound sadness over Piazza's death. Beta Theta Pi was supposed to be a model fraternity—they did everything right on paper yet this still happened. He wrote:
Equally troubling are the signs that bad behavior will not end with our rules, it will just go underground. After the new rules were announced, an email from an IFC leader was sent to chapters using a derogatory term to describe women, while encouraging members to have the alcohol upstairs and not have it on the main floor where it risks having checkers discover a violation.
If new rules can just be ignored, or behavior just goes underground, and if there is no willingness to recognize the adverse impact of excessive drinking, hazing, and sexual assault, then is there any hope?
Barron highlights stunning statistics from the school's surveys and research on student life. Students in and around fraternities are at much higher risk for excessive drinking and becoming a victim of sexual assault. Again, this isn't unique to Penn State.
Seventeen percent of Penn State students are in a fraternity or sorority. We know that students in Greek life self-report excessive drinking that is four times higher than the average student. We know that the vast majority of sexual assaults are associated with alcohol and that an association with Greek life yields a sexual assault victimization rate that is 50 percent higher than the average student. We also know this is a national problem plaguing this generation of students at universities across the country.
What happened to Piazza is a symptom of a larger problem in fraternities. Whatever good these organizations provide for its members and the community are outweighed by the significant harm they cause. Lisa Wade, an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College, argues bad behavior is a fundamental part of fraternity DNA. If fraternities cannot and will not fundamentally change, then colleges should get rid of them altogether. There's no reason to preserve a toxic institution. It's time to abolish fraternities.
To capitulate to the reasonable demands of outsiders would be to fundamentally change their culture, their role on campus, their very reason for existing. Avoiding risk and obeying common sense safety guidelines would undermine their fundamental character, the specific nature of their identity that is most vital to who they are. Becoming kinder, safer places would do such violence to their legacy that it would mean altering their organizations beyond recognition.
Many who are a part of Greek life say fraternities are guilty of some bad practices, but they do a lot of good too. It's important to keep in mind the fraternities who are responsible for these horrible acts represent a minority. Peter Jacobs, a writer for Business Insider, says joining a fraternity was "one of the best decisions" he made in his four years in college.
Fraternity culture is actually less hostile to women
Greeks on average have higher GPAs
Greeks are also considerably more likely to stay enrolled and graduate college
Greek life is becoming much more diverse
Joining a Greek organization can help fight loneliness and depression
It's true, there are a lot of things that are bad about fraternities. But there are way more things worth saving. People act as though fraternities are non-stop parties, hazing and harassment. They're not. They're communities of people and should be recognized for the complex and important role they play in college life.
Jordan Jayson writes for HuffPost that her experience in Greek life was transformative and defined her college experience. Yes, there was drinking. It's college, there's always going to be drinking. But that's not what made it special. The magic comes from the bonds and friendships formed in Greek life. It's about being part of something bigger. These things are worth saving and preserving.
Every year, the Pledge Mom took her pledge class on an on an overnight trip near the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was kind of like a giant slumber party. Everyone was asked to bring something important from their past. This was meant to help us open up to each other — share a piece of ourselves that we wouldn’t normally talk about. Story after story poured out of every girl in the trust circle about struggles with body image, untimely death, family issues, substance abuse, assault — and more. The vulnerability we shared was palpable, it was a great equalizer that formed instant connections and made us close as a pledge class.