Response: Toxic Brotherhood

Dear editor,

I am really grateful to be a part of the current conversation on sexual violence in our student communities. For me, continuing the conversation in the context of Greek life is a way of expressing my own remorse about a period of time during which my fraternity had the opportunity to take a stand against sexual assault. Under the guise of neutrality, our chapter supported two of our accused brothers over the victims/survivors who had come forward.  So on a personal level, speaking out is a way of saying to those survivors: I’m sorry for what happened to you. I should have supported you from the beginning.

The reason I chose to write to The Wake is because of a feature written by Gabby Granada, published on April 3, 2017 titled Toxic Brotherhood.” It struck me right away that the author had picked up on a distinctive feature of fraternity culture. Emphasis on unconditional loyalty puts trust in brothers first. I’ve highlighted a few lines from the feature to preface my point:

A crucial key in dismantling campus rape culture, especially within Greek life, is accountability from within. One of the draws of Greek life is that it emulates a “home away from home” or a family. While a familial culture can be beneficial, it’s also instinctively protective, and sometimes, for the wrong reasons.  

In the aftermath of media coverage on sexual assault in Greek life, public interest tends to focus on the role of the fraternity in providing a hunting ground for perpetrators. However to a large extent, the chilling effect of rape culture manifests in the perception and treatment of survivors by their peers. Greek life must answer for its appalling track record of victim-shaming and survivor suppression. The Greek councils have the authority to take action to discourage these attitudes by penalizing chapters whose members have interfered in investigations. Why not issue a fine to offending chapters and award the proceeds to survivors who have been directly harmed? It’s time to stop responding to demands for accountability by promising more awareness. Further action will require working with the community and the University to start removing known perpetrators from their organizations altogether.

I recently read an article in the Daily announcing an upcoming sexual violence education project in the Greek community.  I caution you not to be satisfied by this one development alone. On the contrary, this should be interpreted as an opportunity for community growth. Let’s promote a dialogue that prioritizes the needs of survivors. The future of Greek life is up to fraternity and sorority members to decide. Nationwide, administrators and students are starting to question if Greek life is capable of redeeming itself (see Penn State President Dr. Eric Barron’s open letter to their Greek community). I’ve had a number of conversations with survivors who have been involved in Greek life, and some of them have expressed that fraternities and sororities have the organizing potential to make a serious impact—and I agree. Around 10% of students are in Greek life at the University of Minnesota—imagine what we could accomplish if the Greeks were to unite against rape culture. Why don’t we make a point of actively discouraging perpetrators and misogynists from participating in our social life? What is stopping us from promoting respect for women and believing and supporting survivors as part of a greater discussion about community values starting from the first day of rush week? One of the most important lessons I learned through my experience is this: there is no neutrality in rape culture. If there is going to be a future for Greek life without sexual violence, the Greeks need to learn from their mistakes, own up to the problem, and demand that their leaders take action.